A Scout is Reverent: A Privilege to Counsel the Boy Scouts of America Catholic Religious Emblem Program

The twelfth point of the law of the Boy Scouts of America is: A scout is reverent. When a scout advances in rank, he must attend a Scout Master conference, and it’s not unusual for the Scout Master to ask, “How do you live the twelfth point of the law?” Last May, fifty-one Boy Scouts in our diocese were ready and able to answer the question, and it was my joy to be a part of their journey.

(photo copyrighted by Roger L. Blease)
The AAD religious emblem is fashioned after the colors of the Vatican’s flag and presented to the scout on a red ribbon. Boys can then pin the emblem to their uniform for special occasions, such as Courts of Honor. For everyday wear, the scout sports the embroidered knot just above the left pocket.

Each September, Catholic scouts throughout the country form patrols to meet the challenge of the Boy Scouts of America Catholic religious emblem, and a worthwhile challenge it is! If you are a parent of a Cub Scout or Boy Scout, you might want to consider adding the emblem program to your child’s school year in September. Here’s a basic overview of the program, how it is organized and its value to our young men.

A scout can earn a total of five religious emblems throughout his scouting career. Cub scouts can earn the Light of Christ and the Parvuli Dei (“child of God”). Boy Scouts can earn the Ad Altare Dei (“to the altar of God”), the Light is Life, and the Pope Pius XII.

This past school year, I counseled a patrol in the Ad Altare Dei Religion Emblem program (AAD). The AAD is open to all practicing Catholic Boy Scouts who rank in First Class or who are at least beginning 7th grade. Older scouts are more than welcome, and they often add a great deal to the quality of the meetings. Most scouts who are preparing for their Confirmation find this an excellent reinforcement to the instruction they are receiving through their parish.

I found the emblem to be a deep and inviting program, during which scouts explore the Seven Sacraments and how they are pinnacle to our every day lives. The Ad Altare Dei program is both loyal to the Magisterium and grounded in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is not meant, however, to be a substitute for a parish religion education program (PREP, also known as CCD), so it’s important that parents continue to educate their children in the Faith. AAD, however, is an excellent complement.

By the start of the school year, each counselor decides how long and how often the meetings take place, but each boy must complete all the requirements by April. Boys meet as a patrol with a trained Catholic counselor for discussion, various individual projects, and a patrol service project that brings their stewardship to the community. Our patrol of six scouts met twice a month for two hours, with a break at the half-way point for refreshments and fellowship. Class A uniforms were required for all our meetings to reflect our respect for the subject at hand. A good friend of mine generously offered to be my support and to fulfill the necessary “two-deep leadership” requirement.

We began the program by asking the scouts, “What makes us Catholic?” And we developed a long list of items, such as: authority, the Eucharist, Confession, Mary, saints, priests, nuns, the Rosary, and so on. We filled three pages with our list. During our time diving into the sacraments, these items were explored one-by-one. You might think that this was tedious work, but it was far from it. The scouts were more than enthusiastic to place these subjects in their correct context. For instance, we explained the authority of the Church—how Jesus handed this to Peter, who was then our first pope. And we explained the Rosary—how it is the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus through the eyes of his loving mother, Mary. There were lots of “ah-ha!” moments during these discussions.

Our meetings had a general routine. First the lighting of our candle and an opening prayer to make us aware of Christ’s presence. Then a brief discussion of the liturgical year and points of interest, such as the explanation of Advent and how it is connected to Our Blessed Mother; how God humbled himself to become one of us, born to a woman, when He could have taken any form. Finally, we ended with discussing the workbook materials the scouts were required to complete, along with time for more questions.

And there were always plenty of questions that impressed me; children really do want to know about God. For example, we explored the meaning and value of Holy Communion, our invisible Christ. The word communion means “common union.” Common to mean daily acts. Union to mean to be with Christ. And so by receiving Holy Communion, we live and act our our daily lives with Christ—our Savior is physically with us through the Eucharist. I am sure the boys received this instruction a few years ago, when they were preparing for their First Holy Communion, but now that they were older, it meant so much more. The AAD counselor’s guide says that boys this age are ready to go beyond the surface answers of their childhood, and I found this to be very true. What I enjoyed most was their ardent curiosity, and we often found that our two hours together was too short. The National Catholic Committee tells counselors that they should see evidence of spiritual growth. Indeed I did!

But the meetings were not all workbook and discussion. We also addressed putting our beliefs of Christ’s teachings into action. One parishioner and scout leader suffered a serious illness at the time. In the light of the life of St. Therese of Lisieux, a doctor of the church who is also known as the Little Flower, the scouts chose to provide aid in small but very meaningful acts. They sent the leader handmade get well cards that detailed their offerings of their talents in a prayerful way. For instance, one scout offered up his next band performance, while another dedicated a page of his original comic book to the leader. Still others offered their Holy Communion to him, with a special prayer for his fast and complete recovery. The scout leader was quick to thank the boys for expressing their unique and special kindness.

In addition, the program is open to a plethora of opportunities to explore the richness of the Seven Sacraments. The scouts made various posters, collages, homemade videos about Reconciliation and Holy Matrimony. We visited Fr. Deogratias Rwegasira, from the order of the Apostles of Jesus. He explained Holy Orders and the calling to religious life, as well as the Pope’s The Year of the Priest, and St. John Vianney, the patron saint of all priests. We also visited the shut-ins—Anointing of the Sick–and witnessed the Baptisms of three babies. We celebrated a prayer service to the Holy Spirit to remind us of Confirmation, encircling a small bonfire in the chilly Autumn night. Another prayer service during Lent included an examination of conscience and focused on God’s mercy, bringing Reconciliation to the foreground. The scouts were then reminded of their obligation to attend Reconciliation at their home parish before Easter Sunday. We attended Mass together during Scout Sunday and discussed Holy Communion at our meeting that followed. And we attended A Night of Prayer and Praise for Vocations at our Cathedral, to hear various speakers—priests and nuns telling their personal stories of hearing the call–and to attend an Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament with our bishop.

The scouts completed the AAD program by attending a retreat organized by our council’s Catholic Committee on Scouting. Our patrol joined another 46 boys to participate in the program that was centered on The Year of the Priests. They learned about American saints, they attended an Agape prayer service, they made icons, discussed the laity’s role in the church, learned about the life of Fr. Walter Ciszek (a priest from our diocese, who was charged by USSR officials with being a spy and committed to 15 years of hard labor in Siberia), and they had the opportunity to spend time each day with a priest or seminarian to discuss their daily lives, vocations, and the seminary. The scouts were also required to present their completed workbooks and all projects to a Board of Review.

Upon their return, my patrol offered accolades, such as “Fantastic!” “A lot of fun!”, “The food was great,” “I thought the daily lives of priests was really interesting,” and “I really liked meeting the priests.” As I told retreat director and Scout leader William Minford, to receive such high praise from teenage boys must mean he hit the mark beautifully—truly inspired by Christ.

The following month, scouts attended an awards ceremony, during which they were presented with their well-earned AAD medals. The ceremony revolved around the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, a variety of hymns–some sung in Christian Latin–and scripture readings.

(photo by M. Carpinelli)
The awards ceremony, celebrated by Fr. Eric Tolentino of the Diocese of Allentown.

I started the program in September with high hopes of a positive experience of growth for both the scouts and for myself, and I was not disappointed. The Ad Altare Dei religious emblem is a vigorous program with an emphasis that is well placed on the Seven Sacraments, the very essence of Our Church.

If you are interested in the Boy Scouts of America Catholic religious emblem program for your child, or if you would like to become a counselor, contact the National Catholic Committee on Scouting at nccs@scouting.org for more information, or feel free to email me at krblease@hotmail.com. I would be more than happy to help you get started!

(photo by M. Carpinelli)
Recipients of the Ad Altare Dei award, one of the religious emblems awarded in May 2010.

Copyright 2011 Kathleen Blease

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