As our children grow, our hopeful prayer is they will be people of compassion, responding to others’ needs.
A teacher was showing children pictures of the earth from space. “Oh! We draw the lines.”
"What do you mean?” asked the teacher.
“Look at the pictures. No lines. Look at the globe and our maps. Lines. We draw the lines. We’re really one; nothing is separating us.”
How do we form our consciences? Let us look at just one of the many ways. Most researchers agree that the first moral feeling is empathy. The ability to feel another’s suffering - or happiness - is the foundation of virtue. Moral judgments are affective judgments. They’re basically not only from our head, but from our gut.
We have feelings because we have convictions. We have convictions because of the experiences we’ve had. Thus, the implications for faith formation are: what kinds of experiences do we need so that our moral, caring, compassionate sensibilities will grow?
Some things that leaders can do:
- Affirm the generosity and loving actions we observe children/youth already doing. As a family was shopping for a Thanksgiving basket for the needy, the dad picked a box of generic oatmeal. His 8-year old returned it to the shelf. His dad asked, “What’s wrong with that?” “We bought Sugar Frosted Flakes for us. The hungry kids out there like Sugar Frosted Flakes better than generic oatmeal,” he replied. He needs to be affirmed for his sensitivity (even though it’s going to cost more – but that’s not the question, is it?).
- Model caring, concern and kindness. Call the families of your learners when there is an illness.
- Live community. We never teach isolated individuals; we teach them as part of a community. Encourage cooperative learning, group work, discussions so they know one another, etc.
- Tell the stories. Let your learners know the lives of our heroes/heroines. Invite parishioners to tell their stories of witness and service.
- Use the technique of role-playing often so they walk in the shoes of others.
- Frequently use open-ended stories (applying our beliefs and teachings to real life), always asking, “what would you do?”
- Don’t just talk about the needs or make things to send to others (placemats for the nursing home); go to the nursing home, the soup kitchen. Be with the people who need us. Experiences form our consciences.
- Study and live the works of mercy. Often we misunderstand “mercy;” it includes care, making someone else’s problem our concern, and readiness to help those in need.
- Connect children (and their families) with the service/outreach events of the parish.
- Use contemporary resources: a) current events. Talk on a feeling/empathy level. (Don’t stay limited to America; what is happening elsewhere?); b) the Random Act of Kindness movement: www.randomactsofkindness.org; and c) children’s literature.
- Always work with the parents. We minister to the whole family, not just the children/youth. Affirm them for all they’re doing. Continually share ideas of ways to live their faith in the world.