Nurturing the youth so they find their mission in life

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Celebrating the Feast of the Holy Family this year on Dec. 30 bears added significance for us Filipinos. Today we also commemorate the 116th anniversary of the martyrdom of Dr. Jose P. Rizal who said the prophetic words, “The youth is the hope of our country.”

From this Sunday’s Gospel, “The Finding in the Temple” in Luke, and the feast, there are two lessons to reflect on.

First is the value of the family.

Second is the “task” of the family to nurture its members, especially the younger ones, to discover their mission in life and to equip them with the values and character to live this out.

In her book, “Big, Questions, Worthy Dreams,” Dr. Sharon Daloz Parks, writer, researcher and professor, points out that despite “a crisis in the meaning of family” it remains as the “primary network of belonging,” where a person fulfills his/her basic need for “connection and confirmation.”

In our teacher formation program, every time we ask our participants to write about their most important blessing in life, around 90 percent write about their family. Yet when we come to the part where we ask the teachers to cite 10 descriptors of the world of the Filipino youth, one consistent answer is the importance of the family and how in the lives of their students this could be a problematic situation.

 

Basic disposition

No one doubts the important role the family plays in one’s life. The family shapes a person—either makes or breaks him—in his early years.

I have observed in my work in education and formation the past three decades or so and from talking and working with psychologists, how it is in the early years that the core of a person’s identity is formed and his basic disposition is developed.

Without being negative, I agree with Parker Palmer, educator, author and lecturer, in his description of our early years: “We arrive in this world with birth right gifts and then spend the first half of our lives abandoning them or letting others disabuse us of them. We are surrounded by expectations and slots to fill. There are sometimes events or abuses that create distortions of our true selves. So how do we get back?”

Whenever we encountered problems involving a student in my work in the high school and grade school of Ateneo de Manila, I would always ask the teacher and guidance counselor to describe the family situation of the student concerned. More often than not and without resorting to stereotype, we could say that a problematic student lived in a problematic family situation.

The early childhood experiences form him. It is either a very healthy and positive experience that forms a secure, happy and integrated person, or a traumatizing and negative experience that forms—or deforms—an insecure and problematic person.

In the movie “The Passion of the Christ,” there is a beautiful and powerful collage of Christ coming to the final moments of his human life. They juxtaposed scenes of his passion with those of his earlier life. One childhood scene from his childhood is of Mary consoling him after a fall.

Stress and crisis

There is no iota of doubt that the family’s role in shaping a person is of paramount importance. We also cannot deny the stress and crisis the institution of the family is undergoing.

There is a growing pattern of families with single-parent or no-parent situations. This pattern is related to the rise in the number of broken families and the OFW (overseas Filipino workers) phenomenon. Unless there is an alternative support structure or community that could provide some of the needs of children, the country and our society will experience the negative backlash of this when the youth of the past two decades become adults and take over the leadership and the management of our society and country.

The need for an alternative support structure and community brings me to our second point for reflection—the “task” of the family to nurture its members, especially the younger ones, to discover their mission in life and to equip them with the values and character to live this out.

This has always been the special “task” of the family and the other social institutions—schools, churches, neighborhoods and even government—to provide support. In my work as school administrator, I had insisted on a home-school partnership in the education and formation of the students.

 

Opportunity in crisis

In her speech in the Davos conference years ago, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton quoted an African proverb: “It takes a tribe to raise a child.” We often say in our teacher formation programs, paraphrasing this African proverb, it takes a community to educate and form its youth.

As in all moments of crisis, there is opportunity. The Chinese say crisis is both danger and opportunity.

We live in a privileged moment in our nation’s story. We can make a difference by helping our society, our people to look at new paradigms in the different spheres of society.

Let us end where we started, the Gospel for this Sunday and Rizal. In the summer of 1980, when we held out first immersion program in Ateneo de Manila High School, a program started by then high school teachers Joel Lopa and Joey Cuyegkeng, the legendary Dr. Onofre Pagsanghan (“Pagsi”), gave a talk to parents of the incoming seniors who joined in the program.

Pagsi used today’s Gospel as springboard for reflection. He said that in us parents and teachers there comes a point when our children/students “leave” us, paraphrasing Christ, to be in their Father’s house, to do God’s will and mission for them. There comes a point when we need to let them go and allow them to do what they have to do.

But before letting go, families, communities must be fertile ground to allow their members, especially the younger members, to discover their dreams.

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