Page 3, 4th October 1974

4th October 1974
Page 3
Page 3, 4th October 1974 — A little less than angels

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A little less than angels

SISTER MADELEINE-CECILE, SUSC, starts a series of articles on pastoral care with a look at the needs of young people —


About 200,000 young people come before the courts in Britain each year. Forty per cent of all indictable crimes of robbery and house breaking are committed by young people under 18. More than 67,000 births in Britain in one year were to mothers under 16 and 40,000 of those babies were il legitim at e . Football hooliganism this season has already resulted in a teenage death.

The list seems endless. It is easy with these facts alone to sound like a "prophet of doom". Understandable if people panic and cry "something must be done."

What do we mean by the term Pastoral Care? It often seems an omnibus term used to cover what suits us at the moment. It can range from the traditional guidance in educational, vocational and personal matters that we associate with all that is best in our educational tradition, to the specialised caring services that are being set up or have been set up to meet specific needs of young people.

In its very usefulness as a blanket term for such a range of provision lies perhaps its inherent danger. The danger that we simply take refuge in it and fail to look carefully at what is involved, 'fail to acknowledge our responsibility.

In an age when professionalism is highly and rightly valued there is always the danger that we leave to the professional more than his due — leave to him, perhaps, those things we fear to face in ourselves. The "professional" helps to keep life tidy today. To him we allocate certain areas of responsibility but we have to be careful we do not do this at the expense of reality. We can so easily, almost unwittingly compartmentalise our concern and institutionalise our care.

It always seems easier and more reassuring to assume that there are teachers, youth workers and clergy specially designated to cope with the needs of young people than admit that each one of us has a duty to give more than sympathy or financial support to the younger members of our community.

It would be comparatively easy within the limits of an article such as this to outline the provision for young people that already exists and needs our support hut I feel we must go deeper. Perhaps this can be put another way. Only when we have looked honestly at our own attitudes to and understanding at the young people in our midst can we realistically assess the sort of special provision that is necessary and useful.

Of course, we can condemn the violence, the indiscipline, the apparently purposeless behaviour about which we seem to see and hear so much. Of course we feel afraid and inadequate to answer the needs of the young even if we could identify them. "How," one might say, "can I lead the young anywhere? What do know of the future and the sort of life that faces the youth of today?"

I do not think they are asking us to lead them or point out clear paths for the future. They are not asking us to take away the uncertainty and slow down the rate of change, they simply want us to show them how to cope with the uncertainty — the uncertainty of growth development and change. This is a request not only to the youth worker, teacher or priest but to every mature adult with whom they come in contact. Research has shown that the most important consistent help to a young person during adolescence is provided by opportunities for interaction with adults who have themselves made the transition to adulthood successfully and who can maintain this in their dealings with young people.

In a period of history such as ours where traditional values so often seem threatened and security in many areas of life seem slight we must seek means to allow the young to experience the trust and security that is founded on a philosophy that can accept change.

Not change that is a mere gimmick — variety for the sake of variety — but the change that is the very basis of growth; helping the young to understand that "to live is to change and to be perfect is to have changed often." This is our world — the world of the young, the middle-aged, the old. The skilled and the unskilled — a world entrusted to us to develop, "crowning" as Teilhard de Chardin saw it "our planetary system with reason and intelligence tending always to the ultimate rationality and creativity of God himself."

We have all been made "a little less than angels." He has put "all things under our feet." This is the challenge offered to us and which we in turn must offer to the next generation if we truly care for them.

The vision we offer the young will depend on the attitude of mind we have to the world of today. If it is a positive, courageous, constructively critical, accepting one then all is well. If we are hesitant, pessimistic, lacking in courage then we cannot complain if those younger than we are either lose heart or reject their place in society, with consequent hooliganism, violence and anti-social behaviour. Do we sometimes act as though we feel ourselves threatened by the uncertainty of our position both as individuals and as a Christian community vis-à-vis the technological progress and the social revolution of our day? Could it he that we are seen by the young to act negatively at times, hesitatingly make a gesture of change, peripheral change, in our lives and in our educational approach but lack the conviction to go to the heart of the matter? Are we afraid to "launch out into the deep" fearful lest we cut adrift and lose touch with the essential enduring values of our lives?

Do we cling desperately to the known path, the institution that encases our most cherished ideals, instead of working to transform their setting, emancipating these principles and values so that they can find a natural habitat in the next century? Are we guilty of what has been called 'dynamic conservatism' — fighting like mad to remain the same?

Our first service then, to the young is our willingness to accept wholeheartedly the world in which we live, but the very acceptance of this will force us to look more closely at particular aspects of our behaviour. I mention only two.

What image of the Church do we, both clergy and laity, present to the young of our parish or school? Do we present it as a bastion of respectability, anxious custodian of values and tradition that we fear may seep away or are we striving to make it a community of worship, of witness to truth and justice, a community of love and concern actively engaged in making Christ's love known to the world.

The message is eternal but the means of transmitting it depends on us. The occasional "folk Mass", for example, may be an attempt to meet real needs in a parish but it could also be an escape route for the adults who cannot really face the issues that face the young but feel that such a gesture will answer the problem.

The involvement of the young in local community affairs either through the school, by way of service to the old or the handicapped, or through the activities of the local youth club must also be examined. Do we view such activities as primarily "a good way to keep them out of mischief" or do we as an adult group in the community seek ways in which the contribution of the younger members can be a genuine sharing in the building up of the

body of Christ which is encumbent on us all? When did we last explore such a topic at parish council level?

I do not want or intend to minimise in any way the value of the club. It is valuable and will remain so on many counts not least that it will be for many the only place where they can test out feelings, attitudes and behaviour that one might be unable to risk at home, and to test out the acceptability or otherwise, of ideas and actions and in this way come to terms with some of the problem of self-identity and role in society at large.

Furthermore, the Club can often provide the social setting that can sometimes be lacking in a school where size and continual regrouping of classes can militate against the development of close relationships. In the club the emphasis can be on being and becoming rather than on doing and achieving, and so counterbalance the emphasis in the school. For these and for many other reasons which it would be impossible to develop here we need our clubs and other formal youth activities. I simply question whether one or two "leaders" in a club or even a more generous proportion of helpers to members is enough. It has been noted that a structure intended to help young people needs to provide them with opportunities of interacting with adults.

This trend towards seeing the function of the club as developing a greater community awareness was stressed time and time again in the Report on Youth and Community in the 70s and was indeed already hinted at in the report prepared under the chairmanship of Lady Albemarle as early as 1961. We all need to question why we have a club in our parish and why, so often, having established it we leave it to others "to get on with it." Is it lack of awareness that we have a responsibility to the young or fear that we lack the expertise?

We have seen that we have a responsibility to share our vision of hope for the future, belief in the continuing presence of Christ in the world and genuine_ love for all crea

tion with all members of our community. That is the first „ step. We then need to see how / best this can be done, and clearly the practical details must be explored at local level. We need to do this urgently and honestly.

We still need the professional. There is need for training, support, skills and expertise. We need to look again carefully at the provision that exists in our parishes, deaneries and dioceses and then together as a Christian community seek ways to supplement and complement the existing service. There must be many people in many and varied walks of life throughout the country who, having thought about this realise that they have ideas and thoughts, skills and knowledge that they would like to share with the young.

The professional youth worker might be able to suggest how this scan be translated into practice — he can never replace or substitute for it. But whatever the usefulness to the communities of the trairted youth worker the qualities that really count cannot be guaranteed by training — they are less specialised perhaps but harder to acquire.

Patience, energy, the willingness to listen, to let a person go round and round the same issue and not throw them off. Above all to be concerned, the young will forgive art/thing except lack of sincerity. One cannot play at concern. And it is above all this genuine concern that is demanded from fool ourselves. eawcheonceanonfous. t Pastoral care of the young is the concern of the whole community. This is not the time to sit back and theorise about the "problems of youth," If we want to help we will get hurt, As Dag Hammarskjold once said, "Let us beware lest we reach out for others in vain because we never dared to give ourselves."

And almost 2,000 years earlier Christ said; "I came that they may have life and have it more abundantly," but His coming meant death as well as resurrection.

Next week Sister Mary Garson discusses Pastoral Care of the elderly.

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