Special teens use electronics for evangelization

Reflections on Life
By Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD
“Father, I’m in town. Could a couple of my friends and I come by for confessions this afternoon?”
The phone call request had a familiar ring. Usually away for school, teenage Irish Travelers call frequently for confessions when in town. On the one hand, they are a congenial, delightful bunch of youngsters, but on the other hand they are very serious about their spiritual life. So I smiled and told them to come right over.
Three young ladies ranging from 15 to 17 came bustling in when I greeted them at the door. I can always rest assured that they will make themselves at home, raiding the unsalted, roasted pistachios and peanuts a bit, lolling around on the easy chairs and chatting nonstop about this, that and who knows what. Well disciplined, two stayed in the living room while one went to the secretary’s room for confession.
Those teenagers always give me a taste of the electronic age, sometimes using a cell phone to refresh their memory on the way of going to confession, at times just dialing up the list of DOs and DON’Ts that they can use to talk about their omissions and commissions. They might dial up the act of contrition to boot. They are quite electrified with modern gadgets, but nonetheless an electrifying group of youngsters, not allowing their cell phones to interfere with their social life.
As is customary among late-teenage Travelers, never far off is a discussion about an impending engagement or even the prospect of marriage. Despite the item of their yet-tender age, the heavy conversations on the weighty subject of the holy sacrament of matrimony invariably come up. Of course, negative experiences push me to slow down in the very young their desire to wed before they are mature.
Emotional, social and spiritual maturity in young ladies is generally achieved around their early twenties, but males usually lag years behind in achieving the same level of maturity. Keep in mind that severe immaturity is one of the main reasons marriage tribunals cite for granting the annulment of a marriage.
After the three had completed their confessions, I returned to the living room. Feet drawn up and holding their knees, two of the girls were squeezed together in one easy chair, looking for all the world like a duo of tiger cats. Yet, in spite of all that, far from being predators, they were likable and lovable teenagers.
Their mission accomplished, they socialized with me for a short while, then decided it was time to go. Hardly had I seen them out the door when I returned to the living room and spotted coins on the floor. It was an arresting sight, mainly because the youngsters had obviously left them there on display: 16 pennies, three nickels, three dimes, eight quarters, one Canadian dollar. It had to be the two tiger cats who went on a fishing expedition with their fingers down in the easy chair, discovering and extracting the unsuspected bounty lost over a period of several years.
That lineup of coins on the floor visible to anyone in the room bespoke a deep-set honesty in the trio of teenagers, any of whom could have made off with them without a trace, especially since I had no idea that the coins were there. More than any words could say, this incident bore witness to their trustworthiness.
It reminded me of my birthday two years ago when 21 of those youngsters trooped into the rectory armed with a small vegan birthday cake, candles and all. Hands down, it was the most memorable birthday I have ever experienced. Their thoughtfulness for someone five times their age was inspiring and touching.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of the teenagers was their spontaneous, unsolicited thought about making someone happy who perhaps was not being thought of much as he moved into the higher tiers of longevity. I am sure that all adults would like to see such qualities in all the teenagers in our lives.
With such thoughtfulness in their social and spiritual arsenal, it is no wonder that those teenage Travelers do not let their cell phones block their communication with those around them. Except where alert and tough-love parents intervene with prompt sternness and resolve, it is a veritable plague among youngsters – and some young adults as well – that cell phone use, texting, etc. sabotage family conversation at the table, in the living room, outside in picnic conditions and even in church.
We have a lot to learn from our teenagers, especially the Travelers. Other teenagers must learn to be alert and to learn from their inspiring peers.
(Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD, is pastor of Our Mother of Mercy Parish in Fort Worth, Texas. He has written “Reflections on Life since 1969.)