Boys and Swords

Boys and Swords

I loved this piece by Sally Thomas about raising boys:

What I think I have come to understand about boys is that a desire to commit violence is not the same thing as a desire to commit evil. It�s a mistake for parents to presume that a fascination with the idea of blowing something away is, in itself, a disgusting habit, like nose-picking, that can and should be eradicated. The problem is not that the boy�s hand itches for a sword. The problem lies in not telling him what they are for, that they are for something�the sword and the itch alike. If I had told my aggressive little son not, �Be gentle,� but, rather, �Protect your sister,� I might, I think, have had the right end of the stick.

Several years ago, two boys in our parish, faced with a school assignment to form a �good-citizenship club,� surprised their mother by deciding to start a Eucharistic-adoration society. Each month this club, which now numbers more than twenty boys, offers hours of adoration for various prayer intentions. This year, in honor of the Year of the Priest, the boys are praying for all the priests in our diocese by name, in monthly rotation.

If it seems a little unlikely, this vision of twenty teen and preteen boys choosing to spend hours of their time kneeling silently in church, let me divulge two secrets. The first is the name of the club: the Holy Crusaders. They chose, deliberately, a title that evokes knighthood, even war. No pastel, goody-two-shoes club, this.

The second is the initiation rite, devised and performed by our parish�s young priest twice a year in the church. This rite involves a series of solemn vows to be �a man of the Church,� �a man of prayer,� and so forth. It includes induction into the Order of the Brown Scapular, the bestowing of a decidedly manly red-and-black knot rosary, and the awarding of a red sash. What the boys look forward to, though, with much teasing of soon-to-be inductees about sharpened blades and close shaves and collars pulled protectively high on the neck, is the moment when a new boy kneels before Father and is whacked smartly on each shoulder with a large, impressive, and thoroughly real sword.

These Holy Crusaders are, after all, ordinary boys�sweaty and goofy and physical. For them to take the Cross�to take it seriously�requires something like a sword. For them to take the sword, knowing what it�s for, requires the Cross. Heaven forbid, we always say, that our boys should have to go to war. Still, what even a symbolic knighthood accomplishes is the recognition that a boy�s natural drive to stab and shoot and smash can be shaped, in his imagination, to the image of sacrifice, of laying down his life for his friends. In the meantime, this is the key to what brings these boys to church. It�s not their mothers� church or their sisters� church; it is theirs, to serve and defend.

This reminded me of the club my brother-in-law (father of four boys and two girls) started for his sons and their friends, The Knights of the Silver Shield. Also of Regina Doman’s Rules for Sword-Fightin’ I like the idea not of fighting against that boyishness but of harnessing it and teaching them to use it for the greater good.

I’m really looking forward to raising our little boy and experiencing all things boyish that I’ve read about. Of course boys aren’t completely foreign territory for me, having had two brothers. But it will take much more… thoughtfulness on my part than being with my girls.


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  • PEI is one of the places I wanted to go on a honeymoon, too! We went the other direction to the San Juan Islands, though – had a free flight to Seattle. Stayed at the guest house of some Benedictine nuns. Another thought- what about one of the Godden books for RforB?

  • Emily, Oh yes PEI was lovely. My only regret was not having more time to spend there. One of these days we’l get back…

    Don’t know why it didn’t occur to me to suggest Godden at R4B. I’ll do that now. Thanks for the suggestion.

  • Hi Melanie.  Long time lurker, first time poster.  I have to say that your piece on solitude is so vivid and lovely.  As I read, I could feel the clutched pillow and totally identify with the moment-  appreciating the change to come, yet being nostalgic about what currently is.

    Thank you for being so open. It is refreshing to find and read such well written and poignant thoughts.