by Fr. Terence O'Brien S.D.B.
IT may be clear from what has been already said that the modern tendency in certain quarters to take away responsibility from children for their wrongdoing does them a great disservice. This is not only because acceptance of responsibility is a great help to maturity, but also because it ha's, what one might call. great therapeutic value, that is, it contributes greatly to mental health and stability and is also a great bulwark against neurotic development. In children who are already neurotic or maladjusted, one must distinguish between what is the area of the maladjustment and what is not. Within the area of the maladjustment there can be little or no responsibility but outside this area, the child should be helped to accept his responsibility in full.
This will help him a great deal.
Finding excuses for him in everything will not. I am not referring here to a certain section of handicapped children nor to those children whose intellectual capacity is far below the average. These children can have diminished responsibility in general, or none at all.
Here I might just remark in passing especially for priest readers, that one must distinguish between a neurotic state or condition and a bad habit. A bad habit is not a neurotic state, although it can contribute to bringing about such a condition.
One must sustain, encourage, strengthen, be patient with one who has a bad habit, but he is not helped by telling him that he has little or no responsibility in the matter. Rather cart he be helped to completely overcome it by his coming to accept it manfully and humbly his complete responsibility. This is the way to emancipation and maturity also for him.
Readiness 1s, punish is a sign of immaturity. In the gospels we read how when the time of his passion was near, Jesus set out for Jerusalem, "and he sent messengers before him, who came into a Samaritan village to make all in readiness. But the Samaritans refused to receive him, because his journey was in the direction of Jerusalem, When they found this. two of his disciples, James and John. asked him, Lord would you have us bid fire come down from heaven and consume them? (!) But he turned and rebuked them. You do not understand, he said, what spirit it is you share. The Son of man has come to save men's lives, not to destroy them ..."
This is the reaction of immaturity, to punish readily, and to punish rigorously, especially so when there is felt 16 be an affront to personal dignity and authority. Whose dignity and authority were greater than the Son of God's, but he was not concerned with his dignity and authority but with saving, leading men to full development as the sons of God.
The Pharisees were always at our Lord because he was not severe with sinners. How much they wanted him to hound them down. have no truck with them at all exeept to punish and condemn. This he would never do. He patiently tolerated the ignorance, roushness and lack of fidelity of his own Apostles, and sought to inspire hope and the desire to rise higher
in those who had sinned and made mistakes.
The mature person punishes with reluctance and only as a last resort. He realises that he is there to save and not to destroy. He always hears echoing In the depths of his being these words of Our Lord, "learn of me for I am gentle and humble of heart", and he has come to realise that 81 critical moments of prayer, an inierior act of humility before Cod are of much more help than a storm of blows which neither do good to the one who receives them, nor to those who may happen to witness the performance.
May I conclude with a little request. It would be a help to me to receive information from those who might like to send it. (a) with
regard to punishments received in their own childhood and youth. and
their effect on them: (b) their own experience with regard to punishing others; (c) knowledge which they have of punishment gittm to
children at home, at school. and elsewhere nowadays or in the recent past, All such information %sill, of course. be private and confidential. Please send to me at St. Dominic Savio House. Bollington Macclesfield.