“I would like to tell my son not to do certain things, but how can I deprive him of his freedom?” “My boyfriend stays in front of the computer all day, but that’s his world, in which I cannot enter.” “My daughter is thirteen years old and lives attached to her cell phone; I would like to tell her not to but doing so would strip her of her freedom.” How many parents ask us these questions, make us aware of these struggles with their children? This sense of frustration is now increasingly experienced also by teachers at school, who feel helpless in the face of the hostility of young people, who are often backed by their parents.
Antonio Scurati wrote about this a few days ago in a well-known Italian newspaper, stating, “Since the Father has disappeared, now we witness the eclipse of the Teacher.” And he added that we are faced with “the abandonment of the idea that the child must in some way be accompanied, guided, led by the hand to a destination unknown to him.” In short: our society has definitively given up the responsibility for educating its own children.
Today the child educates himself. This is the fruit of the idea that nothing and no one should ever hinder the right to another’s self-determination, starting from the way he uses his free time, his possessions, how he lives his emotional relationships; all the way to the choice to determine one’s own gender. After 200 years, Rousseau has finally won: every attempt to educate is seen as a violence. Everyone has the right to be what he wants, without interference.
Recently I was struck by a sentence by Romano Guardini, who said, “I have a duty to want to be what I am; to truly want to be me, and I alone. I must take on the task assigned to me in the world. It is the fundamental form of everything called vocation.” That is, not a right whose foundation is in what I feel and want, but a duty, which is based on what I am and on Who made me so.
Paris, early sixteenth century. Twenty-year-old Francis Xavier is the last descendant of a noble family from Navarra. Ambitious, aspiring towards a promising career, he was sent to study at the Sorbonne. There, between an athletics competition and an evening in sweet company, he gives himself to the “sweet life,” despising those who lose their lives in books and in vain spiritualisms. One day, this young man who’d started on the path of licentiousness encounters a crippled war veteran, poor and austere, all Bible and spiritual exercises. At first he avoids the man, keeping him duly at a distance. Then, slowly, he is attracted by the man’s personality, by his demanding but certain words. The encounter with this man reveals to Xavier that what he is called to be is different from what he had imagined. He, who had wanted to conquer the world, feels himself asking, “What will become of you, if then you lose yourself?”
Each of us is a bit like Francis Xavier. We need to meet masters who challenge us, who place in crisis the idea that we make ourselves, who have the audacity to make a serious proposal to us, one that is demanding and thus interesting.
We need parents and teachers who show us a positive road to become what we are destined to be, that is, men and women who are complete and fulfilled: in a word, holy. Like Xavier – who would die a few kilometers from “his” China, the land he would have wanted to conquer for God – we have only one duty: to be what we have been made for. And we have only one right: to be helped – like him – to discover the path to be what, deep down, we are. Authentic freedom is the experience of those who have found their place in the world, and consists in adhering with all of oneself to that for which he was thought about and created.
This is, then, the only true right that our children have: that of being educated.