Few schools seriously attend to character formation these days. However, all could follow the example set by the former headmaster of Roxbury Latin, Father F. Washington "Tony" Jarvis. The very first hour of the first day of school, all new students (7th graders and 9th graders) were told to report to the school auditorium. After these nervous newbies were settled into their seats, the headmaster took to the stage and in a most serious tone said, "I am now going to tell you the most important thing you need to know about this school. We...all of us...teachers, administrators, janitors and kitchen help...care more about what kind of character you develop during your years with us than anything else. Academics, sports, which college you eventually attend. All that is important, but secondary. It is character first." With that, he left the stage to let the brief message sink in. Few students forgot it.
But then there is the eternal problem of pain. How does one deal with a best friend who turns her back on you? How do you handle having worked at a sport all summer and then are cut from the team and, thus, also cut off from your friends? Today, many young people have no defense mechanism against life's bruising. Youth suicides are up and the nation is facing an epidemic of serious depression among children.
Christian families have a crucial advantage in dealing with the problem of pain. In our own youth, Catholic parents regularly repeated "Offer it up for the souls in Purgatory." Our guess is that most kids, if they heard the phrase "souls in purgatory" would think it is the name of a rock band or a new Xbox game.
On the other hand, what greater gift can we give to our children then helping them see that by joining their suffering with those of Christ, they are sharing in his redemptive mission for the world? In this way, life in school is more than a series of meaningless crucifixations, but a road to fulfilling unity with Christ.
Kevin and Marilyn Ryan, editors of "Why I'm Still a Catholic," worship at St. Lawrence Church in Brookline.
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