This post is about our Catholic youth. It was inspired by reading the great article on “Catholic Subculture” that I will post below. First, some thoughts from me. [Warning: Ranting to begin in 1…
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt utterly frustrated with my church, our Mother Church, pastors, DREs, leaders, fellow Catholics, church families and parish councils because so many times they simply do not get it. I have read comments on blogs that I admire (I’m looking at you, New Liturgical Movement) that denigrate the work of youth ministers, and indeed, the whole youth group idea. To which I reply: PEOPLE WAKE UP!
There is a culture war going on and if we Catholics don’t engage in it at the most basic level — our kids — then we are going to lose. We absolutely have to get in the war, on the frontlines with our children. Some folks are. It’s happening in pockets around the country. Yes, those pockets are getting bigger, but they are still pockets. My fellow Catholics, we need to evangelize our kids. They need CATECHISM. They need EVANGELISM. They need ENTHUSIASM. They need a personal relationship with Christ. They need to feel the Holy Spirit in their lives. They need to put God first in all things. And they need LOVE. But how? How do we do this? What aren’t we doing and what are we doing wrong? And what do you mean, evangelize our kids? They’ve been baptized and confirmed, good enough, right? If that is not enough, what should we be doing?
We need to meet our kids where they are.
Here are the fundamentals, the building blocks if you will. These are things that should not have to be said, but apparently, have to be said:
*Talk to your kids about God. Make prayer a priority. Pray with them every day, throughout the day. Have your kids ever heard you say, “Praise God!”, or “Thanks be to God!”, “Let’s offer that up to God,” “Turn it over to Jesus,” “Ask the Blessed Mother for her prayers,” or “I’ll pray for you”? Have you ever shown your kids how to discern and seek God’s will? Have you ever told them to take a problem to God in prayer? Ever asked them or others for their prayers for your needs? What about the Rosary, is it a part of your daily life? By praying openly with and in front of your children, you model for them the very foundation of a relationship with God. Your kids have to learn this from somewhere and most Catholics simply aren’t teaching this.
*The Bible. Open it up. Carry it around. Read it, quote it, tote it, note it. If you don’t own one, get one. If you don’t own one that you can mark in, you need one.
*How about Mass? Are you happy to be going? Is it a priority? Do you make it an obligation, or an event? Do you talk about it before or after? Do you lift your voice in song, praise and response? Do you rush in to find whatever seats are left or do you come early enough to pray, reflect on the day’s liturgy of the word, spend time in adoration or contemplation? Could you leave home 10 minutes earlier to do that?
*What about catechizing your kids? No, I don’t mean dragging them off to Religious Education for ninety minutes a week. Parents: if you think your kids are being catechized in their ninety minutes of class every week, I, as a 5 year veteran of catechism teaching, must sadly inform you–YOUR KIDS ARE NOT BEING CATECHIZED IN NINETY MINUTES A WEEK. Ouch. The truth hurts, I know. It is hard for me as a devoted catechist to write that. But it is true. In my classes, I have been so desperate that I have basically opened up the mouths of my middle schoolers and poured the Catechism down their throats but there is only so much they can take in, after a long day of school and homework and extracurricular activities. In other words, there are limits to the effect your Catechist can have, no matter how faithful, learned, and sincere he or she is. If you are not reviewing, teaching, and catechising at home, then your kids are not catechized. Period.
Those are the principle building blocks that parents provide for their child’s faith formation. They are essential. Do them.
Catholicism is not an adjective, a box on MySpace, the writing on the back of your dog tag, an interesting fact about yourself or an excuse to attend Mardi Gras. Catholicism is our life, the one in this world to the one beyond. It’s the universal church that Jesus left for us, the communion of saints. It’s our way to worship the Almighty God, our means of knowing our Lord, Jesus Christ, our conduit through which the Holy Spirit blesses us with sacramental graces. Switchfoot sings, “This is your life. Are you who you want to be?” Well I tell you now: THIS is your life. Catholicism.
Back to our kids. We need to meet them where they are. After we have invested (yes, its an investment, the best kind) in teaching the faith through example, through opportunity and through study, next we need to fill them with the Holy Spirit. And this is where we are dropping the ball. We need to move them. We need to appeal to the very emotional states that they are in because if you haven’t realized it, teenagers and young adults are emotional, not altogether rational beings. That is a scientific fact. There is nothing wrong with that. (There are studies on that, which I would go look up right now but I’m on a roll.)
How do we meet them where they are? How do we appeal to their emotional side so that we can invite the Holy Spirit to work conversions in their hearts? Simply, we minister to them. Evangelical Protestants have been doing this since the Jesus Movement. I am not suggesting that we completely copy the Evangelical movement. Not at all. I have some beefs with their approach. But in my opinion we need to adopt the best of their ministries and bring it into our Catholic culture. These approaches would be:
- Vibrant and relevant youth groups
- Music ministry for kids (no, I am not talking about a separate Mass)
- Social activities
- Mission activities
- Massive youth rallies
Kids need other kids. They need to fit in. They want a group that reflects their interests. Kids are interested in music and I’m sorry New Liturgical Movement, that music is NOT the Gregorian Chant. (I think it is cool and so would a lot of kids but if that’s all we are offering to teenagers–“hello. goodbye.”) Kids need to know where they fit into the world. They need to feel like they are making a difference.
Here are some Catholic groups that are “getting it”:
- Catholic HEART Workcamp
- Star Quest
- National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry
If the kids in your parish did not attend NCYC, why not? do you know? Does your priest even know that it happened? what about the DRE? If not, your parish probably needs a revival. Perhaps you are the person to do that. Perhaps I am. Maybe I’m called. Maybe you are. Are we listening?
I promised you the awesome article, didn’t I. Well, here it is. This is speaker and author Christopher Stefanick, Director of Youth, Young Adult and Campus Ministry for the Denver Archdiocese, writing about NCYC. Please read this article!
The Gospel isn’t communicated in a vacuum. It’s communicated through culture. When a Catholic culture is lacking, the Church organically creates subcultures, drawing in and redeeming aspects of the culture it’s in. This is happening among our youth today. Youth ministry has formed a redeemed culture born out of generation MTV with its own stages, its own rock stars and its own brand of rebellion.
The nation’s largest “concert for Jesus” happened the week before last at the National Catholic Youth Convention (NCYC). We brought 55 youths from the Archdiocese of Denver and I was privileged to speak there. I was blown away. It’s rare to walk into a 20,000-person arena and be unable to find a place to sit. A few thousand more filled an overflow arena with jumbo screens. This event, like many of the larger events in Catholic youth ministry, had all the trappings of a high-end, secular, rock and roll production, except the packed arena was there to glorify faith, hope and charity instead of sex, drugs and rock n’ roll.
The stage was filled with Catholic “rock stars.” Before his keynote telling teens—for the 10,000th time—to wait for sex until they are married, veteran chastity speaker Jason Evert got a standing ovation. Matt Maher, who is probably the first Catholic to hit the top of the charts on Christian radio stations, had the teens cheering until they were hoarse. They all knew his songs. Steve Angrisano, Catholic of the Archdiocese of Denver and a popular speaker and singer/songwriter, hosted the conference. None of these men could walk 10 feet at that conference without being asked for an autograph. They are Catholic subculture rock stars, and in a culture so starved for good role models, what a wonderful thing!
What’s even better is that the ultimate rock star being celebrated is Jesus Christ and the communion of saints. One speaker held up a rosary and mentioned Mary’s name and it produced a deafening cheer from the crowd. During one high point of the conference more than 20,000 teens knelt in silent adoration after which they processed behind our eucharistic Lord through the streets of Kansas City, Mo., in silence. That image is indelibly etched into my memory. I’ve never seen anything like it. It was a virtual army of youth following their king in the heart of the modern world!
In MTV culture, rebellion is a virtue. Teens born out of this Catholic subculture have a beautiful brand of rebellion all their own. In a sex-saturated world, they wear chastity and the respect they give to the opposite sex like a badge of honor. According to recent statistics, 95 percent of upperclassmen who are virgins are proud of it! In a self-serving culture, devout Catholic teens want to stand out by serving the poor. One teen from our archdiocese, Sami Freese, shared with the entire conference about the joy and freedom she found by sponsoring and then visiting a child she sponsors in the Philippines. In an irreverent culture, teens want to stand out with ancient practices of piety. They think it’s cool to bow, kneel, altar serve, burn incense, and sing ancient songs to God with their hands lifted in prayer. Generation MTV teens want to rebel and make a name for themselves. What better way to do that than by being holy! There’s no more profound rebellion than the one given by the saints and martyrs.
As I looked at the sea of teens, joyful to be standing for Jesus Christ and celebrating our ancient faith, I wondered, “If our Lord can change the world with 12, what can he do with 22,000”? Maybe we won’t be a subculture for long.
20,000 youth following our Lord in procession through the streets of an American city. If that doesn’t make you stop for a moment….here’s a picture that WILL make you stop:
NCYC is an example of meeting kids where they are. Evangelizing to our youth. It can’t only happen one week a year. We need to immerse our kids in the Catholic Subculture that Christopher talks about. In our parishes, in our dioceses, we need to CREATE a Catholic Subculture. It’s a mission, it’s an apostolate, it’s a calling. It’s one heck of a great opportunity. I hear Jesus calling.
Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you. — Mark 10:49
For more on NCYC: