Forming Youth as Creative Minorities
“What is there more noble than to train the minds and mould the character of the young? I consider him who is skilled in forming the minds of youth as greater than any painter or sculptor – greater than all artists” – St.John Chrysostom
We Have no Right to Surrender our Mission to Form Catholic Youth
On the dramatic night of July 5th 1809 four hundred French soldiers and gendarmes strengthened by two Neapolitian battalions surrounded and invaded the ancient Quirinal palace where the aged successor of St. Peter, Pius VII, resided with a mere two platoons of Swiss soldiers as his defence. Rushing through the corridors they suddenly found themselves in the presence of the white-robed figure who sat at his desk holding a crucifix. General Radet, in the name of the Emperor Napoleon, called on the Pope to renounce his sovereignty of the Papal States and to allow their take-over by France. The papal answer given in French was swift, forthright and unflinching: ‘We must not, We will not’ – and immediately he began to pay the heavy price for his loyalty to the Church by being led to a carriage that brought him through the darkness of the night into exile and imprisonment for five long years.
“We must not, we will not”: that is the same answer we as priests must give to the forces mobilizing against the mission of the Church and specifically of the priest in the education of Catholic youth. We will not surrender – we have no right to surrender – our mission to form youth! It is our right and it is our duty; moreover in any serious plan to form creative minorities, a privileged place must go to the formation of an elite of the generous among the youth of the Church.
The Church’s enemies have always been quite clear-minded about the importance of destroying the educative role of priests, restricting them to the merely liturgical. It is no mere coincidence that the accelerated secularization of society coincided with the drive by the liberal states of the last century to introduce compulsory state education. The Fascists went even further: Hitler, five days after becoming Chancellor of Germany in 1933, ordered the suppression of the Catholic Youth League. Then after Pope Pius XI had condemned his theories and actions in that fiery letter Mit Brennender Sorge of March 1937, the Nazis struck back with manufactured crimes of immorality among German priests. The goal was clear: destroy the image of the priesthood in order to destroy the decisive role the priest plays in forming youth and thus monopolize all Catholic youth training in the Hitlerjugend. The ancient tactic had reappeared : “Strike the shepherd that the sheep may be scattered” (Zech 13:7b).
Just as intensely today – but more subtly – the campaign to exile the Church in general, and the priest in particular, from the field of education continues. Some of the intelligentsia of the “Dictatorship of Relativism” are convinced because of their Enlightenment mentality that this is a necessary stage in the creation of the new pluralistic, multi-cultural world-order and they have largely succeeded, at least in Europe, in creating a mass consciousness that believes education should be religion-neutral. Pope Benedict XVI’s speech before the British elites in London, a secularized capital city of a secularized nation identified with a secularized culture, of secularist world culture, illustrates the degree to which this mentality has taken hold of British society since his speech asked for toleration for the presence of Christianity in public life. Think for a moment what that means: that we now need to ask the governments of the West to tolerate the role of the Church that built the very civilization that has given them the very ground they stand on!
As regards the immediate danger to the Church, let us be very clear-eyed: we have already been largely expelled from many outlets of informal education (the mass media) and we have been largely expelled or had our Catholic identity compromised in formal education in many countries through the acceptance of state funding. It is now urgent to launch with professional seriousness a comprehensive, in-depth, education of youth through catechesis, apologetics and retreats adapted pedagogically to the different age-groups from infancy to young adulthood. Otherwise the writing will appear on the wall and the churches will soon be emptied. Oh certainly, for some generations people will keep turning up for baptisms, first Holy Communions, weddings and funerals because of a tattered patchwork of custom, aesthetics, superstition and curiosity but there will be hardly any real Catholics left. Why should they remain believers if they haven’t been educated to understand why the Catholic Faith is the truth? How can they be educated if on top of attending state schools where the Catholic Faith is forbidden ( except for a few liturgical services and some lip-service on graduation-days) they also receive a secularist informal education through TV, internet and publishing houses which for the most part are in anti-Catholic hands? Not even the Nazis and the communists had as many weapons in their hands to destroy the Faith as the present “Dictatorship of Relativism”
We must not raise the white flag: this would be a monumental victory for the powers of darkness. The priest must continue to lead the souls of youth to God today as always. Indeed even more so since youth need the spiritual and supernatural fatherhood of the priest as they wander through the trackless deserts of modern society, often fatherless, drugged by noise, mass media and the mirages of pleasures that leave them spiritually prostrate, dried-up and burnt-out by early adulthood; with every unimportant thing you can imagine but with no awareness of who they are, where they come from and where they should be going. Youth therefore are seeking, like the hobbits at the inn of Bree, for the mysterious “Strider” who will lead them through the wastelands of Mordor to the freedom of the only “Rivendell” on “Middle-Earth”.