WITHIN a religious context, the phrase “get them when they’re young” has always sent a chill through me; when it’s uttered by Catholics – given their Church’s history of child abuse – I am left shaking with fury.
Last night I saw those words again, this time in a headline in The Tablet: “Get them while they’re young: why kids intuitively understand prayer”. In a piece groaning under the weight of wishful-thinking, James Roberts wrote about the piousness of his daughter and her solemn sense of the divine.
She’s only THREE, FFS! He also took “gentle” issue with an earlier piece in The Tablet about youngsters and prayer.
In an article entitled “Why kids don’t get prayer, and even football doesn’t help” Daniel Kearney, headmaster of St Bede’s College, a Catholic private school in Manchester wrote that he was left in despair over the fact that he could not get his year 7 class to understand the concept of prayer.
One “precocious young girl on the front row” bluntly told him:
My Dad says praying to God is a waste of time.
When Kearney asked her why he’d felt that way, she replied:
Because he never wins the lottery.
He approached the concept of prayer in several different ways, all to no avail.
I took another tack – not on the lesson plan or scheme of work (inspectors look away now!) ‘I pray every night’ I declared, ‘that I will wake up in the morning – and I have done so every morning.
This was greeted by the class with derision. One young sceptic came back with the words:
No way. I always wake up and I don’t pray.
A glum Kearney concluded:
At the end of the lesson I was not convinced that the class understood the concept of prayer. We had read and examined the occasions in Mark’s Gospel when Jesus had prayed – as the lesson plan had dictated – but the experience of praying seemed beyond the understanding and grasp of my pupils – and my didactic skills!
Perhaps this is a symptom of our times: we need instant feedback. We seldom have the time to stop and stare; instant gratification and next-day delivery are de rigueur.
The complex and deeper discernment of prayer is at odds with our increasingly secular culture. We seek distraction, diversion, escapism and noise, not contemplation and silence. Prayer requires training, discipline and commitment. As with reading, we have to build up our stamina, but it would appear that our children seem reluctant to commit to such an arduous fitness programme.
They seem content to live and breathe and have their being in a virtual X-Box, cyber-world. They crave instant fun – a world of virtual and unreal possibilities – and parents seem reluctant to disabuse them of such fabulous and false expectations.
I despair at this superficial and short-term utilitarian philosophy. It will probably, lead, inexorably, to the isolationism and dislocation of many. I pray every day but perhaps I am an oddity – a throw back to a dungeon-dim world.
Yet it would seem I am not alone. Politicians and royalty on the news plead for our prayers in the midst of terrible accidents and disasters. Is this merely an appeal to a bygone age or a clarion call to a lost cause, a nervous spasm in a dying body?
Perhaps the last word should be from one of my pupils, who said ‘prayer is for sad people’.
While on the subject to Catholics and youngsters, I see that the Vatican has insisted that it doesn’t “do” extraditions.
It was responding to to a request from the Dominican Republic’s Attorney General to have a certain Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski returned to the country to face allegations that he abused children while while serving as papal nuncio there.
In a statement the Holy See said that Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski was a citizen of the Vatican, and that Vatican law did not allow for his extradition. It added that the Holy See was pursuing its own investigation against the Archbishop.
Wesolowski was dismissed as papal nuncio in August last year and was recalled to the Vatican, where is currently believed to be living. He and a Polish priest, Father Wojciech Gil, have been accused of sexually abusing young boys.
The Dominican Republic’s Attorney General last year sent case files concerning Archbishop Wesolowski to Poland and files concerning Fr Gil to the Vatican.
NOTE: The top two pictures were borrowed from Mark Fulton, a former Catholic and medical practitioner in Australia who is particularly concerned about the adverse effects of religion on children. There are some other good pictures and illustrations here.