At a Catholic high school for girls in New York City, I have the amazing and demanding task of teaching 16 year old girls—who believe that they are sophisticated and much more worldly than I am—Catholic morality.
My students claim that peer pressure is not a factor in the decisions they make. Yet they all wear the same labels, listen to the same music, and buy into whatever Madison Avenue (located not far from my school) is selling teenagers that day. And they believe that their decision to have sex or to drink is completely their own.
And they definitely don’t understand that today they are choosing to be the person they will become in the future.
Who are you becoming?
So it is a challenge to teach the fundamental question of Catholic (or any) morality: “What kind of person are you becoming?”
It’s a question all of us answer as we make thousands of decisions everyday. Buying coffee at Starbucks. Choosing to date. The television shows we watch. The people we talk to. Buying J Lo or K-Mart. Whether we take the bus or the subway. The magazines we buy. The doughnut we eat or the carrots we munch on. Voting. Exercising. Hating. Yelling. Loving. Laughing. When taken together our actions create the kind of person we are becoming and will become.
I love teaching this course. Every year as I begin to introduce my students to the basics of Catholic morality I feel a bit envious of them. I wish I had a teacher or a class that helped me to begin to understand who I was becoming at sixteen.
More than ‘don’t’
Don’t get me wrong—I know many of the students just nod their head in class and regurgitate what I have said on the test to get the grade. But for some of them I see the light go on and they begin to get it .
It is a bit surprising to my students that Catholic morality is more than, “Don’t: 1) have sex, 2) get divorced, 3) use birth control, or 4) miss mass on Sunday.” It is about becoming the person we were created to be. It is about learning to live fully our humanity.
Fear and the good little girl
Growing up in a strict Catholic household led me to believe that God kept close attention to the sins I committed. It was not until I was in my late twenties that I began to discover that there was more to me then the good little girl I always had been. I had a profound experience that allowed me to truly believe that God loves me no matter what. I didn’t have to be the good little girl anymore. I needed and wanted to be me.
I have spent the last few years discovering through study, reflection, and therapy who I am becoming. In eleven years I will reach the age in which my father died of his first heart attack. I admit this frightens me.
Celia reports to the Pearly Gates
When I heard that the Latin salsa star Celia Cruz died, I envisioned God greeting her with the words, “You have done well, mi amor, now come and rest.”
I want God to say those words to me when I die. Yet sometimes I worry that depression or fear will keep me from truly becoming who I
was created to be.
And that is why I love teaching Catholic morality to my students. I love guiding them to discovering who they are meant to be. If just a few of my students leave high school knowing that God loves them for who they are and not what they wear… If they are aware that each decision they make brings them closer to knowing their full humanity… Well, I feel blessed and I know they are blessed.
And I begin to feel that I am coming closer to the person I am meant to be.