“At an age when boys tend to be reckless rather than wicked, impetuous rather than incorrigible, hope for their transformation must never be lost. They must be surrounded with every possible help in order to form them to good habits.”
– Fr. Andre Coindre, 1818
Chapter 1 The Way of Trust
1.1 The way to a boy’s heart is the way of trust. We express our trust mainly through acceptance of his youthfulness, through respect for him as he is, and through faith in his infinite potential for change and growth. To trust a boy is the greatest gift we can give him. It joins us to the creative work of God, who, through us, wants to build him up, mark him as worthy, and enable him to grow in ways we cannot fully imagine.
1.2 A child learns trust in early infancy. He begins risking trust only after he experiences a responsive family. He cries; his mother replies by feeding and soothing. He smiles; his father returns the smile. With the discovery over time that his needs will be met in the family, the child gains the fundamental resource from which his development will proceed: basic trust to say to himself, “When I need them, they will be there.”
1.3 Trust requires acceptance. Accepting a boy as he is demands the discipline of adjusting our expectations to the subtle mother-of-pearl shades of his personality, his capabilities, his limitations, his age, and his personal identity. What it amounts to is this: each boy is not one in a crowd, he is not a bar code. He is immensely different from the others, created to be unrepeatably unique. God’s heart holds a special name for him.
1.4 Accepting a boy often involves having to overcome our tendency to reject him when he behaves badly. It involves getting beyond a behavior that repels us. We must resist defining them by their behaviors. Negative behaviors and refusals are boys’ ways of acting out their sufferings. In accepting a boy as he is, we don’t condone repulsive behavior; we correct it, all the while trying to appreciate the wound which it disguises.
1.5 Andre Coindre, a young French priest, founded the Brothers of the Sacred Heart to care for wounded boys. He knew some beaten by a parent, abused by an adult, chased from home, or harassed by peers. By working closely with them, he discovered that the best approach is to avoid taking their flare-ups personally and instead to contemplate their wounds. By doing so he learned that their endurance of suffering was a gauge of their deeper worth.
1.6 It’s natural to respect our sons for the good things they do, such as successful test results or politeness and service to neighbor. As good as it is to compliment them for their achievements, that is not the most authentically Catholic approach. The Catholic tradition holds that their psyche is basically good, but wounded, often in early childhood. We need to know boys’ wounds and to compliment them for the way they bear up under them.
1.7 A truly Catholic attitude to boys respects each one as an image of God and therefore as essentially good, a creature of God, and, by grace, God’s child and an heir to eternal life. Each boy, when he behaves well and when he behaves badly, has a divine destiny which is original and unique. The Catholic way is to cultivate a trusting attitude about the divine possibilities of each ordinary child, who is embraced by God’s loving outreach.
1.8 At moments of self-doubt, boys need signs of respect from us adults to understand that they are an unsolved puzzle of goodness, regardless of how negative their self-perception may be. They are constantly questioning themselves. We can lead them to self-acceptance only by expressing to them our faith that God created them because, from all eternity, he wanted them to exist. He couldn’t imagine the world without them.
1.9 If there was anything considered heretical about Jesus it was that he went down into the hell of those whom official religious leaders called sinners to point out the good in them. The Catholic way of trust means descending into our children’s sufferings. Though flawed, guilty, and disobedient, boys remain God’s icon and prize: intrepid, gracious, magnificent. As St. Peter writes, they are “participants in the divine nature.” (2 Peter 1:4)
1.10 Catholic tradition expresses trust in the Sacred Heart of Jesus. By the image of the Sacred Heart, Jesus wants to show us that we should trust that there is a sacred heart inside each boy. It is part of our mission as parents and Christian adults to announce to children that they possess a sacred heart. This means learning to revere their infinite worth because they bear the image of God in their souls. (Pacem in terris, 10)
1.11 Jesus, who invited children to come close, wants them to know that when they plunge into the depths of their own heart, God, who probes the heart, awaits them there. In their heart they can hear their unique name and discover their destiny in the eyes of God. By respecting the sacredness of the heart of every boy, we help him to recognize in himself a spiritual and eternal soul of infinite worth.
1.12 For us parents and educators, the theological virtue of trust in our boys is a spiritual discipline, which, like all of Jesus’ teachings, means taking a risk. Giving boys our trust sometimes means treating them with graciousness that they don’t deserve. Our decision to risk trust reflects the Catholic faith that we don’t merit grace and that God doesn’t deal with us “according to our sins.” (Psalm 113:10)
1.13 In guiding teenage boys, we would do well to repeat often to ourselves the words of Father Andre Coindre, who said in 1818: “They are deserving of special concern and individual attention. … At an age when boys tend to be reckless rather than wicked, impetuous rather than incorrigible, hope for their transformation must never be lost. They must be surrounded with every possible help in order to form them to good habits.” (Prospectus of Pieux Secours 1818)
1.14 Each boy has potential that we cannot see. Each is capable of learning the right route for his lifelong growth. Each can be an active agent of that growth, not just a recipient, and can create things that would not otherwise exist. Each can be the artist of his life. Actually, the child is both the artist and the work of art. With our guidance, each can gradually assume responsibility for making life decisions about who he will become.
1.15 Within every boy is a God-given impulse to transcend himself. The human spirit, in God’s image, desires and is capable of limitless growth. Concretely put, something divinely human impels him to aspire to new heights so that his spirit can envisage new horizons for itself. Each stage of his growth satisfies him for a while, but sooner or later he becomes restless to reach a farther horizon. His ultimate horizon is God.