EDITORIAL: Spiritual inoculations for the young

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When children are young we rightly strive to guard their innocence and form a kind of protective sphere where they are somewhat insulated from the harshness and vulgarities of the larger culture. This period, however, is fleeting — the bubble will eventually burst and our children must face the difficulties of the world.

This raises several important questions that every parent or guardian must wrestle with: Why do we protect the innocence of the young and how do we later equip them to face inevitable challenges?

Certainly we do not safeguard the early years in order that children grow to be naïve and clueless young adults. The brief years in which they remain ignorant about certain realities are only to enable their unfettered growth in faith and morals, allowing them time to explore the world without too heavy a burden on their young hearts and minds.

A child’s world, however, gradually expands in concentric circles — the crib, the front yard, the neighborhood, schoolyard, town and on into college, careers and the whole wide world. Each step brings fresh discoveries and challenges. In most cases these encounters involve other people with varying personalities and views of the world. Most parents want their children equipped to dynamically engage a whole range of people, while holding true to their deepest core convictions.

If you are a Catholic, striving to live your faith and kindle a love for Christ in your children, then you already know of the tough road ahead. Increasingly so, the messages children receive from social media and popular youth culture run contrary to what we believe about Catholic morality and faith. If youth are never exposed to these ideas, they can easily overwhelm.

Some guidance can be taken from how we deal with physical wellbeing. When it comes to diseases and viruses, we expose children to low doses of these threats through inoculations. Trace amounts of what would otherwise be harmful are introduced in order that a child’s immune system might recognize the virus and respond without harming their overall health.

The same principle applies to protecting children from forces that might weaken or destroy faith or morals. Long before they encounter such proposals we have a duty to prudently introduce these ideas.

In the home we should be willing to approach questions such as: How do we know that Jesus is the Son of God, that life continues after death, that God is good and all-powerful despite the existence of evil in the world, that the marriage act is for the married and so on? When it comes to specifically Catholic teaching, how do we know that Jesus established the church, that the pope has authority to guide us, that the sacraments are real and vital to spiritual health?

We are not alone in facing these questions. A wealth of discussion guides and instructional materials abound. Our task is simply to find and utilize these resources, tailoring them to the immediate needs and questions that arise within our homes.

These materials are a good place to begin.

The Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church (YOUCAT): This is provides a concise but substantial introduction to the basic faith and morals of the Catholic Church.

Catholic.com: This website tackles every imaginable question about the Catholic faith and is a great place to find answers to difficult questions.

It’s been said that each generation represents a whole new world of souls who need the Gospel presented for the first time. Neglecting this mission is the spiritual abandonment of our young.

The writer is editor of the Catholic Anchor, the newspaper and news website for the Archdiocese of Anchorage, Alaska.

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