The life of teenagers is filled with choices. In the sumer time, some choices are as simple as whether they will spend the day at the beach or at a friend’s house. Other choices are more difficult. Teens who you will be ready to greet in your classroom in the next few weeks may have been faced with or will soon face some of the following choices:
To drink alcohol or not.
To choose a college prep or vocational track of high school classes.
To follow their parents’ rules or to break curfew.
To keep the same group of friends or to hang out with a new group.
To have sex or to live chastely.
To go to Sunday Mass or not.
These kinds of choices are both difficult and important, and they can have life and death implications for a teenager’s future. As Catholics, we believe that we are not alone in making important decisions. Jesus has left us the Holy Spirit to inspire our hearts and to help us to make good and right choices.
The process of distinguishing between right and wrong, what you want and what you really need, and what is realistic and what is only an unreachable dream, is known as discernment.
There are several discernment processes you can share with your students for when they are about to make an important decision. All of these should involve prayer. One process can be taken from the Spiritual Exercisesof St. Ignatius Loyola, a former sixteenth-century soldier from Spain.
While involved in a battle, Ignatius had his leg shattered by a cannonball. The medics in the field set the leg poorly and Ignatius was forced to spend months in recovery. He found the idle time boring and asked his attendants to bring him some romance novels for reading. None of this type of book could be found. Rather, Ignatius was given books about the life of Jesus and the saints. As he read them, Ignatius was gradually transformed. On his sick bed, he made the promise that he would imitate the lives of the saints as much as he could once he recovered.
One of his first stops after was well was a small town of Manresa where Ignatius made a retreat, living for a year in an outdoor cave. There he began to formulate his Spiritual Exercises, from which the following decision-making process is drawn. Share these steps with your students for making any important decisions:
Pray. Recognize God’s presence in all that you do. When you pray regularly, you will easily be able to approach God for help in making a difficult choice, even when you must do so at the spur of the moment.
Look at All Sides of the Issue.Make a list of pros and cons. Weigh each side. You need to consider what people who you respect would say about this choice. Also consider what the Church has to say.
Imagine Your Final Decision.Think about the consequences if you choose the way you think you will. What would your parents say? What woud a younger brother or sister think about your choice?> If you are uncomfortable with the answer to either of these questions, you may be about to make a wrong choice.
Make Your Choice and Act.If you have done the previous three steps, trust that God is helping you make the right choice. Act on what you have decided.
Evaluate Your Choice.If you later feel a sense of satisfaction after you have acted on your choice, you have likely made a good choice. Ask yourself if your relationship with God and others has improved or worsened because of the choice you made.
Others became attracted to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, and eventually with ten other men, he formed the “Company of Jesus,” whose mission was to be of service to the pope. Today, the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits, is the largest religious order in the Catholic Church and the sponsor of many high schools and colleges.
And, St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Feast Day is on July 31.
1. Distribute wallet-size index cards. Have the students print the decision-making steps listed above on the cards. Tell them to keep them handy for future reference.
2. Give real-life examples from the choice categories listed above. Take the participants through the discernment process to help them see how to make a good choice in the situations described.
3. Have the students finish this sentence in writing: “I promise to make a commitment to Christ by….”