I mentioned in an earlier post that some behavior issues, especially among the boys, had been an ongoing nuisance. Finally, during the class preparing them for reconciliation, I calmly read the riot act to them. I said, “We are talking about God! We are talking about Jesus! To laugh and make light of things during this class is to make light of our relationship with God.” I went on to explain that, like a coach, I’m here to help them learn some knowledge and skills to excel, not in a sport, but in the Catholic way of life, which I firmly believe is “the Way.” That thought proved to be a sobering and positive thought for them. Later, as we discussed examples of mortal and venial sin, I proposed that misbehaving in religious education class could be considered a venial sin (“a failure to observe necessary moderation,” CCC glossary). This was an eye-opener for them and seemed to open the way for much-improved behavior as the class progressed. A sprinkle of guilt, used sparingly and wisely, can serve as an excellent tool for growth.
P.S. As long as we’re on the subject of “children behaving badly,” I have a free gift for you: Ten Tips for Maintaining Discipline. Just click on the link in the column to the right titled “Free Catechist Tips.”
I was surprized to read, “A sprinkle of guilt.. can serve as an excellent tool for growth.” Paprocki didn’t sound Irish to me! I accept that guilt may be effective in the short term, but won’t it be harmful in the long term?
Pat, you’re right, Paprocki is not Irish, but the Polish also have a strong tradition of guilt! Seriously though, I would emphasize the word “sprinkle.” We don’t want to create excessive guilt. On the other hand, guilt is a precursor to conversion. When we experience guilt – a sense that we are not doing all we can do or have acted improperly – and have that accompanied by an invitation to reconciliation, we are moved to change our behavior. Guilt is also associated with humility. Without some degree of guilt, we can fall prey to self-righteousness. I can’t emphasize enough, however, that any sprinkle of guilt must be accompanied by a large helping of forgiveness. Guilt should be a means to an end and that end is an intimate relationship with our loving God.
This whole area of sin and guilt is very complex. Some of the children I teach seem to have little or no sense of personal responsibility and yet there are others who have way too much guilt weighing them down. How do you deal with their differing levels of development?
Jose, either extreme is, of course, unnacceptable. We each need to accept responsibility for our actions and at the same time, we need to maintain perspective so as not to be weighed down by guilt. While you may have children at different ends of the spectrum, you are calling them all to the middle: a healthy sense of responsibility and guilt leading to conversion and reconciliation. Emphasize both aspects: acceptance of responisiblity and forgiveness. In Jesus, these come together to lead us to salvation from sin.