By Molleen Dupree-Dominguez
August 19, 2019 — This fall, every student in the high school where I teach will have been born after September 11, 2001.
It’s been 18 years of whiplash for many of us — Bush to Obama to Trump, cell phones to smartphones to smart everything, war to school shootings to publicized police brutality.
In short, these young people live in a time of great existential crisis — and they have only lived in a time of great existential crisis.
Ignatian spiritual tools are critical for my students. The seduction of violence, cynicism and hopelessness is compelling. Adults all around them express disgust toward public leaders, fear about gun violence in all its forms and panic about climate change.
Ignatian prayer practices help my students wade through the cacophony of media messages about these big issues as well as more typical teenage concerns like relationships, looks and achievement. Ignatian tools ground us in eternal hope that God is truly with us, even and especially in times of struggle.
Ignatius knew how to proceed through these uncertain times — we must remain attentive to the spirits vying for our energy. The Holy Spirit competes with many other spirits, most of whom wish to feed our anxieties and stir up our doubts.
It’s good for my students to know this: There are competing spiritual forces out in the world but obeying the negative spirit is not the only option. The voices of anxiety, doubt and fear are real, but they are not necessarily the voice of God.
This resonates with their lived experience, even if it does sound a little wacky. They know there are many voices in their heads, and most students find it a relief to discover that they have permission to ignore most of them.
I first teach discernment in the context of conscience, defining it from both the secular and Catholic points of view. Then we talk about how we all have different voices in our heads, and discernment is a matter of tuning our attention to the voice of our conscience, which in the Catholic tradition is the voice of God.
To track the voice of their consciences, students journal every day for a week, asking themselves: To what extent did I honor one of my top values today? To what extent did I inform my conscience? To what extent did I listen to my “inner voice” today?
In these journals, almost every student discovers that they do have an inner voice, calling them to do good and avoid evil. Most students find this practice immensely helpful. They write about how they learned to listen to their inner voices, discern the good from the evil and gain confidence to follow the good.
While they see constant streams of images and videos, headlines and commentary on their phones, the skill to quiet the mind and tune in to voice of love is invaluable.
After looking closely at conscience, we practice the Examen for several days in class. Students look back on the previous day and ask God to show them where the Spirit was present or where they need to make a change. It’s during this time that I introduce online prayer tools, such as the Hallow app and Pray as You Go. So many students love these and find them helpful for praying on their own.
Now we are ready to put good actions into practice.
“It is certain that the lazy will never come to peace of mind or the perfect possession of virtue, since they do not conquer themselves; while the diligent easily obtain both in a few days.”
Or, as Chidi says in NBC’s "The Good Place" (a class favorite): To be a good person, you must do good things.
Each student chooses a cardinal or theological virtue to practice over five days. They document their efforts with photos and written words, offer each other ideas for things to try and check in periodically with a mentor to talk about their practice.
I get back the most beautiful reflections every day for a week: how students chose to tell their mothers they loved them; how they chose to turn off their cell phones while doing their homework to practice moderation; how they chose to speak up when one of their friends made a joke at someone else’s expense. They want to practice these virtues. They are hungry for direction on becoming the type of person they really want to be — as, I think, we all are.
They are also hungry for authenticity, and after a week of practice, they can agree with Ignatius that actions speak more persuasively than words:
“(People) of great virtue, though their learning for their neighbors’ help be small, preach more eloquently and persuade their people to goodness more powerfully by their appearance than they could by rhetorical skill, however highly instructed they were.”
Today’s teens digest a lot of troubling information. Though prior generations have faced challenges, it’s difficult to compare because of the massive amount of information available to these teens 24 hours a day. With the constant barrage, discernment and virtue have never been more important. I have Ignatius to thank for these tools and practices to share with my students. They already help the new generation navigate the challenges of their times.
Molleen Dupree-Dominguez, M.Div., is a teacher, writer and minister living in the Bay Area of California. She’s a graduate of the Jesuit School of Theology at Santa Clara University. She has taught in Catholic high schools for 12 years and blogs at molleendupreedominguez.home.blog You can find her personal work across social media @molleendd and her teaching work on Instagram and Twitter @mddbodreligion.
All quotes taken from: "Thoughts of St. Ignatius Loyola for Every Day of the Year" from the Scintillae Ignatianae compiled by Gabriel Hevenesi, SJ. Translated by Alan G. McDougall. Fordham University Press New York, 2006.