I’m quoting British PM David Cameron here.
His phrase, in reference to the British riots and to a loss of a sense of right and wrong, of values, has been our driving-in-the-car discussion.
Because, sadly, I see this poverty of culture with many children. They are materially comfortable but culturally, aesthetically, spiritually poor.
Our culture has let them down. We have sunk, many times, to the lowest common denominator in our entertainment, in our books, our television watching, to whet our baser appetites for more. As in that Merton quote.
We have dumbed down our curriculum. Made it politically correct. Taking away all the study of beauty, of art or of poetry, any study of art and poetry for their own right, to reduce it to study for outcomes. Be introduced to genre. Learn to write an exposition. Learn an art
technique, study the theme of revolution in poetry…not poetry for enjoyment. Watch what amounts to political propaganda for religion. And
do all this to achieve the outcome, to fit our current ideologies , not to see the beauty of the written word or of the artwork. Not for enjoyment. But for utilitarian purposes.
The same could be be said of the Christian world or of the Church. In an effort to be relevant, the Church has lost its sense of the sacred in many places and in some liturgies. Christian art and Christian music is often banal and pop culture driven. The children , the young people
don’t come to church, to worship, in an atmosphere that inspires awe. They come to be entertained, to see friends, because they should .
And when that fails they often leave. They don’t see anything in Church that the world can’t offer.
And don’t give me the old tired statement that children nowadays aren’t interested in the sacred, in beauty, in being brought out of themselves and their utilitarian media and consumer driven culture.
I work with kids. And when, for example, instead of self-centred morning news at OOSH, I introduce discussion on a staff member’s trip tp World Youth Day and Spain, are the children bored? To the contrary. They tell me what they know of Spain, they ask questions, we discuss
the Spanish culture.
Or they look at the artwork on my IPad when I take it in for use on “lazy day”. Who’s that? Mary. A painting by Raphael. Who’s he? An artist.
And they are interested. They look at the colours, at other paintings.
And the children in catechism class show a similar interest and thirst. Not for the curriculum of “niceness” but for something that inspires. We talk about WYD, we look up Spain on the map, we discuss Spanish food and icons. I talk about St Ignatius of Loyola and St Mary of the Cross, recent feast days, and the boys’ eyes light up when they hear about St Ignatius being a soldier. They ask questions about what he
read to make him want to be a priest, about why Jesuits often had to smuggle into England to say mass during the Reformation and post-
Reformation, they ask about living a life for something and not giving up. “Oh, like when you told us fortitude! ” Yes, when we talked about
the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Wow, they remember. They understand. They have a thirst for real knowledge, for visions, for dreams, for the
sacred, for things outside of themselves or out of the ordinary.
After Mass on Sunday night, a mother came to me with her son, I said hello as I teach this little boy in Catechism. She said yes, all he
could do during mass was keep pointing me out, telling his mum the things he had learned in class. Now, I am not saying this because I think it is admirable for children to talk in mass. Or because I want you to think I am the world’s best teacher. I am sharing because this incident illustrates my point. That these children can understand beauty and the sacred, can be interested in that which is good and true.
We just have to feed them the right stuff. Give them the beauty. Encourage awe. Give them a sense of the sacred. The truth. The higher
We have to create a culture of value. Not a poverty of culture.
Thomas Merton was converted to a life for God in part by the beauty of sacred art. Surely our children deserve the same opportunity for conversion?