Pope Benedict XVI: Keeping an eye on the kids

IMG_1255It tickled me that Pope Benedict’s resignation brought the 85-year-old pontiff onto the radar screen of even teenage girls.

Text from daughter: I heard that the pope resigned!!!

Text back from mom: I heard that. I wonder if he is the first to resign?

Text back from daughter: Clare says the first in 600 years!!

The pope does not normally loom large in the lives of adolescents (nor, perhaps, their parents, unless we make an effort to read about him). But Benedict XVI, octogenarian scholar that he was, often spoke movingly of the challenges facing our children and young people today. He understood their spiritual hunger.

At the 2005 World Youth Day, Benedict named the “strange forgetfulness of God” that marks much of our world. “It seems as if everything would be just the same even without him. But at the same time there is a feeling of frustration, a sense of dissatisfaction with everyone and everything. People tend to exclaim: ‘This cannot be what life is about!’ Indeed not.”

One hears echoes of Benedict’s words in a recent talk by the Jesuit president of Fairfield University, Father Jeffrey von Arx, about today’s college students (remember, college freshmen are only five years out of grammar school). He quoted statistics saying that 46 percent of college students have felt in the past year that things were hopeless. The number diagnosed with depression has doubled in nine years. And in 2009 more than 80 percent said the reason they were going to college was “to be well-off financially.” The top choice in 1966, “developing a meaningful philosophy of life,” has dropped to its lowest reported level.

Since young people at college have only recently left the dinner tables of their moms and dads, parents are likely even more worried than von Arx about our kids “suffering from what we might call despair,” as the Jesuit terms it. “We have failed to create an environment … that helps them to grasp the value and dignity of their true nature as human persons,” says von Arx.

Pope Benedict responded to these challenges by calling young people to greatness—something we parents can forget to do while trying to keep all the plates of family life spinning. “At times we are tempted to close in on ourselves,” he said to young people in New York in 2008, “to doubt the strength of Christ’s radiance, to limit the horizon of hope. Take courage! … Let your imaginations soar freely along the limitless expanse of the horizons of Christian discipleship. Sometimes we are looked upon as people who speak only of prohibitions. Nothing could be further from the truth! Authentic Christian discipleship is marked by a sense of wonder. We stand before the God we know and love as a friend, the vastness of his creation, and the beauty of our Christian faith.”

He encouraged the idealism of youth, pointing them toward the person of Jesus. “Look about you with Christ’s eyes, listen with his ears, feel and think with his heart and mind. Are you ready to give all as he did for truth and justice? … What are you seeking? What is God whispering to you? The hope which never disappoints is Jesus Christ.

“Shine his light upon this great city and beyond,” he challenged. “Show the world the reason for the hope that resonates within you. Tell others about the truth that sets you free.” Thank you, Pope Benedict, for helping parents with the most important work of our lives.

—by Catherine O’Connell-Cahill, from the pages of At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the 2012 Best in Class award from the Associated Church Press, as well as a First Place General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association for the past three years running. Here’s a sample issue.

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