The Catholic Church Young People Actually Want

Young people are human. If we understood this reality we wouldn’t have crappy youth ministry programs, worse catechesis, politicians on Twitter, the wild success of Ke$ha, and a bored and banal culture.

But we do suffer these tortures, for we are convinced that being young and able to navigate Facebook transforms the human person into a locus around which the universe turns, the deciding, haloed blueprint for the construction of culture, religion, and politics.

The Youth Vote, the Young Voice, the You-are-the-future speeches, the desperate refashioning of event, creed, and tone for the sake of “reaching teens”, the impulse which screams “if it’s too loud, you’re too old” — This is the Cult of Youth. Its liturgy is weird and its prophets are idiots. Its condescensions demean young people into something subhuman. It deserves every sullen, selfish, apathetic, and uninterested teenager it haphazardly creates in its frenzied effort to be relevant.

We “reach teens” by way of “relevance”. As Annie Selak points out in her wonderful opinion piece, “The church young Catholics want”, young people “want the church to ask the questions we are asking, rather than ones that seem trivial at best and irrelevant at worst. Catholicism can recover from mistakes, but one thing the church cannot recover from is being irrelevant.”

Quite the claim. But what is relevance?

The popular conception of the word springs from a moronic sense of etymology. “Relevant” comes from the present participle of relevāre, which means to raise or lift up. But when we say “relevant” we really mean “relatable”. (So our author frowns at the “new translation of the Roman Missal”, for what relation does that have with the experience of young Catholics? (We don’t even go to Mass.))

Behold the ethos: All things must be relatable to teenagers, because teenagers, man.

Kids like funny things — let’s perform skits at their youth groups, make shirts with Jesus puns, and hire those Catholic speakers that crack everyone up with just how goofy they are! (See? Faith can be fun!)

Teenagers like pop music — why else would it be popular? — so Christian music should sound like pop music! Four chords, four-on-the-floor, uninspiring lyrics, uninspired song! Relate, dammit. “Young people are all on Facebook” — the phrase deserves some sort of award for being the most abused during “reach the teens” meetings of any kind — and thus there is the inevitable and awkward shift of every ministry, event, and slice of human reality to the non-event and non-reality of the Facebook page, the Twitter account and the Tumblr.

I do not believe that the skit or the Facebook page are inherently bad ideas, but I do believe that relevance is the worst factor for determining the goodness of a thing since we dunked witches in the river to see whether they’d float.

If relevance is the true measure of worth, then youth ministry events should feature pixelated porn, an atmosphere of diverted boredom, and a self-imposed speech impediment that negates every fragment of syntax bold enough to make an actual claim with the words “like”, “I feel like”, and that ever-present plea for affirmation, “ya know?” That’s what teenagers relate to, but relevance does not imply value. Relation is not always good relation, and that something is related to teenagers does not mean it ought to be. Which brings me to my point.

Teenagers are humans. As humans, our fundamental desires are for the good, the true, and the beautiful. These three transcendentals are analogues for our Transcendent God, and through them we meet him. The transcendentals are the truly relevant, in the sense that they are raised up before us. They are not valuable as pop music, flash mobs, and t-shirts are valuable — related to us by accident, incident, or the semi-conscious absorption of a bored culture. No, they have value in themselves as the natural ends of everything we do. Truth is that which is sought by our intellect, Goodness by our will, and Beauty by our emotion.

But we are frightened to give teenagers the transcendentals because we are frightened to treat them in any way that might end their fun, and thus have them leave the Church. And let me be absolutely clear: The transcendentals hurt. They call the human person from where he is to where he is supposed to be, and thus amount to a wrenching, a tearing, and a purifying fire.

The truth that I will suffer and die before or after watching my loved ones suffer and die is hardly skit material. The doctrine of Hell is something difficult to convey in a K-Love escapade into the miraculously relevant realms of G, C, Em, D, repeat. I may react against Mozart’s Requiem in favor of dubstep. I may react against the truth that the use of contraception is detrimental to the human person. Goodness, Truth and Beauty are not necessarily relevant, to reuse our modern misuse.

But this is the fault of the teenager.

A rejection of the Transcendentals is not the result of a lack of relevance, it is the result of sin. We deny the Truth, avoid the Good, and reject the Beautiful, because — for various reasons and under the protection of various excuses — we suck. The Good reveals to us our evil. The Truth reveals to us our ignorance. The Beautiful reveals to us our mediocrity. The question of the “church young Catholics want” is utterly meaningless compared to the question of what Church young Catholics need. Relevance is a ridiculous in the face of Transcendentals. It should be killed.

And so I disagree in all fervor with “The church young Catholics want” for it is a work of fear, hiding beneath the banner of relevance. Selak critiques the Church in her claim that the “Vatican has repeatedly shut down any dialogue surrounding the ordination of women and church teaching on homosexuality” and insinuates that the young of the Church are on her side, demanding “dialogue”. I’m calling her bluff.

Not only has the Church had a far more intellectual, consistent and conclusive dialogue on both of these issues, but it has told the truth about these issues. Women will never be priests, homosexual actions will always work against the nature of the human person.

Granted, dialogue is relevant to our dear, beloved youth insofar as we never shut up. We live in the age of the comment box. What isn’t relevant is coming to a conclusion, actually saying something, arriving at the end of discussion with words of authority — awful words that separate Truth from falsehood regardless of popular sentiment. We can’t relate to that. And so the relevant coddles while the transcendental hurts, but the Truth is needed and gasped for. It alone contains within itself the power to fulfill the human person, and it is precisely what the Church offers us. Selak’s discontent is not that the Church hasn’t engaged in dialogue over these issues, it is that the conclusions of the Church are entirely counter-cultural. Continued talk would be far more comfortable, a forever vague and fuzzy dialogue that goes on into Hell itself is sick of it, but we were not made for comfort. We were made for greatness and declarative sentences.

Kill relevance, seek transcendence.

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  • Catholic Alcoholic

    i’m glad you are calling her bluff. the youth don’t want dialogue on whether the Church will ordain women and recognize gay marriage. they want something they can believe in. blogs that come to mind are: and and lots of other young people hungry for something to believe in. anyways, funny (as always) and great post.

  • Jon P.

    Awesome. I want a Church that is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, a Church that is the embodiment of “Truth and Beauty”. If I wanted a church that was “with the times” and “relevant” I would become one of those non-denominational hipster Christians. “Apostolic Succession? The Eucharist? Nah bro, we we don’t use big technical words because religion is bad.” Sorry, that’s not gonna work…

  • enness

    Very well said.

    “Young people are all on Facebook”

    That used to be true, when the idea of it was that you had to have an educational institution-based e-mail address (or was that my imagination?). Now there are plenty of ‘old people’ there too, and some of the young people are also deciding that they really were better off without it, or at least not improved by it.

  • Ryan M.

    You know, I grew up in non-denominational Evangelicalism, i.e., the most “relevant” place on Earth. Sunday mornings were filled with distortion pedals and practical sermons and wearing jeans to church whilst we sipped a mocha from the church’s “outreach cafe”…And yet somehow, most of my friends and I slipped quietly out the back door once we came of age.

    If the Catholic Church is going to win the young, it will have to remember the bold prediction of Dostoyevsky: “Beauty will save the world”…

  • Edmund Mitchell

    Agreed. Sometimes people get caught up in the heresy of creating God in man’s (youth’s) image, instead of showing youth they are created in God’s image.

    Also reminded me of

    • Kelly


  • Jay E.

    Well said. What young Catholics want is Catholicism – the full out, nothing held back, all the stops pulled out deal that Jesus invented. Straight no chaser, people. It’s more interesting than pop culture, even.

    • pagansister

      “—–invented” is exactly right”.

      • Daniel Burns

        Its Ok to be “invented” when God does the inventing. Your snark has no teeth.

    • Pete F.

      That’s what I want.

  • Jen

    From her article: “We do not need answers; we need to engage the world.” False. They need solid catechesis and sufficient explanation. I interviewed all of my youth ministry students after they’d received Confirmation, and asked each of them how/why the program was important to them. Most of them said, in their own way, that they grew up being Catholic- knowing “what” Catholics do, but they never knew why. We taught them the why behind the what, gave personal examples and testimonies, and led them to adoration and Confession, and let the Holy Spirit do His thing.


    This whole drivel-filled article against relevance is in fact, irrelevant.
    If you’re going to follow your hate-fuelled religion that raises false banners about love, tolerance and peace. Why do you not strive to love, tolerate and promote peace. Instead you waste your time writing articles about how your Church should be, instead of just following your religion’s basic foundations of just loving one another, and being a good person. ‘God damnit.’

    • Matthew11:11

      what is this I don’t even. damnit?

    • Matthew11:11

      what is this i don’t even. damnit?

  • Lauren

    It is this kind of thinking that will cause the Church to eventually all but die out in Europe and the United States within the next century.

    • SocrateaseRedux

      Nobody’s said anything like that in the last 2,000 years…

    • ObviousTurtle

      1.Start your own church
      2.Teach crappy theology
      3.Document your success

  • Claude

    Women will never be priests, homosexual actions will always work against the nature of the human person.

    I bet you both these timeless truths of the Church will be abandoned before the Second Coming.

    • Jeremy Keong

      I will bet my salvation that you’re wrong.

      • Claude

        See you in Hell.

        • Patrick Tomassi


        • Paul

          Why Claude, weren’t you just trolling at Mark Shea’s blog? Or do I have the wrong Claude?

          • Claude

            The same! But I wasn’t trolling.

      • The Observer

        I believe Claude is referring more to how the Church has to first fall as stated in revelations? – Before Christ can come back and repair the damages.

    • Southern Catholic

      Right, after 2000 years, they are bound to be abandoned now.

      • Claude

        At least I’m still sympathetic to the idea of an (expanded) priesthood. Garry Wills, who we were discussing at Mark Shea’s blog, has thrown up his hands and declared Why Priests?!

        But this is off-topic. Marc appears to think the Church shouldn’t pander to pop culture when engaging youth. I tend to agree. One of the attractions of Roman Catholicism is its liturgical otherworldliness, and if you are going to participate you may as well concentrate on the “Transcendentals,” as Mark puts it. But I certainly disagree about the the truth of such supposed Transcendentals as male priests and homosexual “disorder.” These relics of the past should be rejected.

        • Fr. Frank

          Claude, have you never attended an Episcopalian service? Everything you’re looking for is available there. Smells, bells, chant, mystery — and if you pick the right congregation, the whole extravaganza might just be presided over by an artificially inseminated pregnant lesbian priestess wearing a fiddleback chasuble and beretta. I’m not joking, either.

          • Claude

            Fr. Frank,

            I’m a non-believer who is not looking for a church, but were I to get struck by revelation on the road to Home Depot would not be inclined to join the Episcopalians. I’m a cradle Catholic who in the brief span before I Iapsed was profoundly affected by the faith. My ethics and politics developed out of Catholicism. Now all these years later the church of my childhood has become a travesty beset by the most appalling corruption and scandal. I care about what happens to it. I care about obstructions to those denigrated by the Church who long for communion with Jesus. I think it’s wrong.

          • Matthew

            “Now all these years later the church of my childhood has become a travesty beset by the most appalling corruption and scandal.”

            Claude, my friend, since when has this not been the case? The marvelous thing about the Church is that she endures in spite of her members. Come on back.

          • Claude

            Matthew, there is a chasm between nostalgia for the lovely Jesus of my childhood and my capacity to believe that a 1st century Jewish prophet is the timeless Lord of the universe.

            Thank you for your kindness.

          • radiofreerome

            “Father” Frank, the most papabile Cardinal in your church is now a reactionary who has endorsed a law in Uganda that will make homosexuality a capital status crime and will give the death penalty to anyone who knowingly shelters gays and lesbians, even family members. The likely next Pope is legitimizing and incipient holocaust, and you don’t see the kind of abomination your church has become.

      • Laura Truxillo

        Because yeah, nothing else fundamental about the Church has ever changed in that time period.

      • LOL

        Length of time is not a determinant to a predicted future action.

  • RLM

    Marc, you write: “As Annie Selak points out in her wonderful opinion piece, “The church young Catholics want”.”

    You are more charitable in your characterization of her piece than I was when I read it last week. I thought it was an awful piece of post-modern nonsense. She accuses the Church of persecuting the so-called “marginalized,” i.e. women and homosexuals. Well, we know who she was listening to during the 2012 elections, don’t we? The fact is that women and homosexuals enjoy outsized power relative to their number. They are NOT marginalized. Who is marginalized in our society? The unborn and faithful Christians, for starters…

    Sorry, but her piece was intellectually dishonest and I think calling it “wonderful” does everyone – your readers and Ms. Selak herself – a great disservice.

    • Claude

      Marc was being ironic.

    • Abelard
    • Laura Truxillo

      Okay, sorry, if you say faithful Christians are marginalized in our society, you…you’re just wrong.

      In the US, it’s pretty darn unlikely that you will be fired or beaten up or denied a job or mistreated by the police for being a practicing Christian. Which is a choice. You consciously chose to follow Christ. The most somebody is going to call you is “weird” or “Bible-thumper.”

      Just…just NO.

      “Outsized power relative to their number.” Oh. I missed the part in EVER where women had gained more than 50% of the power in this nation. Like, literal, actual power, not that demeaning concept of “she’s the power behind the throne.” Because we sure make at least 50% of the population.

      As for LGBTQ, sorry that you have to hear about them and that sometimes they get to be treated like actual human beings. That’s still not really “outsized power.” Sheesh.

      I think what young people seek, Catholic or otherwise, is COMPASSION towards people who are different.

      • Claude

        Preach it, sister!

      • Tom

        Plenty of compassion in the Catholic Church for everyone different to go around, of course. And plenty of treating “LGBTQs” like human beings in the Church. If that’s why young people seek, why are the pews still empty?

        • John (not McCain)

          The pews are still empty because young people are probably afraid of priests, like they should be.

          • Tom

            Another condescending priest pedophile comment? Your material’s old, John. Troll harder.

    • TheEpic95

      If you look at what Marc wrote, you will see a steady drip of sarcasim just oozing and bleeding from the text.

  • Kelly

    Marc, I’m usually not a fan of your stuff. This is wonderful.

  • Patrick Tomassi

    I think that you’re right about relevance. Young Catholics are not looking for a Church that is more hip and into technology. However, Annie Selak is spot on when she says that “We want the church to ask the questions we are asking.”

    As Pope Benedict put it, “the crisis in Christian preaching, which we have been experiencing to a growing extent for the last century, depends not to a small degree on the fact that Christian responses ignore man’s questions; they were right and continue to be so; however, they did not exert influence because they did not start from the problem and were not developed within its context.”

    • Kristin Bird

      Is being hip and having technology what really defines relevance? Jesus was relevant in that he used examples from the lives of the people he was teaching in order to help them grasp the kingdom of God. Relevance doesn’t have to be watered-down Truth. It MUST answer the questions they are asking and answer them in a way that connects to their life experiences. That’s what Jesus’ preaching was all about – as was Paul’s. Let’s be relevant while at the same time providing them answers with full Truth and Transcendence.

  • Mary Vollhaber Snustad

    Reminds me of how the local non denominational “rock star” church the kids call it (where my once Catholic brother and many in my church have fled to) have “relevant” as one of their tag descriptions on their signs. They also have a huge bill board off the main highway that reads “Try church again—come to ____” an attempt to sway all those moral relativistic Catholics over there who apparently stopped going to church bc it wasn’t “relevant” enough (I.e. they want gay people to marry and don’t believe the bread & wine are ACTUALLY Jesus our Lord and Savior. We need to teach and SHOW reverence again in our Catholic Churches…that the Eucharist is beautiful & our Sacraments are EVERYTHING to us as Catholics…because they bring us closer to the One who all of us are trying to get to!!

    • Patrick Tomassi

      I disagree! We need to show that Christ is everything. And we don’t need to show it by saying it – we need to show it by living it. Young people need to be asked “what do you desire?” We don’t desire the Sacraments and the Eucharist – those will come, but they are NOT the starting place. We desire “more.” We desire greatness – Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. And Christianity is unique in that is claims that a man came to give us those things in totality, and that person was Christ. He didn’t do that by saying “here are 7 sacraments and 18 lists of sins and virtues to memorize.” He encountered them, where they were – became part of their experience, and showed them the “more” that they desired. And they could not help but respond “who is this man, who showed me who I am?” This can be our experience too – that is where, I think, Catholicism has to start!

      • Southern Catholic

        I disagree, Jesus established the 7 sacraments for us. God encounters us in the sacraments and gives us graces in them.

      • Paul Primeau

        Knowledge of the faith is practical when it’s actually practiced. It only becomes trivial if the knowledge is not put to use.

        Also, if true greatness, goodness, and beauty are your destinations, then you need the grace of God to get you there. Since the sacraments are God’s means of distributing his grace, then YES, it should be the starting point. To use a roadtrip analogy, you wouldn’t go on a cross country road trip without a full tank of gas(Baptism), without refueling(Eucharist), or without maintainence when you needed it (Reconciliation, Annointing). So yes, the sacraments are the starting point and are stopping points along the journey of life.

        • Patrick Tomassi

          You also wouldn’t go on a roadtrip without a destination. Sacraments are the means Christ gives us to reach him – He is the destination. If we start with the means, who will be interested in the trip? If we start with the destination, we will discover that we need the means in order to get there.

        • Nathalie Gourel De Saint-Pern

          Well said! If you don’t mind I would like to borrow this and use it in my class.

      • Mary Vollhaber Snustad

        I agree that we need to show that Christ is everything by living how he lived. And a great faith formation program will first teach (and I do with my 1st graders) love and respect for Jesus, and all that he did and is, which encourages kids to want to live like He lived. The Sacraments exist to help us live like Jesus, and spread His light and love out into the world. They are concrete ways for us to be honest about our vices and grow in virtue. And a very good faith program will instill that deep love and devotion throughout the process. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.

        Some fall away Catholics I have found, like my brother, express that they don’t feel like they “need” to confess their sins to a priest in order to be a good Chiristian. I have found that many people in his generation (late 40′s) didn’t have good catechesis training. They lost the true meanings, or never got them to begin with.

        People will always be drawn to what is the path of least resistance, or the easy road. And, yes, consistently remaining accountable and honest about one’s weaknesses is very hard work at times. But I have found in my marriage, my friendships, and my relationship with Christ, that nothing truly worthy or real can be without hard work, and yes, even pain (you can’t have the Resurrection without Good Friday!) . The sacraments are there to draw us deeper into God’s grace, love, mercy, and compassion!

      • Magy Stelling

        The first teacher a child has are his parents and they teach by there speech and actions. A child learns through out his/her life how the speech and actions of another relate to one another especially when it comes to morality.
        The Child will observe how one speaks of and acts with God. Is God a God of mercy, love and compassion or one of judgement and vengefulness? How does one speak and act towards a pregnant unwed teenager? Or a homosexual? Is the blame always put on a female in the case of rape? Is it honest to use mental reservation and lie to protect the Church from scandal as in the sexual abuse scandal now being found world wide? Does our speech and actions correspond when we face the issues of why we have so much poverty and homelessness?
        These are issues teenagers see every day. At this age one is now looking out side of the home for answers. Will they find the Catholic morality in the speech and actions in our Church community from the Pope, Cardinals, Bishops, Parish Priest, Youth leaders and laity? Or do they find polarization and infighting among the traditionals and the liberals? Again at this age our teenagers are learning to discern and they must be taught how one arrives at discernment. on a particular issue.
        There are so many issues in the world that can not be determined on black and white dogma, grey matter does exist. A denial of this is a denial of primacy of conscience and at this age of learning ones conscience must be handled with great compassion. Mistakes will be made , however mistakes may be the greatest tool of learning from here on out in one’s life. Hence we have the second greatest Sacrament of all, Reconciliation.
        Relevancy has taken a bad rap in today’s religions. It is not making a religion like today’s culture. It is showing how the “tools” of one’s religion come alive in one’s life in today’s culture. It answers the question of how I make use of the graces available to me in the Sacraments in my world today. If this is missing in today’s Youth education then one is missing the whole reason for a Youth Ministry.

        • TheodoreSeeber

          Every time I hear somebody say “grey matter does exist”, I know that person has failed to inform their conscience.

          Yes, problems start with shades of grey. But they should always end with the white hot fire of right and wrong.

  • Sabrina L.

    Fantastic work, Marc. I’m fifteen, and “happy happy joy joy” Christianity just ticks me off. In an attempt to be hip and cool, all formality, reverence, and beauty is muffled.

    I don’t want relevance, I want reverence!

  • Eric

    I’d like to further this discussion to cover how we can take something that reveals our evilness, ignorance and mediocrity and help people understand why they should want something like this. This is where the struggle lies – - to guide our youth away from what feels good to what brings joy at the cost of pain.

  • irrelevant…?

    Thank you so much! This is exactly how I feel but I could never put it into words. You’re the best :)

  • Katy

    oh brilliant. Don’t you love when the next sentence you read ‘goes there’ to that place your mind and soul were anticipating, and before you can formulate your thoughts/desires, the next sentence took you there? Me too.

    Thank you for writing this!

  • Magdalen Hobbs

    I’ve had this conversation with my mother a few times, essentially, “Why do baby boomers assume that they’re still the youth when a lot of them are now pulling social security?”

    As a child of the 90s, I can tell you of the joy that I first felt when experiencing my first Latin Mass, with all of its exquisite symbolism and reverence. The bells, the incense, the music, all a part of the liturgy, all working together to pull the congregation toward Christ. The focus was not on Chatty Bob, the priest, or on the band leader, but the tabernacle. It was what finally pushed me to commit to RCIA, these people who too their faith seriously, who could explain natural law and speak knowledgeably on Thomism.

    The bad 70s pastiches that pass for liturgical music and the folksy stories that priests call homilies are not what “the youth” want. And since when was what people wanted, especially those who are young and inexperienced, analogous with what is good for them or true?

    But then what do I know, I’m just a kid.

    • Blog Goliard

      Yes, this most narcissistic of generations believes that they were not merely young once, but were THE young, the Platonic form of young, forever defining what all young people must be like forevermore.

      Similarly, Boomers expect the young to rebel against their elders…but only THEIR elders, who were then and are forevermore THE elders. The young are certainly not meant to rebel against themselves…

      …or reject any of their works. Witness the grousing in some quarters against the corrected translation of the Mass. Yes, the ’60s and ’70s radicals were free to toss anything and everything that came before them into the dustbin…but that hasty, inaccurate, unfortunate ’70s hack job of a translation was to have stood forever! Don’t you understand that THEY did that…and why are you so ungrateful?

    • Romulus

      The Traditional Latin Mass is the real “youth Mass”.

    • Dan Li

      “…speak knowledgeably on Thomism,…”
      Hey! What about Scotism, Albertism and Augustinianism?

    • Justin

      It’s interesting to read this as it was the Latin mass that kept me from joining the church for so long. I can’t get into my faith when it;s being taught in a language I don’t understand that stems from misguided traditions and an overall worship of a long deceased Roman culture that has little to nothing to actually do with Catholicism.

      It was the non-Latin masses that pulled me into the RCIA program and I am wholeheartedly glad that they did away with Latin as the standard back in the 60′s. It still irks me when bits of Latin enter into regular mass.

      • lakingscrzy

        A constant reminder of how Christ overtook Rome makes you SAD?

        • Justin

          A constant reminder of how Rome overtook Christ actually.

          • lakingscrzy

            So the only way for Christ to be triumphant is to erase the memory of the empire before him? That sounds like the mentality of an empire. Rome was baptized, not destroyed.

          • Justin

            No, he needn’t erase the memory of Rome. What I’m trying to get across is that Rome took Christianity and created something uniquely Roman while ditching the truly Christian ideals really early on. I still recognize the fact that Christianity in general would not be what it is today (or perhaps, not even be) without the Romans taking Christianity and making it a empire spanning religion, but I also recognize that their brand of being “Christian” was inherently flawed and directly responsible for the reformation.

            Vatican 2 fully recognized these issues and tried to bring the Church back to what it should have been all along. This included the removal of Latin, a language very few people understand anymore that has no direct relation to the creation of Christianity, and the change to the more inclusive ideals of using language everyone can understand so that they actually know what their religion is about and can truly grasp the word of the Lord.

          • Jon Kay

            Also, where in Vatican 2 did they remove Latin? I have not found in any documents of Vatican 2 that defends that statement.

          • Justin

            Didn’t remove it, there is simply a stronger push for non-Latin masses

          • Liz

            VII also says that all the faithful should be able to know the parts of the Mass, IN LATIN, that pertain to them. And that Gregorian Chant should be given the principal place. I read an article telling about how some of the Council participants relate that when the suggestion of totally vernacularized Masses were brought up at the Council, the entire hall burst into laughter, so ridiculous was the idea. They originally envisioned *maybe* half of the Mass to be in English, but a good portion would be still in Latin.

      • Jon Kay

        I’m really confused. You were taught in the RCIA program…not in Mass. RCIA is in English…not Latin. So you were taught in a language that you do understand. Mass is a sacrifice, not a learning session about our faith. Also, what misguided traditions are you talking about in the Latin Mass? There isn’t anything “new” in the Novus Ordo Missae. God bless

        • Justin

          Yes, RCIA is in English, as is the mass I attend where I continue to be taught. Mass IS a learning session about our faith. There is ALWAYS more to learn and Mass is our constant teacher. I don’t sacrifice to go to Mass because Mass is something I inherently enjoy. As for misguided traditions, how about it being in Latin? Latin was not the original language of scripture and was only used as the standard because of the Roman Empire, the very empire that twisted the religion to the point of the reformation. That seems misguided to me

  • Tony

    Good stuff Marc. Being born n raised in an ultra-westernized nation to ethnic parents attending their ethnic church, I eventually saw a stark contrast to the world I lived in to the integrity, culture, standards, values, etc (= Christianity) that the old world Catholics have (in this case the older generation ethnics). All that you have mentioned equates to the Church keeping its integrity and in doing so will keep being a contrast to the ever-changing, modern world. Where the ‘progressive’ attitude has prevailed (some dioceses in the US, Australia, etc = ultra westernized) this contrast has disappeared and the results have been tragic. If we stay true, we’ll keep getting distanced by the day-by-day, worse-and-worse trends of today, which will inevitably prove to be a culture vastly different to the immoral, uncultured despair of tomorrow.

  • Kristin Bird

    Marc, while you’re absolutely right to rail against “relevance” to the exclusion of everything else – including the Truth – I think your piece is missing something. This is not an either/or situation, but a both/and. We do not have to reject true relevance that goes where youth are (and yes, social media IS where they are), speaks to their life experiences (including the very real experiences of suffering, sin, and grace they encounter as youth), and speak their language (the only way they can learn the rich vocabulary of theology and ecclesiology in the Church is if we help them translate it).

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think what you’re saying is that people who do crappy youth ministry, who water down the Truth in favor of a pandering, cheesy theology, and who do it all in the name of “relevance” are missing the boat because their watered down, effeminate, pansy gospel is actually irrelevant. Whether the teens in those youth groups are are doing skits or memorizing Scripture, whether they are listening to Jim Brickman when they reflect or Mozart, if we are not sharing the Truth and giving them the opportunity to encounter and reflect on, as you call it, the Transcendental, then we are not relevant.

    Good catechesis, good ministry to youth can include skits, and even KLove on occasion… Good youth ministers can be on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and can evangelize in those places and teach the teens to be evangelize there as well. Yes, good ministry to youth is first and foremost about sharing the Truth with them, but it also must be relevant. After all, on the road to Emmaus Jesus walked with those two disciples (they were going the wrong way), asked questions, and really listened to them before he spoke a single word of Truth to them. And when he did speak Truth, he answered the questions they had, and spoke a language they understood – he was relevant.

    • Denise

      I understood Marc to be saying the Church, which teaches the Truth (and does in fact dialogue about the Truth), is irrelevant because it is counter-cultural. Her conclusions, spoken with words of authority, are counter-cultural therefore irrelevant. And, as Marc said, the Truth alone contains the power to fulfill the human person, and this is exactly what the Church gives us. So he is correct in saying relevance should be killed, we should seek transcendence, we should seek Christ, the Truth.

      • Kristin Bird

        I’d argue that the Church is NOT irrelevant. It is often counter-cultural, but we are called to be in the world (though not of the world) and that demands that we must be relevant to the lived experiences of the people. This was how Jesus, Peter and Paul preached – they used the lived experience of the people as a starting point and drew them into the Truth from there. Then it was mustard seeds and shepherds, today it is Twilight and dubstep.

        • Claude

          Twilight! How low can you go?

        • Denise

          I just do not see how using Twilight and dubstep as starting points will not get us lost along the way. Teens already experience these outside of catechesis. They do not need to hear it again at youth group. They need to be learning about the early Christian martyrs, saints, and all things the Church already teaches in order bring them into an encounter with the Truth, with Christ. The end of any good catechesis is a person, the person of Christ. Twilight and dubstep would just be a distraction in my opinion.

          • Kristin Bird

            And the Pharisees told Jesus that he could not go any lower than the prostitutes and tax collectors. And yet, he met with them at their level and then challenged them to move beyond. It doesn’t end with Twilight (though I didn’t mean it literally so much as an example of something that is a lived experience for many youth today) – it starts there and draws them into the “early Christian martyrs, saints, and ll the things the Church teachers in order to bring them into an encounter with the Truth, with Christ.”

            Or, sometimes it starts with a retreat or experience of Christ outside of anything we offer in ministry and we follow up with “early Christian martyrs, saints, and ll the things the Church teachers in order to bring them into [a more full] encounter with the Truth.”

            I’m not arguing for catechesis based on Twilight – I’m arguing that just as Jesus used mustard seeds, shepherding, prostitution, adultery, and tax collecting to lead people to something so much greater (the Kingdom of God), so we can use the common lived experiences of youth today including movies, music, television, social media, etc to lead them to the same place.

          • Anonymous

            Fine, take Twilight as a starting point. Only be willing, as Jesus was with the prostitute, to condemn firmly, unambiguously and categorically the starting point, whether it’s prostitution, Twilight, or any other illness that afflicts someone “where he is”.

          • Kristin Bird

            Twilight is an “illness”? I thought it was a series of books and movies that – like the Roman culture Paul reference when he was preaching – has redeeming and sinful elements to it.

          • Kurt Klement

            Kristin, thank you for bringing some moderation to this discussion. So many people are simply reacting to the more “liberal” ideas out there with an extreme other position. Most don’t have a clue about fruitful youth ministry in the Church today. I don’t have time to respond to all this silliness (as I am preparing for a “relevant” retreat ;)) so I appreciate knowing that you are doing great work to represent a well balanced approach to evangelizing Catholic youth in today’s world. Keep up the great work! -A Fellow Catholic Youth Minister from Dallas

          • Anonymous

            He didn’t “use” evil to “lead people to something…greater”. Just because he extended a hand to a prostitute doesn’t mean he “used” prostitution to lead her to something greater.

          • Kristin Bird

            I wouldn’t say that movies, music, television, and social media are anymore “evil” than shepherding and farming. But we can use those experiences as tools to help them better understand what it means to have a relationship with Christ and to translate the Kingdom of God into something they can grasp.

          • Sammi

            You know what irks me? Adults (Baby boomers) assuming they know enough about pop culture to be “relevant” to the youth. As a teen myself, let me inform you that pop culture changes SO fast that it is nearly impossible to keep up with all of it or even most of it. Ive given up because guess what? its just not worth it. Every teen is going to know different aspects of pop culture more thoroughly, and any of your efforts to understand or follow it will guaranteed be outdated. That sarcastic “oh ______ is sooooo two weeks ago” is actually accurate. Twilight pretty muh died/dwindled to the outer fringes of fangirls (most of whom arent even “teenagers”) about two years ago. See? Theses efforts to be hip are just going to be nodded at by teens as they hold back their mocking smiles, and then roll their eyes at you behind your back. This generation is narcissistic and arrogant beyond belief. If you want to impress them, command respect. Try to integrate yourself into their transient culture of Twitter-Tumblr-Facebook-lol and you will, in pop lingo, be an EPIC FAIL.
            The thing about Marc is uses the sarcastic humor and the memes, the general vocabulary and the pop culture knowledge, yes, but he can only do this and have good “street cred” BECAUSE HE IS YOUNG. He gets it, he is saturated without trying in this stuff, and he delves through it all to access the way teens think. So, my advice is, if you are a mom, a youth leader, or a well intentioned catechism teachers, just stop. Do your job and raise YOUR kids right….and hopefully they can become as “relevant” yet counter cultural as Mark. Only they can reach their peers – no random silky teens are going to fall in love with you because you “speak their language.” We youth are humans: snarky, sarcastic, guarded, hypersensitive-yet-desensitized, bitter yet naive humans who NEED tradition and beauty to give us stability. Not to be crude, but speaking with strong language underscore wih what strength I say these things and to speak in the relevant,foul mouthed, passionate tongue of the youth:
            F*** novelty. F*** familiarity.
            F*** “coolness”

            Give us something f***ing real.

          • Kristin Bird

            I think what you’re trying to say (profanity notwithstanding) is that authenticity is key. And you’re absolutely right. I think you’re making some judgements about my age (which isn’t nearly as old as you seem to think I am) and losing sight of the fact that Twilight was just an example. We’ve also talked about the morality of the Hunger Games, created “come back to the Catholic Church” commercials that have included gangnam style, and other things that are relevant to the teens. Most of the times because THEY brought it up, not me.

            But if I try to have a ministry that is only Transcendant and not at all relevant, then I miss to talk with the teen girls who asked me about how Bella’s transformation reminded them of the resurrection of the body… or of how Katniss’ honoring Rue tied right into our class on human dignity… Or the great conversation I had with a group of guys about how The Walking Dead may be one of the most pro-life things on television right now. We take the things they are experiencing – which I know because they tell me and I engage, listen, and am willing to experience some of those things with them – and we help them learn lessons about who God is, who we are, and all the other Transcendental lessons we know are necessary.

            Remember, I’m not arguing for relevance instead of Truth (like the WaPo opinion piece did), I’m arguing for relevance AND Truth

          • Sammi

            Fair enough….I can see your point on using those sorts of things to engage teens. But I also think once we get past that introductory stage, such pop culture reference is no longer what we are searching for. In my youth group, the kids organize most of their own “fun” activities, and that’s where you see the gangnam style and the shuffle and what have you: because it’s all “funny” stuff. Sure, they bring their already-formed Catholic perspectives to make judgements or appraise the newest trend or book (for example as you said, exploring the pro life aspect of the Walking Dead or laughing at how Stephanie Meyer desperately tries to integrate Christian symbolism in her books and distorts it to laughability) but during the actual youth group that is put on my the priests and deacons, and a few young adult helpers, there is no gangnam style. We play a few good old fashioned icebreaker games, eat snacks, yes, but the heart of it is Adoration. Benediction. The Rosary. Our priest giving a passionate talk about discerning your vocation. Reading out loud from spiritual books (they even pulled out the Imitation of Christ, which was kinda intense. Not introductory level God loves you stuff). Processions to honor the Virgin Mary. These aren’t “fun” things, nor do they try to be relevant to what we experience outside on TV or the radio or the movie theatre or YouTube. They’re real, substantial, and lead us to fall deeper in love with Our Lord.
            Then again, you and I are probably taking about different groups of kids. Most that I know have been Catholics since birth, were solidly catechized, and hence may not need to introductory level “hook em and reel em in” tactics that other teens may need. However, I have invited a few friends who were brought up in the camp of “God love you sooooo much and that’s all you need to know” and hated going to Mass, which they only knew as a folksy celebration with a chuckly old priest and a badly-played guitar soloist who danced and head banged as he played “Yes Lord”, to hang out with this group of solid kids, and come to Adoration, come volunteer at fundraising dinners or at old folks homes. And at first they were uncomfortable, but eventually it struck them that these people were real. They honestly truly believed everything the Church taught. They LOVED their faith, as old fashioned and strange ad may have seemed upon first glance.
            That is my point. We need young people to lead by example, good priests to set them on fire, and most of all Christ in the Eucharist to assail them with His unrelenting love.
            By the way, the profanity and the remarks about how older people don’t understand pop culture weren’t so much directed at you as they were an explanation of my position. In my experience, most youth ministers or people on the parish council are Baby Boomers who just don’t get it. Somebody needs to get their attention, and that somebody doesn’t have to be 16 or 17. It could be another adult who actually listens to “what the youth want” yet is determined to give them what they need. You probably run a great youth ministry for the kids in your parish. I’m just saying you might have slightly misunderstood Marc’s point. Yes, pop culture can be “Catholicized” but it should never be mixed in with our beautiful Catholic traditions in hopes of makin them relevant.

          • Sammi

            Apologies for all the typos. And also for the fact my first post was a little snarky. I get carried away sometimes when I feel strongly about an issue. Having lives through way too many sappy failures of youth group at my local parish, awful awful cathechesis at a Catholic elementary school that might as well have been called “A school for rich kids who will bully you until your only focus in life is wearing the right jeans and having a boyfriend at age 12″, it is a topic that gets me upset. Especially when all of the kids (or like 90% of them) slowly stopped going to church, became druggies, sex addicts, total screw-ups, or stuck up self righteous jerks. And it wasn’t their fault: their parents, teachers and priests had basically guaranteed their sucky future by making the faith seem about as exciting as the interior decor of a suburban apartment duplex.

          • Kristin Bird

            No worries – I suspect Marc did the same thing you did – he got a little carried away because its something he feels strongly about. As do I – I have seen the same bad youth ministry and bad catechesis. But those had relevance without Truth – instead of throwing out the relevance (which is what so many here are suggesting), I added the Truth to it.

          • Kristin Bird

            “Then again, you and I are probably taking about different groups of kids.” YES!! And that’s what has me reeling and shaking my head at most of the people in this combox.

            A girl from my youth group went to adoration with a bunch of teens who knew what they were doing – and already understood the Real Presence – and even if not 100%, were open to believing it. She did not fall into any of those categories – she came in never having done Adoration before, not really understanding what we believe about the Eucharist, and herself thinking it was just a piece of bread. As you can imagine, she left that experience more confused and turned off than she came in – because they didn’t stop to make it relevant to her – to explain it to her in terms she could understand – to relate it to things in her life – in short, to be relevant. They chanted Latin, read from Scripture, and did all those beautiful Catholic traditions – but they were lost on her.

            These are most of the teens I see. And making them memorize a list of cardinal virtues or reading to them from the Imitation of Christ will not help them to see that our relationship with Christ and His Church is just that – a relationship.

      • Denise

        The Church is irrelevant in the modern misuse of the word meaning “relatable” in the sense that this culture can relate, but definitely relevant in the proper meaning “to raise” or “lift up.”

  • Dave G.

    The last part about conclusions to dialogue should be a post unto itself. It almost left the main topic, but stayed there long enough to be a great finish to a wonderful post. I’m thinking of my boys who have become frustrated that three of the last four weeks their youth group has had a rap concert, a dance (featuring the same music they hear at high school dances) and a laser tag outing. They said except for an obligatory opening prayer, there’s no more religion than at school. The week the youth had at least part of the weekly youth event dedicated to some form of catechises, they came out and said ‘we talked about some guy who lives in heaven named God.’ Protestants have long struggled with the same thing. Protestants struggle because they know the stats show these methods don’t have long term benefits. I have a feeling if Catholics look at the studies, they’ll find they should be rethinking how they teach our youth.

  • ichen

    “Hypotheses may fascinate, but they do not satisfy. Whether we admit it or not, there comes for everyone the moment when personal existence must be anchored to a truth recognized as final, a truth which confers a certitude no longer open to doubt.”- Blessed JPII, Fides et Ratio

    Thanks for the post, keep writing!

  • Peter

    This is precisely why I stopped going to Lifeteen. The goal is relevance, but I didn’t learn anything at all in the 2 years I was in it. I instead joined a Dead Theologians Society that studies the Saints. I didn’t want Catholicism to try to mirror culture; I was sick of culture from school and sports and television. I wanted a deeper relationship with Christ, to experience His truth, beauty, and goodness.

    • Ronald Lee Klingler

      Me too. Back in high school Lifeteen was probably the final straw that pushed me into atheism, I thought it was just moronic. What brought me back into the faith was the intellectualism of the church, not pop culture esq church services.

  • GP

    Thank you for your very relevant thoughts, inspirations and insights regarding the youths and young adults with our Church. True Catholicism with all its orthodox heritage – Tradition – is the foundation for all of us.

  • Anthony Fink

    I liked everything in there, right up until this chunk:

    “The transcendentals hurt. They call the human person from where he is to where he is supposed to be, and thus amount to a wrenching, a tearing, and a purifying fire. … I may react against Mozart’s Requiem in favor of dubstep. … But this is the fault of the teenager.”

    Beg pardon? Perhaps I am but a rank modernist, but I think you’re missing the point with that comment, and just getting in a free dig on a musical style you doesn’t like. There isn’t a “form” of the beautiful in the Platonic sense that we can objectively measure all beauty with. (Yeah, I’ll be that guy, ragging on Plato. It’s alright, St. Thomas Aquinas did it too.) Yes, it is true that all that is beautiful has its origin in God, who is source of all beauty, but that is not by conformity to a form, but participation in a being. As a result I think it can be very fair to say that the beautiful will have many shapes, sounds, and appearances, and our choosing between them merely a choice between different iterations all participating in the same beauty. Ultimately my goal isn’t to accept Mozart over dubstep, but to accept them both and appreciate the beauty that is in them both.

    I’m no relativist, don’t get me wrong. But as a fan of both Mozart and dubstep I gotta make a request: if you want to say that Mozart is objectively more beautiful than dubstep I’d like you to prove it. ;)

    • Anthony Fink

      I consider that a friendly challenge. I’m pretty sure you could make the case, by the way.

      • Matthew

        And I would have to reply with a paraphrased line stolen from a Carmelite retreat master: “If you need me to prove to you that newspaper comics and Shakespeare’s plays are not on the same level, then I would have to think you are either woefully ignorant or simply being foolish.”

        • Anthony Fink

          Strawman. If it’s that easy then you should be able to explain it to me, eh?

    • Ronald Lee Klingler

      “There isn’t a “form” of the beautiful in the Platonic sense that we can objectively measure all beauty with. ”

      Disagree, but this a really long argument that can’t be had on a blog site.

  • TheEpic95

    Well done. Sometimes I go to praise&worship/adoration/confession things that are very contemporary, but they are still very good. Its becaise, in that context, it was merely our way of worshiping God, adoration is SO evidently about God that it is clear that the musical style and such is always secondary. No mere naive youth minister could mess that up, you would need to intentionally ruin it.
    However, i was recently at a youth group meeting where everything felt backwards. We had some interesting activities, and then talked about what it meant, but it seemed like more work was put into the cheesy activities than connecting them to a lesson. Or on the lesson at all. I was tierd at the time and atributed the feeling of it being upsidedown to the fact that i wished i was in bed.I thought i was to tierd to think. I was only vuagly having fun doing those “fun” things. Why? Not because they werent fun, but because they had a point. Now I have nothing wrong with fun things having a point as long as its a sharp point, as long as it really means something and means it REALLY. Otherwise, i prefer it have no point at all. I hate vuageness. The only “fun” i had that evening was when it was over, and i began to discuss God’s command in OT to slay entire villiages indiscriminanlty (not that im bloodthirsty or anything.) It was because it wasnt about fun at all, it was about trying to get to the root of something. Trying to understand something because there was a truth there hard to see. I didnt dig holes to have fun, i dug holes to see what id find in or could do with the dirt and it WAS fun.

  • Anonymous

    I was born in the 80s. I have been married for 8 years and have three children. I want transcendent, hauntingly solemnly seriously beautiful liturgy. I also want to be able to go to Mass with Catholics, not just the ones who happen to be alive at the moment, and know what’s going on.

    I want my inheritance as a Catholic.

    • Eoin Suibhne

      “I want my inheritance as a Catholic.”

      Amen. I was born in 1968 and grew up with happy-clappy Kumbaya, Father Wannabeyourbuddy, and felt banners. Then it was Lifeteen and guitars and drums at Mass. No thanks.

      My wife and I have 10 children and we have discovered what they took away from us, most especially the Traditional Latin Mass. As someone above said, “The Traditional Latin Mass is the ‘youth mass’.”

      Our Catholic Past is Our Catholic Future!

  • HeroOfCantonYM

    thank you. as a youth minister i am constantly bugged about my numbers for everything i do how many did we reach not what was the quality of the message. did we give them truth. Christ told the young rich man the truth and let him walk away. we have to give truth with love anything less is a bait and switch.

  • theevangelista

    As a high school religion teacher, I couldn’t agree more with you, Marc. Kudos on saying everything that is in me to say, but much, much better.

    • Maria

      Hey, it’s the Evangelista! Love seeing your pretty face here!

  • Lydia May Clark

    grew up in another Christian faith and am currently in RCIA, so I
    admittedly don’t know a whole lot about Catholic youth ministry. I do
    hope that this trend of feel-good fun-time relevance without substance
    is not as widespread amongst Catholics as it is amongst Protestants. From what I have seen, that sort of youth ministry has several disconcerting consequences:

    Teenagers who think that church is meant to entertain them. A
    completely backwards philosophy; you should change for Christianity,
    Christianity should not change for you.

    Because of this, they either get bored and ditch Christianity when they
    become adults because it’s not “fun” anymore, or remain juvenile in
    their approach to church and Christianity. All the stuff you mentioned
    in this article, the skits, the goofiness, the wishy-washy preaching,
    the pop-like worship music, is the norm in contemporary evangelical
    worship services. 1 Corinthians 3 comes to mind.

    Finally, it creates a divide between the old and the young. Worst case
    scenario, the youth group almost becomes like its own little church;
    they sing different music than the grown-ups, they do service projects
    separately, they focus on different “issues”. There is no sense of

    Catholics, please learn from the evangelicals’ mistakes and listen to Marc. He is a wise young man.

    • Mr. Two Cents

      If I could give you 3 more “thumbs up” I would. Your sentiments, Lydia, are exactly what I was afraid would happen as we continue down the relevance path. So, thank you for vindication.
      I might add that it is the parents who fail the youth. This whole “fun-church” movement is born out of the parents search for “someone else” to take the responsibility of catechizing out of their hands. The thought is,”Maybe the youth-minister will get through to them.” Poppy-cock!
      I am starting early: When, at my parish, the youth minister gathers all of the young children to go doodle on coloring-books before the Homily and Eucharistic Rite I make sure my son stays put with me. I make it a point to explain one part of the Holy Mass before we get to church, and then ask him questions about the Mass afterwards.
      I will bet that when he becomes a teen he will have a greater understanding of the Mass than his peers and will most likely stay Catholic throughout his life. How’s that for reaching the youth?

    • Good Catholic GIrl

      I’m coming into this discussion quite late but I agree. I grew up with “folk Masses” which were not “cool”; they were a silly trial. As you mentioned, Church is not meant to entertain. Once it’s not entertaining, people move on to the next fun thing.

  • Ben-Two Catholic Men & a Blog

    I teach young teens in confirmation class. I’ve noticed that they seem to relate to the occult. Most are not so interested in church teaching or scripture, but they all seem to perk-up if I talk about or read comments from a real Catholic exorcist, or explain the danger of a weegie bord, or explain the biblical meaning of 666. How 7 can represent completion and 6 (one less than 7) can be incompletion or evil, and 3 represents perfection, so 6 three times is “perfectly-evil”. These topics seem to excite them and give the Church credibility in their eyes or “Transcendence”. Why is that?

  • Fleurdelis3

    Interesting thoughts. It seems that the relativistic culture makes seeing good more difficult and less clear than in the presence of beauty. Fortunately, the searching heart can determine God to be the contradiction to evil.

  • Aquino

    ExCePtIoNaL piece — very engaging and compelling. Kudos to you!

  • Megan Ryan

    This sure is a lot of words.

  • Brother Bréanainn Solanus

    the CHURCH has nothing to do with this boring crap….. the endless discussion of gay and non gay and the endless discussion of female and non female clergy READ PAUL…READ ACTS NO PRIESTS… READ the FIRST TESTAMENT homosexuality just as bad as SHRIMP. What real Catholics want is for the roman collared custodians to do is shut the hell up and pastor YOUR flock not every one else

  • Eric Neubauer

    Transcending – the deep spiritual mystique of P. John Paul II and his ultimate rise in popularity among the young. A popularity he had throughout his life as a priest, Bishop & Pope. He didn’t make it easy & easy wasn’t what young people ever had in mind.

  • Erica8

    Wonderful – pardon me but this article is quite “relevant” as I keep reading articles like Selak’s and wonder if I’m the only one shaking my head. Thank you. Our hearts seek the truth and are inspired by the perfect beauty of God’s truth; this is true at all ages.

  • Mike

    As a 16 year old Catholic, I agree with this entirely.

  • Corita

    Reading comments here and thinking back on my days in youth groups/Teen Life/etc., I realized that, for a person like me, those cheerleading group activities were *alienating* more than anything else. They were not authentic relationships, for the most part. It left me more longing than ever wrt my spiritual life. I wish I had known just one adult who told me, to find G-d by striving to live with richness and integrity.

  • catholicrose

    I am 25 and love Chant, history, Latin, truth, beauty and tradition.

    If you want to send your children to a youth conference that provides youth what they need, please look into Ignite Your Torch.

  • Amadeus Ex Machina

    “I may react against Mozart’s Requiem in favor of dubstep.”

    Great post, but now I’m wondering whether the Dies Irae could benefit from some “wub wub”… Quantus tremor est futurus, after all.

  • Amadeus Ex Machina

    Zoinks! It’s already been done (by Rudebrat)! Tho’ I must confess it’s not quite what I was hoping for…

  • bobert432

    I went through “Youth Ministry” in the late 90s as a requirement for two years before Confirmation. I detested every minute of it.

    I remember going through CCD in elementary school–as spiritually lacking as CCD can even be, we actually learned about our faith. Youth Ministry was a regression–we went from learning about Old Testament prophets and the Sacraments in 2nd grade, to painting rocks and making face masks out of tin foil in 9th and 10th grade…..yes, I actually had to do those things; and today, I could not tell you what those “excercises” were supposed to symbolize to save my life. I recall a speaker coming to talk to us about Christ’s parable of the mustard seed, and at one point saying “and Jesus said, Dude, that’s awesome.” Again, I don’t remember the context of his, em, paraphrasing, but I do recall the Son of God being reduced to Spicoli….because, you know, teenagers say “Dude,” man. I remember going on a pointless “retreat” where the Youth Ministry mentors led us in a rendition of “Christ, Christ, Baby.” Yes, that happened. Yes, it was to the tune of the Vanilla Ice song.

    Ironically, I went into Youth Ministry an unshakable Catholic, which I continue to be at age 28. None of this tripe was “relevant” to me; I did not “relate” to any of it, and to this day, all I remember are the most absurd incidents surrounding Youth Ministry. I loved the Church then, and I love it more today. But I was thirsting for truth, meaning, and guidance on the eternal; and instead my time was wasted with hogwash and nonsense, being fed to me by adults who thought “relating” to teens meant treating them like pre-schoolers. And even pre-schoolers would’ve been confused.

    I think this article gets it exactly right–many of the Youth Ministry programs don’t treat teenagers like real, 3-dimensional human beings. Because teenagers either aren’t feeling the condescending excercises that cater to the lowest common denominator. Even the ones with a strong faith–like I had–thought it was banal and idiotic. Youth Minsitry felt like the experiment of a group of 48 year old moms who read Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul, or saw an Oprah special about how to “relate” to teens. We were like objects to be manipulated, rather than humans with hungry minds and vulnerable souls. It was a complete disservice to the souls I went through Youth Ministry with who were Confirmed with no improved sense of their faith. It was major a lost opportunity for poorly catechised teenagers, who left Youth Ministry and probably never attended Mass again.

    Even at 14 or 15, I would have rather just sat a 90 minute class a couple nights per month learning about the sacraments or Church history, or just simply attended an extra Mass. Instead, I got “Christ, Christ, Baby,” and a painted rock.

  • The survivors

    The press just uncovered official Vatican documents proving Catholic Church is primarily a cover for filthy old peadophile clubs and actual mafia money laundering. The Pope quit the day he saw the draft of these documents. Hundreds of articles have come out today about this. Do your research. Shut that place down. Authorize the European & U.S. Police raids on the international Diocese offices. Repost this this: EVERYWHERE

  • Pauline Wester

    The press just uncovered official Vatican documents proving Catholic Church is PRIMARILY a cover organization for filthy old peadophile clubs and actual mafia money laundering. The Pope quit the day he saw the draft of these documents. Hundreds of articles have come out today about this. Do your research. Shut that place down. Demand the European & U.S. Police raids on the international Diocese offices. Repost this: EVERYWHERE.
    Don’t let this get covered up again. Do your part. Post this news and links to the articles all over the web now.

    • Wikipedia

      Citation needed.

  • shackra sislock

    “Kill relevance, seek transcendence.”

    Hopefully, the new title of a song for a Catholic rock punk band

    • Rai

      The problem is that if it becames relevant the entire affair would end up looking like a really lame joke.

  • Rai

    Premise :If it can confort you, the problem of Catholics full of good will with
    ridicolous strategies to “bring back the youth to church” isn’t only
    American. Here in Italy it’s similar or the same, with predictable

    About the rest:
    I couldn’t agree more. I especially appreciate the fact that this post follows
    the one on commercialization of culture, as I see a lot of those attempting to
    “modernize” the Church reasoning exactly as CEOs who modernize their
    products when needed by the market. The problem is that treating Catholicism like a product means starting without believing in it, which is rather absurd.
    The “modernizers” will say that they have changed Catholicism itself in a new, more accessible form. If they didn’t do it, it’s false advertising. If they did do it, it’s heresy. In both cases, they manage to insult Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
    I am sure that no amount of changes to the Dogma will convince anyone to
    convert, since it would mean that Dogma can be changed by man, while its
    meaning is exactly the opposite. Why would you convert to a religion that
    openly declares itself an human construct?

    • Claude

      Why would you convert to a religion that openly declares itself an human construct?

      A provocative question. You can’t be saying that Church dogma has never been changed by man, so do you mean that what dogma has been changed by man has been changed under the guidance of the Holy Spirit? Or do you mean something else?

      • Rai

        My point wasn’t centered on Dogma itself, but rather on what it’s said by Church people about Dogma.
        Still, yours is a fair question. By Dogma I am referring to those core beliefs that have been expanded and presented in different ways, but in substance never changed. I am sure you aren’t satisfied with this answer: I am open to discussion on singular cases, but I must admit I am no expert in the matter. In fact I am pretty much a beginner.
        Sorry for my late answer, but you know, RL.

        • Claude

          Rai, no need to apologize, it’s only the internet.

          Have a good weekend!

  • athelstane

    “Selak’s discontent is not that the Church hasn’t engaged in dialogue over these issues, it is that the conclusions of the Church are entirely counter-cultural.”

    Exactly so.

  • nanomanoman

    I don’t know anything about what Catholic youth ministry, etc, but this being a blog I won’t let that get in the way of me expressing an opinion… ;-)

    Which is: there’s a lot of interesting stuff here about modernity vs eternal, divine vs human construct. Maybe I’ve missed this but, from a marketing perspective, I think you’re climbing the wrong tree.

    You talk about tactics – traditional or modern – but I think you’re missing strategy.

    I think one does not need to focus on the nature of God but Man and the natural process that one goes through – acceptance, rejection, maturity – and develop the systems to reflect that.

    Many people reject Christianity in latter life because they associate it with “childish things”. They reject their childhood and with it their “simple” belief systems. One could consider structuring Christian teaching “upside down” forcusing on the moral teachings of Christ when they are a child, and leaving the “supernatural” stuff until they are older and more prepared to “process” it (and I don’t mean to patronise younger people and their beliefs, only to observe the process of unbelief and rejectionism in many older people). In a world full of options, the process needs to be permissive (ie perceived to be driven by them). This could mean putting aside many aspects of worship until they reach an age where they themselves are keen to participate. If they don’t want to then the church should not push them, instead provide alternatives that express Christian values like community and volunteering.

    This could be a way church responds to the human condition as a life long process without sacrificing what it stands for – it adapts the process, not the teaching.

  • Helpful

    A Church that becomes popular because it imitates the fads of our young culture will only remain popular as long as those fads are popular. It has always amazed me that people think that now, after 2000 years, our challenge is to change the Church to appeal to everyone, instead of simply showing them the Truth and challenging them to change themselves.

    • Claude

      The Church has been challenged since its inception. This notion that dissent is some feature of modernity is divorced from reality. But I suppose the many, many people in history who out of conscience suffered horrific deaths for challenging the Church can be dismissed as “faddish” heretics. Of course, pandering to youth by attempting to appropriate pop culture does not exactly rise to the level of popularizing the Church.

      The notion that the Church never changes its doctrines is also a fantasy. For example, the Church changed its positions on “usury,” slavery, marriage (the Church’s power to “annul”) and the death penalty, to name a few.

      God forbid the Church should consider whether to “appeal to everyone.” We all know it’s an exclusive club for right-thinkers.

  • Sister Desire Anne-Marie

    Well said! I’ll call on you when I end up in youth ministry one of these days. We are blessed to have your voice in the Church!

  • Carmelite-to-be

    In the past years of my life I was always so bothered by the “dumbing down” for teens done at youth groups, etc. – I was always hungering for real depth. Nothing has been better for me in my faith than discovering the Traditional Latin Mass.

  • Ben Carpenter

    I really do appreciate this post and the fact that you’ve pointed out that we can call young people to something greater and they will respond. I do, however, want to step in and make a point on the side of “relevance.”

    Yes, the Church has a rich history full of many good, meaningful rituals. It has its own beautiful foundation and culture. But that doesn’t mean it can’t or shouldn’t adapt it’s message (mind you, not the core message itself, but its presentation) to reach those who won’t give it a second glance otherwise. As St. Paul said,

    “I have become all things to all people so that by all means I might save some.”
    - 1Corinthians 9:22(b?)

    Why, even Marc himself injects various memes into many of his blog posts. There’s nothing wrong with using what people already understand to help them understand something deeper. Indeed, if I understand the Church’s missionary history correctly, adaptation of local rituals, ceremonies, and observances has been an integral part of the Church’s evangelization efforts. (do please correct me if that’s not right. I’m not 100% on it.)

    We do need to call people to something greater, but we start by meeting them where they’re at (or maybe just a little above, where we can show something better and they can actually SEE it as better). I don’t think the problem is with trying to make the Gospel relevant in a way that they will understand, but with doing such a poor job of it. I think we’re calling highschoolers to the level we should be calling middleschoolers, perhaps middleschoolers to where elementary students should be. They’re a lot smarter and can experience God much more deeply than we give them credit for. But some will just think it’s goofy and turn their back on it all if you start with the most difficult mysteries.

  • shaun

    all though i do not hate skits or pop music as much as you seem to, i generally agree with this. the thing is we shouldnt be trying so hard to make the church look like modern culture, as if that is how we will make the church relatable to the young. what we should be doing is showing the young how wonderful the church already is and how it already is relatable to them as it is right now. the church is universal. we shouldnt need to change her in order to make her relatable to the young, she already is. she understands the young, possibly better than the young do themselves. we need to show young people this, they need to know. we need to show the young that those aspects of culture that are good and true ultimately come from the church herself. and inside the church they are fulfilled and all else that lacks truth is stripped away. we dont want to reach the young by lowering the church to the culture, but by lifting the culture to the church.

  • Charlotte

    Oh boy am I in agreement with you! Where are the teens that are getting this?

  • radiofreerome

    Teenagers are very idealistic. They don’t seek relevance. They seek to live their ideals, but they don’t see the Catholic church as a place to do that. You older Catholics have whored transcendance to justify injustice and bigotry on a grand scale. Cardinal Turkson has endorsed the legalization of state sanctioned murder of gays and their PARENTS if they protect their children in Uganda.

    You don’t just suck. You’re an abomination.

    • Tom

      If teenagers are very idealistic, how much more idealistic can you get than the Highest Ideal (i.e. God as shown in His Son, Jesus Christ)? Teenagers don’t seek relevance? Have you recently been in a high school?

  • Kansan

    I’ve been a volunteer in youth ministry for about three years now, and it seems pretty hit-or-miss to me. Some kids get on that spiritual high and then fall away; others tend to really take it to heart and become full-fledged disciples (cue the parable of the sower. Sometimes it can be good to use pop culture as a “hook”, but I agree that making Christianity “relatable” doesn’t bear fruit in the long run. But we do have deep, real discussions that give the kids something to chew on; it seems to be bearing good fruit so far.

  • Anna

    Yep, I think I just found the reason why I could never stand cell groups and campus ministries and the likes, even if they were Catholic. I would attend the first few meetings but then I always found myself coming back to my Avila and John of the Cross collection (Catholic mysticism anyone?).
    I’m 23, but I guess my soul is 83.

  • Bill

    It’s true that humans desire truth. The problem is, Catholicism is not true. Neither is Christianity. It’s a false description of the world and our place in it. Now that information is more widely available, more and more people will realise that.

    For example, homosexual acts are part of the wide variation of human sexual behaviour and are not harmful as long as you use protection against STDs (which is a danger for heterosexual sex too). This is actually a fact which you can verify by looking at research. Plenty of people participate in homosexual acts all their lives with no ill effects. Some people are gay, some are bisexual, some are straight- all are equally human.

    Women already are priests in the church of England and manage the job just as well as men. They also lead worship in many other denominations. They have managed to get into positions of power in many countries without destroying the world. Iceland has a female prime minister. Brazil has a female president. There’s no practical reason the Pope can’t be a woman, just the absurd notion that what mattered most about Jesus was his sex.

    I don’t think most young people want the Catholic church at all. That’s bad for the church, but in the end it will be good for humanity.

  • Ken Heim

    As I read Ms. Selak’s article, I couldn’t help but wonder what she was like. For some reason this ridiculously funny video kept coming to my mind:

  • Christopher A Brennan

    Brilliant. I really think that many American Catholics have a few fundamental flaws. First, Catholicism isn’t a democracy. What I think is great about the Church is that it is consistent. Secondly, no one has a right to be Catholic. Every Sunday I recite the Nicene Creed with my parish. Every Catholic Church does this. When you say it, you are avowing that you believe what the Church teaches. If you don’t, find another church. There are plenty around this country. The Church shouldn’t change to suit us. We are the ones who should change.

  • Courtney

    In other words, stop speaking down to young people, stop assuming they’re simpletons who are selfish and only want what they want. Let us all aspire to be great, to transcend, to know. Another home run post!

  • this article is terrible

    …so what you`re saying is that there is only one form of worship….and if we dont like it then too bad…..seems to me that the ignorant one is you.

    • Dan

      I don’t think thats what the article is saying.

  • Danica

    Interesting piece. Also, I read most of the comments, and also…there’s a lot of good and interesting points brought up. I know I’m way late on commenting, but I still wanted to put my two cents in. I’ve been working & volunteering in youth ministry for the past few years, and although I’m no longer a youth, I’m still young.

    What I really see is two different points here – the message we share and the methods we use to share it. So on that note, I both agree and disagree with you.

    In regards to the message we share – I ABSOLUTELY agree that we can’t water down the truth and exchange it for “relevance” or “relatability”. We can’t water down the Gospel. A lot of youth ministry programs miss the point when they have all these cheesy, fun, random things and “God loves you”; “happy happy joy joy” (as I saw someone comment..) message, because they didn’t share the heart of the Gospel. It turns youth off, because ultimately they’re seeking Truth and you didn’t give it to them amidst all the “happy happy joy” stuff. Absolutely agree.

    In regards to how the methods we use to share the Gospel – you can’t write off culture entirely, because the people/youth we evangelize to submersed in the culture. In traditional mission territory (ie: developing countries), you couldn’t just go in and start talking about Jesus. You have to learn the culture first and use different parts of their culture to show them God, and THEN you can talk about Jesus. It works the same with youth culture. Obviously, there are parts of our culture that are sinful. That’s why we are called to be IN the world, just not OF the world. If we’re not IN the world, how do you expect to reach the people who are IN and OF the world?

    Jesus always met people at their level – where they were at. He spoke in one way to the Pharisees, another way to the people, another way to his apostles, etc. all according to where their faith level was at. That’s how we’re called to evangelize. We’re called to meet people where they’re at, without compromising the Truth and who we are. Taking me to a Latin mass or Adoration or praying the Rosary with me would be fine, because I’m at a point in my faith, where I love and appreciate it, and I will encounter God there. However, you couldn’t take my sister to Adoration and expect her to see the beauty and symbolism in everything or to know Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist. You couldn’t even take her to Adoration and explain it all to her while you’re there, without somehow relating with her on her turf first. Why? Because that is not where she’s at in her faith journey. That’s not meeting her where she’s at. It’s “irrelevant” or “unrelatable” to her life right now. Do I hope she gets to that point in her faith eventually? Absolutely. But that’s not where it starts.

    The point is we have to meet youth on their level. First and foremost, we need to build relationships with those we evangelize to, because that’s how we’ll find out where they’re at, what they need and what they are seeking. We need to answer the questions THEY are asking – not skip to the stuff we think and know is important. This looks different for every person and every youth group. So there’s no blanket statetement on the best way to evangelize to youth. We need to use HIGH quality methods of reaching out to young people – so yes, sometimes this means contemporary style “pop/rock” worship music, crazy activities, etc. But if the youth you are reaching out to are past that point, skip it! Or you’ll lose them. Bring them straight to the good stuff. As long those fun activities/crazy music/etc. are not the end in themselves. These methods are just a means to the end – sharing the Gospel and bringing youth to the heart of Christ.
    So..there’s my two cents.

  • Sean

    One of my youth workers sent me a copy of your post. And although I understand the point you are making, I have to disagree with your conclusion. You are taking a similar extremist position, that you ascribe to those preaching relevance, as you do in your trashing of relevance for transcendence. The reality is that the Church in the world is not an “either, or” position. Rather, it is a “both, and” position. Jesus is not merely the transcendent God whom we follow. He is also imminent, relevant and grounded in the nitty-gritty details of human life. The key to evangelizing and catechizing our youth or any adult is to help those individuals come to encounter the living Christ, who is both transcendent and imminent in their lives. You can talk all you want to about God as Truth, Goodness, Beauty and Love (which by the way, you left out of your list of transcendent attributes – which is quite telling in your posted position). However, if you don’t make it relevant to their lives, you might as well be speaking in ancient Latin.

    Even God’s self-revelation and communication to humanity is made in a relevant and imminent way. Most people begin to understand and be drawn to the transcendent, through the mode of the relevant – language, culture and relationships. It behooves us as ministers and catechists to examine how we teach and pass on the gospel. The truth, goodness, beauty and love of the gospel which we possess and pass on is a mere shadow of God’s Truth, Goodness, Beauty and Love. The justice we do as we collaborate with the Holy Spirit in passing that on is best served through “balance.” We need the relevance found in the Imminent, just as much as we need the Transcendent.

  • Angelo Cardinal Fratelli

    May I leave a link to a blog article I wrote about what young Catholics want. It might not be what you are expecting and it is not progressive nonsense.It really shows how our young people are thirsting- simply begging- for meaty, traditional Catholicism !

  • Preston

    It might help if these pieces weren’t peppered with statements (and bearing titles)about things needing “to be killed.” You have some great ideas, I hear your frustration, and I know you only mean this in jest, but it still makes you sound like creep.

  • The Dread Pirate Roberts

    As usual…great post. I was watching Brideshead Revisisted (the one with Jeremy Irons–it is the faithful version far superior to the newer movie version) and the thought that came to my mind was that Catholics seemed to always struggle and often fail with regards to their faith, regardless if you are talking about now, in Waugh’s time, or whenever. The difference is, there seems to be a move to change the faith and teaching of the Church itself inorder to conform it to our sinfulness where in Brideshead, the characters deeply love the faith they cannot live up to. They freely and quickly admit its pressure and annoyence it has at times on them, but they always place the blame on themselves…not the teaching of the Church. I found that incredible.

  • Eli

    OK EVERYONE…..Everything Catholic in one place, Including THE END OF TIME. No searching the web anymore!

  • urcool91

    Good points were made in this, but there are a few things I have to contest.

    I agree that Christianity is not about “relevance” or “happy happy, joy joy”, but at the same time some of those things can be incorporated to help teens understand. I’m fifteen, and for a while I was considering leaving the faith. To me it seemed just a bunch of old people spouting off dogma that they believed and I was supposed to believe but that no one seemed to understand. Going to Steubinville last summer was what really brought me back into the faith. They were funny, down-to-earth, and really seemed to want to be Catholic. Before I saw going to Church as a chore, now I can feel God’s presence there, inviting me to hold a conversation with him. I’m not saying that we weren’t made for greatness, but God made us to experience this world, with all the comfort and pain in it, so we should embrace and enjoy living our faith, whatever that might entail.

  • pj


  • James

    You do realise how utterly transparent it is when the older generation tries to appropriate youth culture, don’t you? Are you familiar with the word “cringe”? As a young man, if I see any of that rubbish in a church, I would seriously question the ideals of that church and how seriously they take their tradition. Young people are not fools, if they hear the call then they know exactly what they are getting into, and any ridiculous attempts to change the church based on what the older generation may feel will tempt us back to the church will do nothing but the opposite.

  • Blah

    ADVICE NEEDED: OK, I am at one of the biggest “crossroads” of my religious life. I am currently a 30 year old married Roman Catholic, and a new parent (18 month old), but haven’t been attending church for a while, for a number of reasons…NONE of which are their stances on social issues. Mainly it’s because I honestly get no fulfillment, spiritually or otherwise, from the mass. It seems to have become too ritualistic, almost to the point of exclusion, and has lost its message with me. I find myself staring at my watch when the priest, who is normally 70 or 80, stands up and gives a totally irrelevant homily that couldn’t be less inspirational. I sometimes even dread going to begin with. I look around the room and the people are mostly twice my age…which is OK, but for me I seek a sense of community with my parish…and it’s hard to relate to those a full generation older. I love them as people, but not going to be double-dating with them (no offense, trying to be sincere here). Now, from my perspective, religion’s main purpose is to bring me closer to GOD. When the delivery of the message is so unnecessarily stale, I begin to wander.

    A friend invited us to one of those “hipster” Christian services, with a band, a daycare (wow that’s a huge help!), and a real strong sense of community. I loved it. They talk about current events, and apply the bible to it. They do mission trips and community service. They have events that excite me. They don’t spend the majority of the time on ritualistic, monotonistic, almost a regurgitation of memorized chants. I have a hard time believing that such things are to be considered “fads.” But then there’s the other side of the coin that conflicts me…

    1) It is a family tradition. I feel a sense of duty to generations before me that I carry the torch. My siblings have all raised their children to be Catholic, and while it is easy to advise me to “be my own person,” it would be very painful to my parents….and I’m not looking to play black sheep. I feel a sense of duty & loyalty to the religion, and enjoy a number of the traditions (midnight mass, for example).

    2) The Eucharist is the most important part of mass for me…it is one of the only times (along with singing) that I feel closer to GOD during the Catholic mass (unless the homily is just amazing, which is infrequent). These services do not offer that.

    3) I asked my wife to convert via RCIA a couple of years ago (former Christian, just not Catholic), and don’t want to play religious roulette with her. She is more deeply rooted in her faith than even I am.

    4) I believe in the teachings of the church. I like the way they interpret the bible, and I miss the music! And the education is unparalleled.

    So, my issue is that I love the foundation of Catholicism, but hate the delivery. On the other side, I LOVE the delivery, and the outreach, but miss the traditions. I am currently attending the new church, but still donating to the Catholic church as well. Having trouble letting go (which tells me something), but look forward to attending the new service more (which also tells me something). Any sincere advice would be truly appreciated. Please don’t spend your time criticizing me either, I come in peace and sincerity. Thanks!