Ignatian Priest Educators

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Qualities of the Ignatian Priest Forming Youth
1.1. A man  who forms young saints by instilling love for the Catholic vision

Working with youth has become synonymous with externals and not with internals: youth groups in which the time is given over to sports, recreation and human formation.

Certainly activities of a formative character  -talks on chastity, self-esteem, problem-solving – can be helpful if given within the principles of the Catholic Faith.  But even when people are taught how to be morally upright, they are still far from the Catholic ideal :  for us it’s not a matter of “nice” or “moral” people but divinized people, youth who are fully living the life of sanctifying grace!  If youth become addicted to an immoral lifestyle it is partly because they never knew the big picture – the truths of  eternity; it is because they never knew the way:  Mass, confession, prayer; it is because they never knew  the method:  self-discipline. If you, the priest, form their souls they will fight the “Axis of Evil”. But they need you to lead, to teach, to organize!

 1.2.                  A man who takes the questions of  children and youth seriously

            In you they must find the father-figure who is their  confessor and spiritual director, their role model in prayer and virtue, their leader who ignites projects of evangelization for them to get involved in.

In the priest the youth must find the one – increasingly rare in our society – who is always ready to listen to them and answer their questions. That means always treating the questions of a child or youth seriously, no matter their age.  A mother of a twelve-year old boy from Quebec City once told me  how one cold Canadian winter evening she was surprised to see her young son putting on his coat to leave the house: “But where on earth are you going  this cold night” she asked. In the most solemn tone that an  eleven-year old  engaged in a deadly-serious enterprise  can muster, he replied: “To the home of my friend who does not believe in God: I’m going to explain to him the proofs for God’s existence”. It turned out that the boy had only just returned from a retreat where he had heard an explanation in metaphors of Aquinas’ demonstrations for God’s existence.

When children find an adult who likes questions and answers them in a way adapted to their understanding, he enters into their “Hall of Fame” – and they are on the road to becoming members of those creative groups that will put muscle into building a Christian civilization. History is not lacking for instances such as the former Archbishop of Paris, Cardenal Jean Marie Lustiger, who remembered his own childhood inquiries:

We were on vacations again at the seaside. Suddenly the metaphysical feeling of contingency unexpectedly struck me. I’m not joking; I think  that at seven years old children are already at the metaphysical age, the age when they ask themselves the most basic questions.

In any case, I know that at that age I confronted the problem of evil and death, of sickness and the denial of justice. This reflection was tied to a very striking impression for a child whose birthplace was the asphalt of Paris: the waves of the sea, their repetition and their music, their crash and roar; the waves and the tides that destroy the masterpieces of  sand made me discover the fragility and emptiness of everything.

In passing, let me say that to act in a silly way with children of  seven years of age is adult stupidity. It is the age in which they ask the most serious questions. The grown ups must answer them, even if they have to admit their own ignorance. And never say to a child: “You’re not old enough for this; you’ll understand later…”.[1]

At the age of five, the young St.Thomas Aquinas, according to the custom of the times, was sent to receive his first training from the Benedictines at Monte Cassino. The monks were soon put to the test as the boy began asking the key questions such as:“What is God?”

The vivacious St.Teresa of Avila remembered her own deep thoughts as a child: “My brother and I were quite frightened to know from our reading that suffering and glory were forever. We would speak about this many times and we liked to say, “Forever, forever, forever!” Through my frequently repeating this, Our Lord left an enduring impression on me, even during my childhood, of the pathway to truth.”

The young C.S.Lewis showed similar depth in his young years: “We bought sweets in drowsy village shops and pottered about on the canal bank or sat at the brow of a railway cutting watching a tunnel mouth for trains. Hertfordshire come to look less hostile. Our talk was not bound down to the narrow interests which satisfy public-school boys; we still had the curiosity of children. I can even remember from those days what must have been the first metaphysical argument I ever took part in. We debated whether the future was like a line you can’t see or like a line what is not yet drawn. I have forgotten which side I took though I know that I took it with great zeal.” [2]

John Henry Newman  is another example. At the age of ten, he became convinced of his call to work for God’s glory and a few years later another life-changing event occurred: “When I was fifteen, (in the autumn of 1816,) a great change of thought took place in me. I fell under the influences of a definite creed, and received into my intellect impressions of dogma, which, through God’s mercy, have never been effaced or obscured. Above and beyond the conversations and sermons of the excellent man, long dead, who was the human means of this beginning of divine faith in me, was the effect of the books which he put into my hands…” [3]

In 1906, a six year old boy was attending catechism class given by the young priest of his parish in Oakland, California. At a certain moment the boy heard the priest say: “One of you may be a priest some day and do some good for the world.”  The words went straight to the boy’s heart and imagination and in his teens he began preparing for the priesthood. He went on to become Father James Keller, a priest who changed the lives of millions through his work on television and radio and as founder of The Christophers. In his autobiography, To Light a Candle, he recalled: “I certainly didn’t understand all the implications of his remarks, but I distinctly remember ducking beneath my desk, hoping that the young priest who stood before us didn’t mean me!”

We cannot begin early enough. For this reason, the catechism in question and answer form is so valuable: it corresponds to the psychological evolution of the child when he values, is at ease with, and enjoys memorizing answers to the very questions he is interested in. Just think of all the rhymes and songs and baseball-players names you stored in your memory banks as a child. If we allow children to also store away the catechism answers in their memory banks, they will be able to take them out when the great doubts and confusions of teen-years arrive. For these answers as formulated in the old catechisms lent themselves to a spiraling into deeper understanding with the passage of life’s seasons.  Illustrating this point  Cardinal Newman told the story of two Protestant ministers  travelling in Ireland who had an Irish Catholic youth as guide. During the journey they asked the youth questions about the Faith  and were amazed at how much he knew and understood – all because of his question and answer catechism. What’s stopping us from bringing it back? Memorization combined with pedagogical explanations would go a long way towards a renaissance of catechetics.

The following  is Henri Ghéon’s  account of  the masterful style of a certain priest in Ars teaching the catechism :

But the religion he taught was in no sense scaled down. God must be served first.
“There are many Christians,” [said the pastor of Ars] “who do not know  why they are in the world”:

‘Oh, my God, why have You placed me in the world?’
‘To save you.’
‘And why do You wish to save me?’
‘Because I love you.’
[St. John Vianney continued:] “God has created us and placed us in the world because He loves us. To save our souls, we must know, love and serve God. How beautiful a life! How beautiful, how great, to know, to love, to serve God. We have nothing but that to do in this world. Anything whatever that we do apart from it is waste of time.
“Worldly people say that it is too difficult to save one’s soul. Yet there is nothing easier: keep the Commandments of God and the Church, and avoid the Seven Deadly Sins; or, to put it another way, do good and avoid evil. . . . Here is a good rule of conduct: Do only what you can offer to God.”
[Henri Ghéon commented]: In all this, what purity, what clarity—words used for nothing but for the thought that they convey. What strength, too, in the thought! “Do only what you can offer to God.” The child who fixes this rule in his memory and keeps it ever before him is certain, without any other teaching, to attain by the time he comes to die the fullness of the Christian life. For the children of his congregation, as for their elders, Father Vianney set a standard no lower than his own. [4]

By training intellects passionately in love with the depths of the Faith, the priest does an incalculable good. And this you can achieve through the teaching of apologetics for which there already exist excellent texts by C.S.Lewis, Chesterton, Kreeft, Scott Hahn, Vittorio Messori, Ronald Knox, Michael Sheehan and others. Let us not underestimate the intellectual appetite of youth: if we give them large quantities of sturdy high-protein food we will have robust Catholic intellectual leaders in the future. An example of this is a prominent Italian journalist, Sandro Magister, who stated on his website that as a high-school student the most influential books he read  were Romano Guardini’s The Sacred Signs, Louis Bouyer’s The Easter Mystery, Jean Daniélou’s “Bible and Liturgy”, Josef A. Jungmann’s Missarum Sollemnia, Saint Ambrose’s De Mysteriis and Catholicism by Henri de Lubac![5]

Since the destiny of man is not in time but in eternity special emphasis should be given to teaching  them to love Heaven – and to making all important decisions sub lumine aeternitatis, [in the light of eternity]. Well worth a read in this regard is  the sermon by C.S.Lewis The Weight of Glory , his book The Problem of Pain and also Peter Kreeft’s book All you ever wanted to know about Heaven and a beautiful chapter on eternity in Father Raniero Cantalamessa’s book Jesus Christ, the Holy One of God.


1.3.                  With a love for grace and an abhorrence of  sin

By 20, he was a warrior, wise beyond his years and loved by thousands – and  he was king, king of France. Yet this king had an unusual way of signing the official documents:  “Louis of Boisy”. Everyone knew that Boisy was an  insignificant village  but for Louis it was the most significant place because it was there he had been baptized. And for King Louis IX, the wisest king Europe has ever known, sanctifying grace was more important than his kingdom.

One day Louis asked one of his closest advisors, the Lord of Joinville, whether he would prefer to commit a mortal sin or see his body covered in leprosy. The knight chose the former to which the king replied: “ I would prefer to see my body covered in leprosy before committing a mortal sin. Mortal sin is the greatest outrage that you can inflict on God who is the most perfect Being, infinite Majesty, the Lord of the Universe; before whom all men, all things, all the worlds are as a drop of water.”

Louis would also write to his son: “You must be ready to undergo every kind of martyrdom rather than commit one mortal sin”

            But of course these clear statements are an echo of the words of Jesus: “If your right eye causes you to sin, take it out and throw it away! It is much better for you to lose a part of your body than to have your whole body thrown into hell.” (Mt.5:29)

1.4.                  With a love for the Sacramentals

The Importance of Promoting the Sacramentals and the Traditional Devotions

Youth want to touch, feel, wear the faith; they want to see it in color, in sculpture, in paintings, in beautiful art, vestments, music, altars, arches; they want to smell it in incense and taste it in ?; feel it and see it in?

Youth: “Can you put a scapular on me?””You mean ‘invest you with the brown scapular”? “Where did you learn about it?” “On the internet”

He brought 8 friends Youths to Church on a Friday: “Is everything alright?” “Well, sure Father.”Why did you come today? Well, today’s The First Friday! Where did you learn about the First Fridays? “On the internet!”

Make a list of the sacramentals that you can learn about in order to offer them to the Catholics of your parish,especially to the youth:

First Fridays

First Saturdays

Brown Scapular

Miraculous Medal

Recommended Reading

Catholic Sacramentals for Dummies

Look up internet sites

1.5.                  Ready to do battle for the defence of the true and the good

Enlighten their natural sense of always wanting to stand for the good, the true and the beautiful – no matter the cost!

As Chesterton said:


A child’s instinct is almost perfect in the matter of fighting; a child always stands for the good militarism as against the bad. The child’s hero is always the man or boy who defends himself suddenly and splendidly against aggression. The child’s hero is never the man or boy who attempts by his mere personal force to extend his mere personal influence. In all boys’ books, in all boys’ conversation, the hero is one person and the bully the other. That combination of the hero and bully in one, which people now call the Strong Man or the Superman, would be simply unintelligible to any schoolboy….


But really to talk of this small human creature, who never picks up an umbrella without trying to use it as a sword, who will hardly read a book in which there is no fighting, who out of the Bible itself generally remembers the “bluggy” [bloody] parts, who never walks down the garden without imagining himself to be stuck all over with swords and daggers–to take this human creature and talk about the wickedness of teaching him to be military, seems rather a wild piece of humour. He has already not only the tradition of fighting, but a far manlier and more genial tradition of fighting than our own. No; I am not in favour of the child being taught militarism. I am in favour of the child teaching it. [6]


Encourage them to read, according to their age-level and reading ability, the lives of the saints,  The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, the missionary exploits of St.Francis Xavier.

By teaching them and by inculcating love for the sacraments of the Holy Eucharist and confession, they will forge an iron determination to resist the surrounding “Dictatorship of Relativism”. Instead of Catholic youth drowning amid the waves of secularism in universities,  they will ask themselves at the hour of career-decision: “But how does God want me to change the world?”

Such will be the souls who will build sturdy ships onto which many others can be hauled ashore into safety.

1.6.                            With a strong desire to bring others into the Church

Recently beatified youth such as Blessed Ivan Merz of Croatia and Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati are role models in enthusiasm for  bringing  the Faith to others. Pier Giorgio, an avid mountaineer, would  organize outings to the mountains with his friends who had formed a group known as  “The Shady Characters,” and this was one of his “fishing pools” for evangelizing. Sometimes he  would bring them to Mass, other times to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament or to Bible readings  and other forms of prayer.


Motivate the youth to present the Faith to others by helping them to see how the Faith is the answer to alleviating so much suffering even in this life. We need Catholic youth who bleed for humanity suffering in the clutches of the culture of death. I remember a non-Catholic telling his wife when she asked about baptizing their child: “ Go ahead. Baptize him because I have nothing to offer him.” And so says the culture of death “I have nothing to offer the new born child.”

The more you enlighten the youth about the needs of humanity, both through talks and readings as well as organizing them to do apostolate and works of Christian charity, the more they will burn to change the world.

1.7.                  Through Launching them into the apostolate[7]
1.8.                  Whose heroes are the saints

The young Pier Giorgio Frassati chose an additional first name “Girolamo” in honor of the austere Dominican priest who preached conversion to Florence in the 1400s [research]: “I am a fervent admirer of this friar, who died as a saint at the stake,” he wrote to a friend. By encouraging them to read and view movies on lives of saints – and possibly by having them organize cine-forums with such movies for the entire group – you will have given them heroes by which they measure the models offered by secular society.

1.9.                  Through Spiritual Direction [8]
1.10.             Through “Reason and Faith” groups[9]

“I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it, who know so much of history that they can defend it” (John Henry Newman,The Present Position of Catholics in England, ix, 390).


While they were at King Edward’s School, Birmingham, in 1911, Tolkien and three friends, Rob Gilson, Geoffrey Smith and Christopher Wiseman, formed themselves into an unofficial and semi-secret society which they called “the T.C.B.S.”, initials standing for “Tea Club and Barrovian Society” an allusion to their fondness for having tea in the school library, illicitly, and in Barrow’s Stores near the school.  Since leaving King Edward’s, the T.C.B.S. had kept in close touch with each other, and in December 1914 had held a “Council” at Wiseman’s London home, following which Tolkien had begun to devote much energy to writing poetry – the result, he believed, of the shared ideals and mutual encouragement of the T.C.B.S.


1.11.             Forming parents and teachers to form children

Does a man ever forget seeing his father kneel at night  to pray or his mother round up the children to pray a decade of the rosary or a teacher explain to twelve year olds why God exists?

Therefore a very special place should go  for the training of parents and teachers. Encourage family prayer such as prayers before meals and the family rosary; revive the great custom of family reading or at least of individual reading of the Bible and the lives of the saints. Encourage parents to teach the catechism and prayers to their children;  to spend more time on family outings and games rather than on television and internet. Set up parents support groups; teach them to make use of groups that are vibrantly and integrally Catholic; Catholic magazines and  websites; summer camps and Christian family environments.

Through Father-Son and Mother-Daughter retreats and camps.

[2] La Elección de Dios, Ed. Planeta, Barcelona 1989, p.20

[3] C.S.Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Early Shape of My Life,  p. 47 or either page 9 or page 21

[4] JOHN HENRY NEWMAN, Apologia Pro Vita Sua, Part III, Ch.1.


[6] G. K. CHESTERTON in a magazine article in 1906.