Thursday, October 29, 2009

Faith Empowering and Engaging Teens (FEET)

“How can nominal Catholics demand obedience and respect from their children when they extract from their children’s hearts, especially by means of their bad example, what the catechists have worked to plant in the young hearts? These Catholics are the same ones who complain about the youth of today and blame other people for this state of affairs. Could not the children of these Catholics say-though with a different meaning-to their parents the words that the child Jesus said to his Mother in the Temple: “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”(Lk 2:49)
Blessed Franz Jagerstatter

Letters and Writings from Prison

There has been an intriguing discussion in the blog world about teenagers living their faith. Both Judy at Benmakesten and Karinann at Daughter of the King have had some very thought provoking posts on the subject. I can’t resist joining in!

As a teenager, I was pretty wild and gave my parents more than plenty to worry about. I came from a very devout Catholic family, the youngest of nine children. I was the product of a Catholic grade school and a public high school. Although I had never left my faith, I didn’t get a lot of support in the world of my public school peers during my teen years, and more often than not, I felt the sting of ridicule from my non-Catholic friends.

Recalling how difficult those years were for me, I really dreaded the day when my own children became teens, thinking I would be in for more of a challenge than I could cope with. The news is always filled with teenagers in trouble, the malls are filled with teenagers acting rowdy, and the WIC clinic where I work is always filled with teenagers having babies. So it makes me wonder why God chose to bless me with such beautiful children who are so wonderfully different than how I remember myself as a teenager. We have our trouble to be sure, but for the most part, my children are respectful and kind and they seem to be drawn to other children of the same nature, so I am very grateful to God and I pray that it remains this way.

We are a pretty close-knit family and enjoy spending time together. I always laugh about how anytime someone in our family is involved in an activity like basketball, the whole family comes along to show support. Where one Bender goes, more are sure to follow! We move around in a pack like wolves! But I think this is what helps us to stay close and connected and aware of what is going on in our children’s lives.

But the time that they spend at school is another story. It is then that Paul and I have to trust that the efforts we’ve put into instilling our faith and our values into our children is really paying off. We pray that they will choose their friends wisely, will be treated kindly by others and will treat others kindly as well. Here’s where it gets a little sticky, because we can’t control what other children do, we can only enforce a little muscle with our own.

However, in the world of school and work, friends are important. They help us to feel loved, accepted and normal. I'll never forget the one time in my life where I leaned heavily on the friendships of others. When my children were small, I felt isolated and lonely for adult company during the day while my husband was as work. Our parish offered a "Mom's Group" where mothers and their infants and toddlers gathered together weekly to pray and socialize. I don't think I could have survived all of those temper tantrums and childhood illnesses if I didn't have friends to commisserate with and show me that all families suffer through those difficulties. It was also a great place to share the joys of mothering small ones as well. Today, I continue to share the friendship of many of these fine women. Our families continue to get together to celebrate life. We joyously greet one another with smiles at Mass. The "Mom's Group" has been a wonderful blessing in my life.

Our teenagers also need friendships outside of the family. They need to be able to choose friends that share their values, their difficulties and their joys. They need to spend time with these friends in a safe environment away from the pressures that are placed on so many teens to dapple in drugs and sex.

My husband and I, along with a group of several other adults and parents in our parish, have begun to offer a youth ministry program called FEET, which stands for Faith Empowering and Engaging Teens. We’re trying to follow up on a program that was begun last year by some college students working on an internship. We did lots of advertising and promotion, and held our first meeting this past Sunday. I was very nervous! I had no idea how many kids might show up, what we might say to them, or how enthusiastic they might be. But in my heart, I knew that it was very important to offer a safe place for our youth to gather together and share their faith.

My sons John and Justin were both involved and we were thrilled to see that over 25 other teenagers from our parish attended the meeting. This wasn’t something that their parents forced them to do, and it wasn’t part of a catechism class or confirmation preparation. This was just meant to be a program where teens would feel comfortable praying together and sharing their faith in a fun and friend-filled atmosphere. The program wasn’t meant to separate them from their families or the adults in their lives, but rather, it was meant to enhance the faith that has already been established in their households, and to help the teens develop a sense of community with one another.

Now that the first meeting has passed, it seems that my nerves were unwarranted. Our session was actually judged by all involved to be very successful! The group listened intently as Fr. Don Hying, the Rector of St. Francis de Sales Seminary spoke with them about the importance of their faith during these crucial years of their life and shared a story of his time in the Seminary. He told the group that even though he and his classmates were rambunctious, they were blessed to be free to share their faith with one another. His story caught the spirit of the FEET Program perfectly!

The participants warmly welcomed those teens who seemed a little shy and hesitant to join in the socialization.They readily volunteered to help with the first service project this December. And, they all joined in prayer with loving hearts. Many of the teens asked if we could meet weekly instead of monthly! I was so impressed with these wonderful teenagers and am so grateful to be a part of something that will help to keep them grounded in their faith.

Through this FEET Program I am reminded of the classic adage "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it." (Proverbs 22:6) And I echo the words of Blessed Franz Jagerstatter , our children belong in their Father's house, with their families and with the community of their friends, for both are important. God bless our youth!

1 comment:

  1. Anne,
    This is great! What wonderful work God will do through you and all those involved in this important apostolate.
    God Bless you all in your efforts.
    Thanks for the link in your post.