As a teenager often evangelized to, I would like to point out some mistakes people make in regards to ‘selling’ Catholicism. The first is that it needs to be sold.
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It doesn’t work. And anyways, it’s a stupid thought that drives a lot of youth ministry; that “we need to make Catholicism cool.” Catholicism is cool. It’s cool because it’s truth, because it fills the need in our souls for sensibility and beauty that nothing else can, not because you made that sweet video, or that t-shirt design for all your kids. Artists like Matt Maher and Move Merchants, comedians like Stephen Colbert and writers like Mark Shea; these people do not make Catholicism cool, they are cool because they are Catholic. A good talk on chastity doesn’t make chastity hip, it reveals chastity as true. So please, if you are trying to make the faith attractive for teenagers, slow down, and try to make teenagers attracted to the faith.
And even as I write this, I grimace at using the phrase ‘Catholicism is cool’. In fact, I only use it because a lot of “we’re reaching teenagers” web-sites and ministries use it far too often. The truth is that smartphones are pretty cool. Call of Duty 4 is cool. Religion is beyond that. We do young people a great injustice when we make the assumption that what they want out of an all-encompassing world view is that it be cool, akin to a new pair of shoes. Instead, let us realize that youth, like the rest of humanity, want to be fulfilled, but with an energy and a passion far more apparent than in older folk. And youth, like the rest of humanity, are not fulfilled by coolness. So instead of “Catholicism is cool”, how about, “Catholicism is the radical and exciting path to fulfillment, peace, and eternal salvation, that will provide solace when you suffer, aid when you are in need, excitement when you are bored, and has remained centered for 2000 years around the daring notion that human beings are meant to be joyful beyond all measure, living with God not only after death, but here and now, in the most awesome Holy Eucharist.” Again, if you are trying to make the faith relevant to young people, slow down, and make young people relevant to the faith.
How? By adopting that characteristic appreciated by everyone, especially young people – authenticity. We live in a world that subsists on selling itself, on making everything The Next Big Thing, and quite frankly, we’re sick of it, and those who aren’t soon will be. The beautiful thing about the Catholic Church is that it really is The Big Thing, and the next one as well. Thus, authenticity simply reveals it for what it is: awesome. Authenticity in speech, in writing, in sharing the precepts of the faith, in prayer, in song, media, dress, evangelization and in the plain, daily communication with others, all this reveals Catholicism’s innate greatness, achieving every single one of the effects any “make-Catholic-cool” program will try so desperately for; attracting youth, catching them off guard, having them willing to listen, opening their minds, and planting the seeds of the Gospel within them. Trying to make Catholicism cool just puts it on the level of the Blacked Eyed Peas performance at the Super Bowl; a desperate attempt to convince the world that “you really like us” ending in everyone disliking us.