Raising young disciples who seek adventure
Young disciples are hungry for experiences, interactions with diversity, challenges and truth. Regardless of age, they are followers of Christ seeking to live His way. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines discipleship: “The disciple of Christ must not only keep the faith and live on it, but also profess it, confidently bear witness to it, and spread it” (#1816) yet, we should encourage youth to embrace it and within it find adventure.
As the familiar sign suggests, we are raising the pro-life generation. I will share a few stories of my two oldest children and offer some ideas for how adults can foster pro-life views and a servant’s heart in the youth we accompany.
- Let them be a part of the stages of life.
Savannah is the oldest in our family of nine children. She was with me when her fourth brother was born and then each child after. Seeing the natural struggle of labor and the joy of birth nurtures the reality that life is precious. When a new baby is born into the family, the parish or the community, ask if you can visit with your children and hold the baby while the mother rests, bring a meal or flowers or offer to clean the bathrooms or kitchen. When you see a pregnant woman or a newborn baby, congratulate the mother. Modeling this behavior rubs off on your children. My oldest son, Aiden, says he is pro-life because of his siblings; so be open to many children! His youth group was invited to view a live ultrasound, and that was an impactful event for him as well. It affirmed the beating heart of a human being.
We want to enforce respecting life from conception to natural death. Local nursing homes and elder care facilities are often willing to have volunteers come and sit with the sick, lonely and dying. For our children, these experiences have been valuable in teaching them that everyone has a story and a life worth sharing.
- Provide opportunities to serve.
When Savannah was 15, we visited a Good Counsel Home in New Jersey where pregnant women learn life skills and break the cycle of homelessness. We spent the afternoon learning about how the women live in community together balancing babies, work and education. We played with the children and laughed with their mothers. There are opportunities to serve at local pregnancy crisis centers and in our communities with those struggling with homelessness, poverty, unemployment and addiction. Aiden spent time with Justice Outreach on an Native American reservation serving those in need by painting, cleaning and chopping firewood. Take your young disciples and volunteer; throughout Vermont you will find shelters, food banks and on-going projects. The work may not sound appealing, but the experience is life changing and life giving.
- Send them out.
Aiden and Savannah both went on mission trips after high school. Savannah spent six months in Villa el Salvador, Peru, working in an orphanage with the Sisters of the Resurrection. Aiden spent two months in Belize City, Belize, working at a school, with the poor and in the church with the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity. By taking on the responsibility of raising money for the trips, they committed to their obligations. One of Aiden’s jobs was to clip the fingernails and toenails of a disabled man, reaching far outside his comfort level. Savannah changed diaper after diaper without consistent water availability and often without baby wipes. These experiences are where compassion and recognition of the dignity of all are learned. The stories they share invoke a strong desire to serve those who need us.
Becoming young disciples by following Christ and being His hands makes the world a better place and the journey of life all the more adventurous.
—Maggie Eisenbarth is the respect life coordinator for the Diocese of Burlington.
—Originally published in the Fall 2019 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.