FOCUS

I recently read a story in St Anthony Press about a group of young people called Focus.  The recent college graduates go back to universities and try to bring the Catholic faith to the students there.  This article applauded their work, and I’m sure there have been some great gains through their efforts, but I was totally disturbed. 

The decade between 16 and 26 years old is a critical time in life. Even one of the group members said,  “Young people are making life decisions and values are tested. They decide whether to reject or accept Catholicism”.   We sure do.  I do not deny the truth of that.  But while they see that as a perfect time to intervene, I’d be more careful.   I do not think people make a true embrace of Catholicism, or anything, at this stage without the possible negative influences of identity forming and conforming.  Their focus (no pun intended) seemed to be on getting kids in right relationship with the Church, not necessarily God.  And although we want to avoid an individualistic type of religiosity, group think isn’t a great way to go either (not that I think that Focus is doing that).   

I joined a charismatic Catholic teen group in my first year of college.  I was very taken up with it all, a little too much.  When I look at that time now as a professional minister I realize that the 9 months in that group had all of the tell tale signs of a late adolescent stage- when we are furtively trying to find, form and express our identity.  What normally sticks out then are identities of a unique or unusual fashion.  We are prone to conformity and still attracted to black and white thinking, especially as we encounter big changes in our world views.  We want to belong, be cool, be included, we want acceptance but acceptance from others is a poor substitute for the self acceptance we really crave. We go to the parades, walks, protests, lectures, etc. especially in the beginning, often for our own sense of self. 

In this stage we are libel to cling to many things/people for identity, not because we are embracing this or that, but for the secure feelings it gives us.  This stage of  identity forming is a dangerous place to wield so much influence.  I remember my mom getting upset once when we came home from CCD with ‘little feet’ pins (representing anti-abortion) that our teacher sold us.  When my mom asked what the pin was for, we didn’t know; we just thought the feet were cute.  My mom questioned our teacher about it and the teacher said something to the affect of, ‘Well, this is when we have to get them, when they’re young and we can mold them without them even knowing it’.  My mom told her that was akin to brainwashing and unacceptable.   And I agree with her point-she said it was unfair to lure kids into something they don’t understand.  

College students are not children but it is so important to remember the capacity for persuasion, for good and bad, at this time.  I would be uncomfortable having so much influence without some good theological training too.  I’ve not read any other articles or information on this group but I do think from what was said in it that they mistakenly think people are open and hungry for God when they may be soley open and hungry for identity. If I were in this group, I wouldn’t want anyone to ‘come to truth’ without truly wanting to and being of clear mind to do so. It wouldn’t seem authentic any other way.

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About Lauren Ivory

Lauren Ivory is a hospital chaplain working on Chicago's diverse north side. After receiving her Master of Divinity degree at Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis, MO she went on for further hospital ministry training at the Cleveland Clinic of Ohio. On the side, she enjoys helping couples plan wedding/commitment ceremonies and works with couples as a certified premarital guidance counselor.

6 thoughts on “FOCUS

  1. I’m not sure what exactly is being said in this article. Isn’t the TRUE church of God and God the same thing? Isn’t the TRUE body of Christ in complete unity with His Spirit?

    “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.”

    Why would anyone consider a Catholic CCD teacher telling children about the murdering of children in the womb, to be brainwashing? After all, isn’t the CCD teacher just professing Catholic teaching? Wouldn’t the true brainwashing (and deception) be telling them that there’s nothing wrong for a woman to murder the life of her child while in the womb?

    Are you saying that parents who instruct their children on these things might be brainwashing them? Who should instruct them in the way that they should go? The government?

    God’s word says specifically what parents should do (the sooner the better):
    “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” Proverbs 22:6

  2. Mrissman,

    I think you are reading a lot into what I wrote. When you take the issue with the CCD teacher for instance-we were far too young to comprehend what the teacher was talking about and she got us to buy these pins on top of that. The example is about the form, not the content. I used the story to talk about consciousness forming, not abortion. She could have been talking about anything else, it was the way she did it that caused concern.

  3. Dear Lauren,
    Didn’t you say that you bought them because “we just thought the feet were cute”? What was the harm then? Was your mom pro-life or pro-abortion at the time? It seems that the harm may have been that your mother didn’t like that the teacher was professing long held Catholic doctrine. I can’t imagine any parent that espoused the doctrines of the Catholic church complaining that their child came home with some “cute feet” on a pin unless, of course, that parent didn’t agree with the simple but profound message.

    I think that the earlier I tell my children about it being wrong for a woman to murder the baby in her womb, the better. The fact of the matter is that if you ask children from pretty early ages whether they think it’s wrong for a mommy to kill the living baby inside her tummy, they would implicitly agree it is, from just the basic life training they’ve received.

    Warmest regards in Christ

  4. I agree, Lauren. As someone who trained in college student development theory, college is a time of exploration and “figuring out.” Charismatic groups masquerading as cults can be harmful if not regulated. At the end of the day, the the focus should be on the student’s inner compass and negotiation, and if that leads them away from such movements, so be it, this is a part of growth and maturation.

  5. mrssman, no, like I said, my example was about the form not content of the situation. There was no subconscious motivation of secret pro abortion beliefs.

  6. R. Hoffmann: How would you propose regulating a charismatic group? What would indicate to you that a group is a cult?

    At the end of the day, shouldn’t the focus of all Christian groups be Jesus Christ; His life, death and resurrection? If Christian groups focus on other things, they become like every other social services group on campus. Jesus Himself says, “apart from Me you can do nothing.” What do you think He means when He says, “nothing”?

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