Informing Young Consciences
This weekend our country experienced two horrific mass shootings. And once again gun control became a hot topic. Climate change has reached a critical tipping point, yet we can't agree on action to save the planet. Immigration continues to be a controversial issue, and Americans seem divided more than ever before. Last week the democratic candidates for president debated, and presidential ads have already hit the airways. In the midst of all this, how are we helping the youth who will be voting in the near future do so with a conscience, and in our case, with a Catholic conscience?
Some of us shy away from the controversial issues because we fear being labeled too conservative or too liberal or we just don't know the Catholic teachings on these issues. And some of us tell youth exactly what they should think and how they should vote. Both of these positions do a disservice to the young people entrusted to our care. Our sacred responsibility is to help young people develop informed consciences which they can then use for the rest of their lives to make faithful decisions for the common good. So how do we go about informing young consciences?
The best sources of information come to us from Scripture and from Church teaching. One activity I've used with adolescents to connect faith and citizenship is a 25-minute session in which the young people explore what Scripture has to say about issues. They read a passage and then are invited to come up with a creative way to help other people understand the Catholic principle found in God's Word.
We can always rely on the USCCB to inform youth about what it means as Catholics to be faithful citizens (http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/faithful-citizenship/index.cfm). I love the way the U.S. Bishops take the seven principles of Catholic social teaching and challenge us to apply them to the issues and the candidates in any election. If we actually taught young people what the seven principles mean, we'd be equipping them to vote faithfully for life. A great resource for working with youth on the principles is Catholic Relief Services. This wonderful organization has produced short, dynamic videos and discussion guides on the principles (https://www.crs.org/resource-center/CST-101). I find that showing youth one of these videos, then inviting them to apply the principle to an issue like immigration or gun violence, is an effective way of equipping them for present future voting.
We owe it to our youth to help them inform their consciences so that they can be faithful citizens. I once asked young adults what informed their voting. They mentioned things like financial impact, gender, education, age, etc. But hardly any mentioned their Catholic faith. It's up to us to help them see the connection between their faith and their citizenship. If they asked, "Which candidate upholds the life and dignity of every human person more?", if they asked, "Which piece of legislation is looking out for the common good, not just the good of a few?", they would be voting faithfully. What are you doing to make that happen with the young people entrusted to you?