3 September 2012
The quality above all which school leaders and teachers need in their work with young people is to see them as God sees them; so said Jesuit priest Michael Holman, key speaker at the Education Convention in Wellington last month.
Fr Holman ranged over issues concerning young people today from the superficiality of social media and distractions of the Internet to the public image of a Church beset by clergy sex abuse scandals, the diminishing numbers of role models of faith in schools and crippling youth unemployment in parts of Britain.
‘For the first time in 200 years, young people in Britain today, many of whom will begin working life burdened with the need to repay student loans, can expect to be worse off than their parents.’
Yet, he said, young people are ‘possibly characterised these days by more generosity and compassion towards others, by more of a concern for issues of social justice than were their predecessors’.
He spoke of signs that, despite large numbers of young people being challenged in their faith, some are clearly becoming more open to faith. Thanks to religion critics Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, people are now more aware of questions of religion. The number of students choosing to study theology in preparation for university study ‘is certainly evidence of this renewed interest’ in religion.
Another encouraging sign was in the numbers making a retreat in the North Wales Jesuit centre, St Beuno’s, in the two years since a BBC series, The Big Silence, followed five young people with varying degrees of commitment as they made a five-day silent retreat.
Referring to the challenge of all schools to keep students engaged in the faith beyond the classroom, Fr Holman said teachers in Britain hoped they would give their students an experience of an encounter with Christ.
‘We hope we can find the words, appropriate to whatever stage of a young person’s development, to introduce our young people to a living relationship with Jesus.’
He said this was most effectively done from personal experience. ‘No talk about faith, however personal, can be convincing unless we also talk about the resources that we have to nourish and sustain us in our life of faith.’
Focusing on the story of the rich young man in Mark’s gospel, Fr Holman spoke of introducing this story to a group of students and watching them ponder Jesus’ response to ‘Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor and come, follow me’ (Mk 10:20-21).
‘And when we all, wherever we come from, enter that gospel scene like those students with our imaginations, whom do we see? We see Jesus. And what does he do? … Mark tells us he looks at (the young man) and he loves him.’
Image: Part of the audience at the three day Education Convention in Wellington, August 8-10.