Redemptorist Publications has produced a very worthwhile introduction to the Church for teenage Catholics. Written by an enterprising layman, John Chater, it is called The Survival Guide for Young Catholics.
Wary of books with such titles, I warmed to it when I saw that the late Fr Hugh Thwaites SJ was included in the dedication; as Mary O’Regan has reminded me, he used to ask non-Catholics with a disarming smile: “You know you really want to be a Catholic, don’t you?”
Fr Marcus Holden, a priest in Southwark archdiocese, writes that the book “makes a big step towards showing how a Catholic can live well in this brave new world, with both mind and heart intact”.
How has John Chater achieved this? By sticking to his aim, which is to help young people deal with some of the many arguments against their faith that they are bound to encounter – if they haven’t already. He adds: “You can also use it to ‘pressure test’ Catholicism, to see if it stands up to criticism. This will help you to decide whether or not your faith is reasonable, logical and worthy of your lifelong devotion.”
Chapters include a discussion of morality and justice, science and faith, prayer and “The Church: a force for good or evil?”.
On the Sacrament of Marriage, Chater asks if marriage is still relevant, given that many couples opt to cohabit instead. He explains: “What makes a marriage Christian is … a personal relationship of life-giving love in which two people make the love of Christ present to each other and one in which the partners become a sign of love of Christ to those around them.”
He adds that marriage is the best environment in which to bring up children and also “for the husband and wife to grow together, and for their love to deepen as the years pass.”
There is much more to be said on the subject, but for teenagers it is a start – especially as while I was reading this book the radio happened to be on (a bad habit) and I heard a couple agreeing that the statement “I promise to stay with you as long as I can” was the best they could manage. Young Catholics need to hear the Church’s beautiful teaching on marriage – otherwise all the speeches, debates and conclusions of the recent family synod will become irrelevant.
The Archdiocese of Westminster also takes Christian marriage very seriously, as its new Explore programme shows. In this initiative Christian married couples volunteer to go into secondary schools and answer questions about their relationship that might be asked them by Year 10 pupils.
The couples, from different Christian denominations, are not putting forward a religious point of view so much as explaining why and how marriages can work, flourish and be fruitful over the long haul. Courtship, sex, children, budgets and disagreements might crop up in the discussions generated by the questions.
It is a message and a witness that their youthful audience needs to see and hear, coming from a society in which many simply live together and marriage breakdown is high. The Explore motto is, appropriately, “Inspiring the young to hope for lifelong marital union”.
These Year 10 pupils will certainly need courage in the future if they decide to live out the Christian vision of marriage in their own adult lives. The young Northern Irish Christian couple, Daniel and Amy McArthur, who run Ashers bakery and who have been taken to court and fined, for refusing in conscience to decorate a cake for a customer with the slogan “Support Gay Marriage” on it, offer their own quiet, dignified and courageous example to young Catholics in the rest of the UK.