Saturday, October 15, 2016

Helping Young People Deal with ‘Mrs. Culture’

(Twenty-ninth Sunday of the Year (C): This homily was given on October 16, 2016 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read 2 Timothy 3:14-4:2.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twenty-ninth Sunday 2016]

Mrs. Culture is a schoolteacher.  Her classes are very popular—especially with the boys!  That’s probably because she normally wears outfits that would make Kim Kardashian blush (and that takes some doing!).

She’s also known for telling lies in her class---or at least half-truths (which pretty much amount to the same thing).

She’s also really vulgar and swears a lot (sometimes 3 or 4 times in a single sentence).

She encourages her students to break the rules—and publicly ridicules the ones who don’t.  That’s because she loves to break the rules herself—and to openly ridicule the principal.

She’s also verbally abusive to almost everyone, and physically abusive to students whenever she can get away with it.

So, parents (and future parents)—would you like this woman to be your child’s teacher?

Well, I’ve got news for you: this woman ALREADY IS your child’s teacher!!!

In some sense, she’s everyone’s teacher—or at least she tries to be.

They say, “What’s in a name?”

Well, in this case, EVERYTHING’S in the name!

You see, the woman referred to here as “Mrs. Culture” is actually a personification of the culture in which we are currently living: the culture that our young people are being forced to grow up in!

Think of all the things I told you about her.  I said first of all that she dresses provocatively.  That’s a reminder that we live in a highly sexualized society right now where pretty much anything goes when it comes to sex, and where impure images and ideas are planted into the minds of young people on a daily basis (especially via the internet).

I said that she tells lies and half-truths to her students.  It reminds me of what a Westerly High School student named Mike Najim used to say to his fellow teenagers 25 years ago: “We are the most lied to generation ever.”

He was right, of course—at the time.

But since then it’s only gotten worse!  Nowadays it goes beyond the lies that young people have heard for decades about abortion and other moral issues.  It includes those, for sure, but it goes much further.  Think, for example, of the political atmosphere in our country right now.  (You probably don’t want to, but force yourself to do that for a moment.)  One day of the week two politicians are calling each other the most vile names imaginable—each saying the other isn’t fit for office (or for life on planet earth!); the next day they’re hugging like two long-lost friends. 

Well, which is it?  Where’s the truth?

I hope you realize, my brothers and sisters, that that kind of hypocrisy sends an implicit message to young people.  Implicit, but clear.  It says to them, “If you want to be successful in America today, just lie.  Fake it!  Do what you have to do; say what you have to say.  Whether it’s true or not is irrelevant.”

I said earlier that Mrs. Culture is also really vulgar and swears a lot.  If you have any doubts that our culture has become more vulgar and crude in recent years, just compare the 2016 presidential debates to the Kennedy-Nixon debate of 1960—or to almost any previous presidential debate.  There’s a big difference!

Or, better yet, watch an action film on cable TV!  I started watching one the other night and I had to turn it off after ten minutes.  I couldn’t take it anymore.  There were four-letter words being used in ways that I’d never heard them used before—and I’ve been in a lot of locker rooms over the years.

Or just watch a reality show and notice how the participants interact with one another.  Vulgarities normally abound!

And then there’s the violence and rebelliousness that young people are exposed to these days: violence in movies, city riots on live TV, attacks on police officers and the like?

I need to mention those things too, because, as you will recall, the last two qualities of Mrs. Culture that I spoke of were her rebellious attitude toward authority, and her verbal and physical abuse of her students.

This, sad to say, is the cultural atmosphere that our young people are breathing in every single day.

Can we do anything about it?  Can we do anything to improve the “air quality,” at least for the young people in our care—especially our children and grandchildren (if we have them)?

The answer, happily, is yes.  It is possible to negate—at least to some extent—the negative influence of Mrs. Culture on our youth.  We can do that by having a positive influence on them, in imitation of Eunice and Lois.

And who, Fr. Ray, are Eunice and Lois?

Glad you asked!

To answer that question we need to go to today’s second reading from 2 Timothy 3.  There St. Paul says to Timothy, the young priest:
Remain faithful to what you have learned and believed, because you know from whom you learned it, and that from infancy you have known the sacred Scriptures, which are capable of giving you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that the one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work.
Sounds like Timothy was doing pretty well, doesn’t it?  Sounds like Timothy was successfully dealing with Mrs. Culture in his life.  Oh yes, I should mention at this point that Mrs. Culture was also around in the first century.  Lest we forget, the culture of the Roman Empire back then was not what you would call “holy” and “loving” and “virtuous”.  In many respects it was as decadent as ours is, and in certain respects it was even worse than ours is!

But Timothy was handling it well, no doubt because he was doing what Paul told him to do in that text: he was remaining faithful to the truth that he had learned from his teachers.  Now the interesting thing is, St. Paul doesn’t name those teachers explicitly in this passage, but he does allude to them.  He says, “Remain faithful to what you have learned and believed, because you know from whom you learned it …”

To find out who Timothy’s teachers were, we need to go back to chapter 1 of the letter.  There St. Paul says, “I yearn to see you again [Timothy], recalling your tears, so that I may be filled with joy, as I recall your sincere faith that first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and that I am confident lives also in you.”

So there’s the answer!  It was Lois and Eunice!  They taught Timothy the truth; they taught him to love the Scriptures and to take the word of God seriously; they taught him to recognize and resist the teaching of Mrs. Culture.

We need to do the same for the “Timothys” in our lives.

Practically speaking, that means a couple of things …

First of all, it means that we need to be able to dialogue with our young people about what they’re being taught in school.  And when I say “school” I don’t just mean the brick building where they go five days a week from September to June!  I mean “the school of life”—which includes what goes on in that brick building, but also what goes on outside of it—in all those places where Mrs. Culture is doing her teaching.

In other words, we need to be able to talk intelligently with our youth about what’s going on in the world, and about what’s going on in their personal lives.  And we need to “shine the light of the Gospel” on those issues—which means that we also need to know what we believe as Catholics and why we believe what we believe.

It says in that second reading that Timothy knew the Scriptures from his infancy.  That was not a coincidence!  He understood the Scriptures because of his teachers, Lois and Eunice.  They taught him the truth of God’s word. 

We need to follow their example.

Now if you need some assistance in this regard, and your child happens to be in high school, encourage him or her to come to our Thursday night youth group.  This is one of the reasons Fr. Najim and I have that gathering every week: to help teens get solid answers to their questions and problems, and to limit the influence that Mrs. Culture has on their lives.

We don’t have pizza parties with our youth (at least not usually); rather, we help them to get a handle—and a healthy perspective—on their lives.

A perspective rooted in the truth of God’s word.

And then, of course, we need to pray (as today’s gospel reading enjoins us to do).  We need to pray for our young people every single day!  We need to pray that they will learn to do what Timothy learned to do: tune out Mrs. Culture and tune in to God and his truth, so that someday each of them will become what Timothy already is: a saint!