I would like to offer my own thoughts as a young Catholic (21) who felt suffocated by the so called ‘youth movement’ within the Church. In fact, I would go as far as to say that the youth movement that I encountered actually prevented my faith from growing. Although I do recognize that it works for a minority of Catholic youth.
My parents are both Catholic, and they raised us Catholic by celebrating the feasts and bringing us to Church but they made the mistake of leaving our education to our local catholic school, which was a mistake. Our encounter with the faith was presented through youth movement activities, whether it be a teen life style mass, volunteering for a social justice club or going to a Catholic youth dance or club.
My friends and I largely ridiculed this movement because it was always presented as fun and popular when it wasn’t. I recall some of the songs we would hear, with soaring musical performances, lights, props, nothing necessarily against the rubrics but still very “youth movement” and being told that this was cool and popular by adults. That approach may work for some, but certainly not all of us. Kids and teens always see this attempt by adults as supremely corny.
Not only will the youth see these performances as corny because they come from out of touch adults, but also because we are living in the age of the Ipod and the MP3. Music is easily accessible, it seems that all teens have mp3 players and the result is a wide variety of musical tastes. So how can older generations give us cool music, when kids themselves can’t agree on whats cool or popular. If you do a rock mass, what about those kids who like country? Rap? Classical? Pop? Electronic/techno?
In the end, they had reduced the mass to a mere performance. Mass was presented as a fun and cool hour with awesome music, and the idea was to get the kids away from the house parties, bars, clubs or other less savory places. The problem is that you are meeting the enemy on his own turn – the house party will always triumph social hour after mass, if you compete in terms of coolness and fun. Getting smashed with your buddies and just causing a ruckus is always going to be more fun.
So now I offer what I feel is the solution to the youth problem – Education and mystery. This is where we can win. The Catholic faith has THE TRUTH, there is no system which can compete with the richness and depth of the Catholic faith. You have to educate the youth, show them what the mass is and what it means. After 14 years of Catholic education, I had no idea what the real presence was and if it was taught it was only taught in passing, to be forgotten after your multiple choice test.
It was only after I left the Catholic school system that I began to learn about the faith. This learning created a desire to worship. It’s only natural that knowledge of God leads to worship of God (How can you worship what you do not know?). I read and read, and all of a sudden I wanted to go to mass. It was at this point that God directed me to the sublime and awesome liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. I had gone to Ukrainian Catholic liturgies before as a young child but I had no idea what the incense, bells, chant or teachings meant, let alone the Eucharist! But now I did, and as I sat in that Ukrainian Church, my heart melted. Everything made sense, the liturgy was speaking to me, God was guiding me, and it felt as though my heart stood still. I had encountered mystery.
Mystery is what sealed the deal, to experience God and his mysteries through the Sacraments and the Liturgy is the greatest experience a human can have. There is nothing more important then that one hour of mass, but we don’t even know what’s going on!
So my advice – take it easy on the guitars and props as they just frustrate and isolate too much of today’s youth. The youth movement tries to offer what it calls “fun”, but the youth of today are in no short supply of fun (drugs, sex and violence) but we are in short supply of fatih. Instead just give us a standard mass that has a youth following, but offer us the Truth so we know what to do with it.
Simply educate the youth, arm them with the truth, have them share there experiences with each other, and show them where they can find God. In the end you have to convince the youth that God and His Church matters, not seduce them through music or fun.