Putting the Cart before the Horse

Putting the cart before the horse I had not intended to write another post in this series, but recent events surrounding the formation of “alternative” youth associations convinced me that at least one more post might be helpful.

In any association that claims to be inspired by the work of Lord Baden-Powell, the program is paramount, and the heart of the program is the Promise (by some called the “Oath”) and the Law. This is especially true for associations that are explicitly Christian. As our FNE national religious adviser writes:

The Explorer Law is a concrete expression of the Gospel, a practical translation of principles posed by the Decalogue. Our law emerges in the heart of children and opens up into the most beautiful Christian virtues that nature and God’s grace make fruitful.

The Venerable Fr. Jacques Sevin, S.J., put it even more simply: “The [Explorers]’s law is sacred and the holy Bible its perfume. The [Explorers]’s law is our Lord Jesus’ law.” Is it a coincidence that there are ten articles in the Explorer Law (the original 1908 Law had but nine articles, but this grew to ten in 1911) and ten commandments in the Decalogue? And just as the Decalogue is primary in the moral life of a Christian, the ten articles of the Law are primary in the way of life proposed by the Baden-Powell method. Observance he Law isn’t optional for the Explorer (or Rover or Pathfinder) any more than observance of the Decalogue is optional for anyone in the wayfaring state on earth.

A defining characteristic of a Christian is that he is a man under authority, like the centurion in St. Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 8:5-10). The chief authority is that of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, but He has deigned that there should be divinely established authorities here on earth as well. So a Christian association will seek the approval of religious authorities, and even civil authorities insofar as this is possible without offending God. A Catholic, then, would first seek the approval of his parish priest (pastor), then that of his diocesan Ordinary, and ultimately that of the Supreme Pontiff. Not every youth association needs the approval of the Pope, but the Ordinary’s approval is certainly required for an association to call itself “Catholic” (can. 216), and common sense tells us that an educational initiative that seeks to pass on the teaching of the Church should not be undertaken without at least the permission of the parish priest. (It goes without saying that the bishop can approve anything that a parish priest can, and the Pope, who has universal jurisdiction, can approve anything that any bishop throughout the world can. So if one has the approval of the Pope, then the approval of bishops and the priests subject to them is a good thing to have, but not strictly necessary.)

The FSE was founded on All Saints Day in 1956, established its current federal statutes in 1976 (when its official name became the Union Internationale des Guides et Scouts d’Europe – Fédération du Scoutisme Européen or UIGSE-FSE), and was approved by the Holy See only in 2003 (ad experimentum; definitive approval would follow five years later). All in all, over 50 years from foundation until final approval by the Holy See. But this approval could not have happened if there were no program. A youth association without a program is like a religious order without a charism. And a youth association without a Promise and Law is like a religious order without a rule. The program, informed by the Promise and the Law, comes first; only then can one hope for approval. For an association to lobby for approval before it has an established program is putting the cart before the horse.

It’s important to note that a “program” is not merely a series of requirements culminating in awards. It is rather the educational method for teaching those requirements. It is not enough to say that a boy must know how to tie a sheet bend and a bowline in order to wear a patch on his sleeve. A program tells us how we teach the boy a sheet bend and in what context. Requirements can no more make up a program than good works can make up the practice of Christianity.

I don’t doubt the good intentions of those who would seek approval before developing their program — Christians are, after all, supposed to be obedient to those whom God has set over them, both temporally and spiritually, and the approval of Divinely-appointed authority is a sign of God’s favor and a help for the perplexed in these confusing times. They are just going about things the wrong way, and need to rethink their approach.

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