In 2012, during my sophomore year of high school I fully entered the Catholic Church. My conversion to Catholicism was a process, and an emotional one at that. Even though I’m now a full Catholic, I have found that even for cradle Catholics, conversion is a lifelong process, and one that is a daily battle to convert ourselves from seeking sin, to chasing Christ.
One of the most important time periods in life when it concerns whether or not a young adult will keep the faith is the period in which they are in high school and college. They are gaining independence, and the ability to make their own choices, while also seeking acceptance from their peers. Youth ministry is an area that has a lot of weight when it comes to teens and their faith. It can help to foster a sense of community at a time when it’s needed most, and provide a support system that’s unbeatable.
However, I’ve recently been somewhat disappointed to see how some youth ministries attempt to engage teenagers, and young adults. Too many youth ministries, in an attempt to keep teens invested, have taken Catholicism, and tried to make it hip. They try to squeeze the richness, and fullness of our faith into the mold of what’s hip and acceptable. We mold it in an attempt to have our faith conform to what teens find cool, and “happening” these days. In all honesty, while I believe that any attempt to keep teens in the Church is a valiant effort, this is what I find to be one of the least effective ways to help guide teens into becoming committed Catholics who love their faith. We have to ask if these methods are helping to nurture the next generation of saints, and if we’re fostering a culture of heroic Catholicism over an age of being lukewarm.
When we make efforts to make Christ cool, whether it’s with ridiculous catch phrases (I’m looking at you, “Crunk for Christ”), light shows, tattooed rappers taking pop music and making the lyrics Christian, or any other creative method, we cheapen our faith. We start to teach a dangerous lesson that the Church needs to be enhanced in those manners to keep with the times. The Catholic Church is timeless, and hasn’t changed through the ages. The Catholic Church will remain relevant because Christ will never cease to be relevant. Something as permanent as our Church, that has outlasted every empire that dared to challenge it, doesn’t need to be made hip.
Christians are not called to try and blend into society, especially not our oversexed, but under-loved one right now, where even human life is viewed as disposable. We’re called to be different, to chase after God instead of earthly temptations.
The best ways to keep teens invested isn’t to try and make our faith cool, but to leave it as pure as possible. What’s considered cool changes in the blink of an eye, but our faith is one of few things in this world that has the power to transcend trends and remain timeless. While a rad light show, rap music, and trendy slogan might make a brief impression, a personal encounter with Christ through Mass, Adoration, and Reconciliation makes a lifelong impression. Forget One Direction when you can personally encounter Jesus Christ.
Our traditional faith is easily the raddest thing any of us will ever be exposed to anyways, and part of that is because it’s so different from what we as teens are typically exposed to. It’s countercultural, and challenging, and teaches us what real love is. In the same way that you can’t make water any more wet, you can’t make the Son of God any more majestic than He already is. Instead of focusing on the number of kids attending youth group, our focus should be on increasing the number who fall radically in love with their faith, and who go out into the world with hearts and minds ablaze for their faith. We need to strive to inspire, and teach future Saints, not just to increase the number of jaded and lukewarm Catholics in the world.