“A God without wrath brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.” –H. Richard Niebuhr
Yes, those videos may be over the top. Satire’s humor can be a bit painful because it’s rooted in truth. Catholic high school students told me that their Wednesday morning Mass, which always began with “Our God Is an Awesome God” was once delayed because they couldn’t find someone to lead the students in the essential “hand motions” that accompany the song. “The kids just won’t like Mass without it!”
Whatever we are doing that might be attracting youth, we rarely keep them. One reason we don’t is because we can’t use worldly methods to beat the world at its own game. We’re kidding ourselves if we think we can equal or exceed the stimulation and novelty offered by pop concerts and video games. And we don’t keep the youth we initially attract because we don’t help them to become mature and committed Christians. We cannot win the future for our youth by exalting trendiness and depriving them of the heritage they need and deserve. Nevertheless, we give them gimmicks that flash, then fade. Theodore Dalrymple warns, “Our problem is not that we preserve the past; it is that we produce so little that is, or ever will be, worth preserving.”
There was a time when Catholics were confident that they could hand on to their children a culture of faith with venerable and sacred roots, a culture that can and has stood the tests of time and persecution—a culture worth offering to the whole world, even at the cost of great sacrifice, including the blood of martyrs.
I must wonder if we can say the same about the culture of collages and burlap banners in which I was catechized. And I must wonder all the more about the second-hand pop culture contrivances and fads we offer our youth in the name of “evangelization.” Are we really confident that centuries from now, or even a few generations from now, we will find papier-mâché puppets and Star Wars First Communion Masses (with “Light Saber blessings”) in whatever cathedrals or catacombs Christians may then be found? Can we look at our present practices and say, “Our great saints have taught us that what we’re doing today will produce the great saints of tomorrow!”?
But this is speculation. Go to Catholics you know who are, say, 30-55, who are spiritually mature, theologically literate, and devoted to Eucharistic worship inside and outside of the Mass, and ask them if what set them and sustained them on their path to maturity was clowns at the altar or “trust walks” on high school retreats.
Eventually, we tire of our half-hearted, half-witted attempts to win over our youth to anything that appears “churchy.” So, we salve our consciences by offering our youth kinetic diversions with religious overtones—“service learning”; “mission trips”; “social justice.” All these may be fine, but, isolated from the first three commandments, they are for our youth and us blinders to the truth that we’re not succeeding in our first obligation, which is to teach our young that their human vocation is to learn how to pray and worship. Loyola’s First Principle and Foundation stated that we are made for the “praise, reverence and service of God.”
A.W. Tozer wrote: “Every great spiritual work from Paul to this hour has sprung out of spiritual experiences that made worshipers. Unless we are worshipers, we are simply religious dancing mice moving around in a circle getting nowhere…. God wants worshipers first. Jesus did not redeem us to make us workers; He redeemed us to make us worshipers. And then, out of the blazing worship of our hearts springs our work… Worship Comes Before Work. It may be set down as an axiom that if we do not worship we cannot work acceptably. The Holy Spirit can work through a worshiping heart and through no other kind. We may go through the motions and delude ourselves by our religious activity, but we are setting ourselves up for a shocking disillusionment some day.”
Enough complaining. Here are alternatives: “Hearts on Fire” brings to youth Saint Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises and devotion to the Sacred Heart. “Juventutem” leads young people in worship that centuries of saints would recognize. The treasures bequeathed to us by the Church Christ founded can be handed on to young people and to the future, and make saints in the process. Do we believe that? If not, why not? If we do believe it, what shall we do about it?
When I write next, I will speak of first steps towards spiritual maturity. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.
[Editor’s Note: Take the Poll – Should the Mass entertain?]