Exploring – what it is and what it isn’t

I had linked to this article by Zbigniew Minda, recently (until 2013) Federal Commissioner of the FSE, in the comments under my article on the Benedict Option. The whole article is worth reading, but the following quote, in my opinion, cuts to the heart of the matter:

When thinking about a Explorer activity we shall have in mind that we try to have always elements corresponding to five goals. We do not only play, but also pray, not only sing but also serve, not only cook, but also climb a hill, not only laugh but also serve each other. Look at the requirements for the second and the first class. There are always things concerning each of the five goals: health, manual ability, character, service, God. When you only pray, it won’t be exploring but a parish group of prayer. If you only play in the forest it won’t be exploring but young marines preparing for Afghanistan. If you only cook it won’t be exploring but gourmandize club. If you only sing it won’t be exploring but a choir. So during each activity, let’s try to do all the elements. Even during pilgrimage, do it in the Explorer manner: cook at the fire, have a fire of expression (theater with actors and songs), take photos, etc. Give each boy and girl a responsibility for the smallest aspect of your event. Your pilgrimage must be an Explorer pilgrimage not any pilgrimage. And so each activity.

Of the five goals Zbigniew mentions above, four were explicitly established by Lord Baden-Powell:

  1. Character
  2. Health and strength
  3. Handicraft and skill
  4. Service to others

I would argue that the fifth (and most important goal), sense of God, was implicit in Baden-Powell’s method; it was made explicit in the work of Ven. Jacques Sevin, S.J. (whose implementation of Baden-Powell’s method was highly praised by the Founder himself). Nevertheless, while one could argue that this fifth goal or aim isn’t entirely necessary for an “exploring” (what is usually called “scouting” in Europe and elsewhere) program, certainly one can’t have a Catholic program without this goal.

I will go even further and ask — can one have a Catholic program based on the work of Lord Baden-Powell while ignoring the work of Fr. Sevin? One issue with this is practical — why try to adapt Baden-Powell’s method to a Catholic setting when it has already been done? A second, and more important, issue is pastoral — Fr. Sevin’s work has been explicitly approved by the Popes, so Catholics who eschew it in favor of their own efforts are not thinking things through.

In 1998, Bl. John Paul II addressed the International Catholic Conference of Scouting as follows:

The meeting of the [Baden-Powell] method with the insights of Fr Sevin, S.J., has made it possible to develop an educational programme based on Gospel values, in which each young person is led to grow and to develop his personality, thus making his talents fruitful. The [Explorer] law, training young people in the way of virtue, invites them to moral rectitude and a spirit of asceticism, thus directing them to God and calling them to serve their brethren; by striving to do good, they become men and women who can play a responsible role in the Church and in society. In a troop, at camp and in other situations, [Explorers] discover the Lord through the wonders of creation, which they are called to respect. They also have a valuable experience of ecclesial life, meeting Christ in personal prayer, to which they can become accustomed, and in the Eucharistic celebration. In addition, Scout unity gives young people the opportunity of an apprenticeship for life in society with mutual respect.

Here we see that the late Pontiff is not only mouthing platitudes: it is clear that he is familiar not only with Fr. Sevin’s work but also that of Lord Baden-Powell. Explorers “discover the Lord through the wonders of creation” — does this not remind one of the sixth article of the Law, if not the entire thrust of B-P’s work?

Nine years later, Pope Benedict XVI wrote to Cardinal Richard, then Archbishop of Bordeaux and president of the French Bishops’ Conference, again mentioning Fr. Sevin with approval:

Made fruitful by the Gospel, [exploring] is not only a place for true human growth but also for a forceful presentation of Christianity and real spiritual and moral development, as well as being an authentic path of holiness.

It would be appropriate to recall the words of Fr Jacques Sevin, S.J., the founder of Catholic Scouts: “Holiness does not belong to any specific period and has no specific uniform”. The sense of responsibility inspired by the [exploring] pedagogy leads to a life in charity and the desire to serve one’s neighbour in the image of Christ the servant, relying on the grace that he bestows especially in the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation.

In France there are a number of youth associations inspired by Fr. Sevin’s work, of which the Scouts and Guides of France, the Scouts and Guides of Europe, and the Unitary Scouts of France are the largest (and these three are identified by name by the Pope Emeritus). In the United States, mainstream “exploring,” even among Catholics, has basically ignored what Bl. John Paul II aptly called the “insights of Fr. Sevin” — why? Too European (as though “European” = “bad”)? It’s hard to say for certain. What is certain, however, is that ignoring or eschewing Fr. Sevin’s work is detrimental to a Catholic “exploring” program, while putting his work into practice is — to say the least — beneficial. That doesn’t mean that one can’t create a vibrant Catholic program from scratch, but it does mean that he is handicapping himself from the start.

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