Colleen is from England. She was visiting our Church last week after stopping to see an old friend in New Mexico. She and her husband brought their friend to Church too. It took them 20 minutes to get her in and out of Church because the friend is severely handicapped. It was such a sweet action and it made me think, “This is what it means to be a part of the Body of Christ.”
I’ve been thinking about this as we gear up for a new year of religious formation. Towards the beginning of the year, we show the children movies about staying safe and dealing with abuse. And every year I cringe. My own children have seen first the little kids’ Sesame-Street-like version, and then heart-pounding-older version of a young person being touched inappropriately by an uncle. They’ve seen these movies once a year for seven years.
I fear that the more children are exposed to the message that “there are adults in your own community and family you can’t trust,” the more they begin to generalize to “you can’t trust anyone.” And then when we tell them they can trust Jesus and you can talk to friends and other adults, that seems impossible. I fear that the generalized message “don’t trust” comes through. If we think it’s not possible to trust humans, how can we imagine a trusting relationship with God?
Within the Body of Christ, can’t we convey what needs to be conveyed in a different way? As I visited with Colleen, while she and her husband were loading the special wheelchair into the van, she told me another story about how the Body of Christ works. She was a catechist at one church and then moved away. When she returned for a visit, she saw a former student and then later she saw his mother. Colleen asked, “Is your son OK?” The mother responded that he came home from school every day and ran to his room. But “he’s fine.” Then Colleen said, “Something’s wrong. You need to look into his eyes Mom and you’ll see it.”
That night the mother went home and said, “I saw Colleen and she’s worried about you.” The teenager looked up and Mom could see the trouble there. The boy broke into tears and reported that he was doing drugs and couldn’t seem to control what was happening.
When adults look out for others within the community, that is being a part of the Body of Christ. When we notice that someone is missing from Church, that is being a part of the Body of Christ. When we pray fervently and fast on behalf of others, that is being a part of the Body of Christ. When we educate each other, with compassion, when we start up new programs for adult study and prayer, that is being a part of the Body of Christ.
But when we show movies that convey the message that there are monsters lurking even at Church, we are buying into the message of the culture. I asked my teenage son what he thinks about these movies. He’s in Confirmation now and they don’t watch the movies but they are required to sit through a presentation that talks about the sex abuse scandal and safety issues. He says, “Honestly, kids just try to ignore the whole thing. But I think the Church is bowing to the world and doing it the way the rest of society does with scare tactics. It should be different.”
The movies and talks are built on the premise that if you give kids knowledge and options they’ll know how to respond. But I think, in a scary situation, knowledge goes out the window. What kids really need is this: faith (which comes from God through the Church), prayer (which they can learn) and love within a community of believers who care about them (and that is the model Colleen demonstrated so well).
Love conquers fear. Families must be strengthened. I pray that the Holy Family will guide us in building new models for building up the Body of Christ.
Here are some things I would prefer to do at the beginning of the Catechism year:
• Ask the Church community to pray for the students.
• Pair up adults in the Church with students who they will pray for and write letters of support and inspiration.
• Teach kids about prayer and tell them stories about the wonder of God’s love.
• Offer special prayer and instruction time for parents.
• Have prayer vigils for a strengthening of the priesthood and strengthening of families.
• Ask members of the parish to take note of people who aren’t there at Church and ask them to take the initiative to call and find out, “How are you?”