Archbishop Gregory Aymond delivered the following address Dec. 6 to more than 350 people at the 75th annual Christmas luncheon of the Council of Catholic School Cooperative Clubs:
The prophet Micah gives us a guide for what the Lord requires of us: “To do what is right, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with God.” As Catholic school teachers and administrators, and as parents, God asks us to mold our children’s hearts so that they can do what is right in the eyes of God, love tenderly and walk humbly with God, recognizing their gifts in humility and using them to care for others.
Our young church is very important to all of us. That’s why we’re here today in such big numbers. I have been blessed to spend time with our youth and young adults, and I have seen persons who are committed to their faith, sometimes despite many difficulties. Our young people have many questions. Through technology, they are exposed to far too much. They are called to make adult decisions despite still being children and teenagers.
Obviously, as teachers, clergy and parents, we have to be aware of that reality. Our children are very much affected by what goes on in society.
I’d like to mention several things. First, there is an incredible amount of violence in our society. There’s been so much violence in schools and even in churches across the country that I’ve asked all of our schools and churches to come up with emergency plans in case of an active shooter incident. As I made that decision, I thought to myself, how unfortunate it is that we even have to do that! But, we have to be ready if someone were to come into one of our schools or churches and started firing a gun. That’s the reality in our country.
It’s amazing to me how people who are very often not emotionally or psychologically stable can buy guns, and, for some reason, there is no change in our gun laws. That’s an embarrassment for our country, an embarrassment we have to look at very seriously.
We also know about the high number of murders in our metropolitan area. We no longer can claim that any area of our archdiocese is unaffected by violence. Whether you are on the southshore or the northshore, the West Bank or in the River Parishes, murder is taking place there. Because of that, we and our children are becoming very numb – “Oh, it’s another person who was killed.” No, it’s not just another person, it’s not just a number. It’s a person’s life that has been taken and a family’s life that has been affected forever.
Second, our attitudes toward sexuality have shifted. Sex has become entertainment instead of something that expresses love. The popularity of pornography has harmed our society and, in a particular way, our children. We have an archdiocesan committee working on a plan to address pornography among our young people as well as among adults. It’s no secret that children as young as 10 or 11 years old are exposed to pornography, and some of them become addicted by the seventh or eighth grade.
Our natural inclination is to say, that’s not happening in my church, that’s not happening in my school, that’s not happening in my house. We have to take our heads out of the sand because this is a serious issue. To be exposed to pornography at 10 or 11 – and to receive all kinds of tweets and emails and other things on social media – has a harmful effect on our children’s formation.
What you and I are called to do is to help our children form positive values. We don’t need violence; we need peace and discussion. We don’t need to have poor images of sexuality. We don’t need to accept sexual harassment as a norm. We hear every day on the news that women in our country are not respected in the workplace. They are not given the respect that God gives them and that we are called to give them. These are serious issues in our children’s lives.
Our children hear racial slurs, sometimes even in our schools. It is important for us as teachers, administrators, clergy and parents to act and correct in a kind way if we encounter those kinds of prejudices expressed. Many of our children see domestic violence in their own homes, and we must be there for our them. They are being taught to be violent.
I’ve spoken previously about what I call the war of words: “unfiltered thoughts slice hearts.” The idea that we can say offensive things to someone else at any time has infiltrated our culture. We are living in such a divided nation. I spoke with some of our state legislators recently and told them I thought many lawmakers are voting strictly along party lines rather than on the substance of the issues themselves. A number of them told me, “You’re absolutely right.” What a shame.
We can say these are terrible signs for our society, but I prefer to view them as opportunities for us to read the signs of the times and touch the hearts of our young people. We need to teach our young people how to disagree. We need to have conversations with them about how to respect people with their words and how to use technology to promote the good and the beauty of God’s creation. When technology is used for pornography or sexting or calling people names, then it becomes a temptation.
Our young church has challenges. I, like you, love them dearly. We want the very best for them as they grow and develop. We can look at the challenges, be overwhelmed and say, let’s talk about something positive. I think this is positive because it gives us an opportunity. We have the opportunity to affect the hearts and minds of our young people. We can make a difference.
Like the prophet Micah, we want to teach the young church to do what is right in the eyes of God, teach them to love tenderly and teach them to walk humbly with their God. Thanks to all parents and all those who share in the ministry of Catholic education.