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Teaching young people how to navigate love and terror

Editor’s note: This is the first column in a series on Pope Francis’ post-synodal apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love).

This series on “Amoris Laetitia/ The Joy of Love” would have started elsewhere if we had not faced yet another onslaught of ter­rorism and hate crimes. However, as one looks back on this document by Pope Francis, it is clear that he offers food for thought on the vexing topics of hatred and violence.

People who conspire to kill other people in the name of religion all suffer from some form of delusion. Among the many things which Pope Francis sees weakening and sicken­ing society are narcissism, lack of nurturing, and neglect of formation for our young.

Young people need stable families, they need hope, and they need ma­ture adults who are situated in solid communities to inspire them. The Holy Father talks about the pressing need for us to appeal to the young to tap “their capacity for generosity, commitment, love and even hero­ism.”

Anyone who has worked with youth and young adults knows how easily they can be destabilized and disillusioned. They are grief stricken when they learn that someone they admired — a sports figure, a celebrity, a person in ministry, a coach or a family member — turns out to be less than a paragon of virtue. There is a teen phase in which the antennae seem fine-tuned for hypocrisy. When a young person finds phoniness, his or her trust in the adult world becomes very shaky.

It is increasingly evident that growing up amid broken relation­ships, abandoned projects, and what Pope Francis terms a “culture of the ephemeral” has caused many young people to latch onto strict disciplines and seeming absolutes, even if these are misguided. Thus, we have some falling prey to cults and others en­listing in mistaken and even fright­ening causes which they think will change the world.

We have not done a very good job of educating our young people in criti­cal thinking when our society has fostered an almost-anything-goes mentality.

We have also not done well in identifying the most vulnerable young people and seeing to it that they have trustworthy guidance and opportunities to dialogue about their thoughts and dreams.

When Pope Francis speaks of the family, he reminds us that a family ought to be a place where couples, children, and extended families ex­perience a “communion of love.” Just as St. John Paul II has called the family a “school of faith,” Pope Fran­cis says that it is the place where we should learn to cooperate, to work, and to be good citizens while experi­encing genuine tenderness. Families ought to shelter us and prepare us for the inevitable human encounter with loneliness and powerlessness, he notes.

We clearly cannot shield young people from the multiple influences which come at them from peers, the marketplace, and social media. But we can attend to the fact that self-giving adults serve as role-models. They teach us reverence for other persons and the priority of the com­mon good. Solid families, Francis says, are where we find a “shepherd­ing in mercy.” They also, we hope and pray, help our young recognize wolves when they see them.

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