Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Boy Who Lost Jesus

A story is told of a young boy named Johnny (my apologies to all "Johnny's" out there!), who attended a Catholic school. Johnny was an energetic young lad, who caused his teacher, Sr. Mary Catherine, no end of headaches.

On a particularly busy day for Johnny during which he had pulled Suzy's hair, kicked his classmate Bobby, and tipped over the class pet's fishbowl (poor Bubbles the goldfish!), Sr. Mary Catherine couldn't contain her frustration any longer. She marched Johnny to Fr. O'Malley's office.

Fr. O'Malley sat behind his big desk in the pastor's office of the rectory, carefully scrutinizing the boy Sr. Mary Catherine referred to as "one of God's precious ones." Finally, Fr. O'Malley said in a deep, booming voice, "Johnny, where is Jesus?" Johnny's crystal blue eyes stared up at the pastor as a blank look filled his young face. Obviously, he didn't understand that Fr. O'Malley wanted Johnny to answer, "Jesus is inside me!" so that Fr. O'Malley could point out that because Jesus was inside Johnny, Johnny needed to behave.

So again, Fr. O'Malley boomed even louder, "Johnny, where is JESUS?" The corners of Johnny's eyes began to fill with tears. In one last attempt to help this lost young soul recognize the error of his ways and the necessity of right conduct in accord with the presence of God within him, Fr. O'Malley bellowed, "JOHNNY, WHERE IS JESUS?"

At that, Johnny dashed from the pastor's office, bolted through the door of the rectory, and ran all the way home, not stopping until he had slammed the door of his bedroom behind him. His mother, having heard the commotion, came to Johnny's bedroom and found him hiding in a corner. She said to him, "Son, what's wrong? Why are you hiding?"

Johnny replied as honestly as he knew how, "Mom, Jesus is missing, and they think I had something to do with it!"

Knowing the Right Thing vs. Doing the Right Thing
Looking back at our own upbringing, some of us may have encountered faith formation that seemed to have the purpose of filling the students' heads with knowledge of church history, scripture, virtues, commandments, and doctrines, in the belief that those students would then act morally and virtuously. Though these topics are all absolutely necessary as part of proper Christian formation, they don't automatically translate into a person behaving morally. Something else must occur.

Johnny knew it was wrong for him to pull Suzy's hair, kick Bobby, and terrorize Bubbles the fish, for instance, but his knowledge of right and wrong didn't prevent his bad behavior. His story illustrates the fact that: knowing the right thing doesn't necessarily mean a person will do the right thing. Even more, knowing what's right doesn't mean a person will choose to do right and actually love doing what's right. When I discipline a child at school, my goal is that they not only come to know what's right, but that they appreciate doing what is right.

This is especially true in our modern society. Knowledge of right and wrong doesn't translate into a love of right, and the choice to do right. If it did, young Johnny in our story might behave, and some corporate executives might not embezzle money from their companies, for example.

Making a Change: Accepting New Ideas & Adapting the Old
Sometimes we lose this emphasis as we discipline our children and students. Take Fr. O'Malley, for instance.  Though he meant well, Fr. O'Malley's approach to disciplining Johnny might not even work with many adults. If we, parents and teachers, are to help our students grow spiritually, morally, academically, and physically, we must be open to new approaches.

Vatican II's Declaration on Christian Education, #5 states that the vocation of teaching our youth "requires special qualities of mind and heart, most careful preparation, and a constant readiness to accept new ideas and to adapt the old."

Consider: what would help Johnny love right behavior and act rightly?  What approach is needed? What approach should we take as parents and teachers who desire our children not only to know the right thing, but to love the right thing and do the right thing? What kind of example do our children and students need to see from us in order to come to a love of doing the right thing?

Photo credit: Thomas Hawk via photopin cc