Fr. John's Letter Archives

Enjoy re-reading Fr. John's weekly bulletin letters for the past year.

Woody Woodpecker or Wiley Coyote?

01-10-2016Fr. John LettersFr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

When I was a young boy I always hated the Woody Woodpecker cartoons because he always got away with being nasty and mean. On the other hand I really loved Roadrunner cartoon since Wiley Coyote always got instant consequences not matter what. That was a much better message to send to children.

One of the surest disciplines on the road to maturity is logical consequences. Whether positive or negative, consequences either reward good behavior or inhibit bad behavior. For a parent as hard as it may be to watch a child experience the consequences of bad behavior most parents know that it will help their child to avoid such behavior in the future. And of course when a parent protects a child from such consequences the child is more than likely going to engage the same negative behavior in the future. Case in point the "affluenza teen".

This young man killed four people while driving intoxicated. The court sentenced him to 10years probation. Not much of a consequence. With his Dad providing the high priced lawyers, the attorney's argued that the young man was not able to understand the consequences of his actions because of his financial privilege and therefore needed rehabilitation not prison. Somehow he became the victim and not the four people he mowed down with his vehicle. The Court obviously agreed. The message the young man took away from that experience was that he could escape whatever consequences came with his behavior so why make any effort to change? No surprise then that recently the young man was seen on video at a beer party with his friends (which was a violation of his probation terms). Again instead of facing the consequences he fled with his mother to Mexico. At one point after an all-nighter at a Mexican strip club when the young man couldn't pay the bill, the proprietor went with him to his hotel where he promptly woke his mother so she could pay his tab. These parents should be awarded the prize for "Most Enabling Parents in the World".

Still I can understand the fears and the accompanying delusional thinking that parents have that such serious blots on their son's record would only haunt him for the rest of his life and that it was their responsibility to somehow mitigate their son's consequences. Therefore cushioning the fall seemed like the helpful thing to do. Except it wasn't. In fact it ultimately made things worse. The judge should sentence the parents to 10yrs of Al-Anon Meetings.

The first principle of the Al-Anon Family of Programs is under no circumstances, no matter what, do not enable wrong and/or destructive behavior. If you continue to enable it you will only get more of it. Therefore Stop. Immediately. No exceptions. Period. That may sound simple enough unless you are caught in the web of someone else's addictive behavior. And if you are then enabling even the most harmful behaviors can seem like an act of love. I've seen parents hand a gun to their out of control teenager, strung out on drugs because he promised if they would only love him enough to purchase him a firearm he would stop using drugs and alcohol. The result was not good.

The "affluenza teen" is just one case that serves as a poignant example. The lesson however is not just for those caught up with addictive behavior but for all of us living in a society that does a remarkable job of letting us off the hook for many of our bad behaviors even rewarding bad behaviors. And therefore way too many of us believe the false message that we can get away with it and so we do it again. Much of our medical research is devoted to getting us out of the consequences of our poor lifestyle choices. How often are we told by a physician to change our eating habits lest we develop, pick your disease, and we fail to do so and then have to subject ourselves to the appropriate but once avoidable medical treatment. The place where we really excel is finding ways out of our bad moral choices. It's one thing to try to cover up bad choices (unintended pregnancy: get an abortion, watching porn: just make sure to clear your browser history etc.) but now we just flat out deny that there even are consequences and if there are any we claim to be victims of an unjust universe. Try as we may there is no escaping the fact that there are consequences built into the moral law that eventually add up and cause a life to implode or a society to collapse. We may want to deny that or pretend it will not apply to us but it eventually will.

At some point we have to stop thinking like invincible teens: "it won't happen to me", "I won't get pregnant", "I can handle drugs" and a thousand other memes and stop enabling whether our own or others even society's wrong, self-destructive behaviors. The game is not Truth OR Consequences but rather Truth AND Consequences. Knowing and accepting the consequences of our behaviors helps us become holy and healthy, emotionally and spiritually.
Are you more Woody Woodpecker or more Wiley Coyote?

Love, Fr. John B.