A List of 10 Cliches among Young Catholics
The world of practicing Catholic young adults is it’s own thing, the likes of which would make little sense to our twenty-something non-Catholic peers, or most other Catholics our age who do not have the same fervor. I am referring principally to American young adults who attend mass regularly, engage in service or leadership, and attend other Catholic events outside their parish. Like any world or subculture, it has plenty of clichés, quirks, gimmicks, and colloquialisms that are meaningless to those outside.
Sometimes these clichés are mistaken as Official Catholic Teaching that ALL people of ALL times of ALL places MUST love passionately! Sometimes they seem to be the latest coolest gimmick that other Catholics are into, and if you don’t get into it, somehow you are not a “real Catholic.”
What cannot be on this list.
Anything essentially Catholic cannot be on this list. This is especially true when you think of traditions shared with Eastern Orthodox Christians. For instance, Sacraments, Marian Devotion, Catholic reading of Scripture.
I also did not include a few non-essentials, since they are not exclusively to this group. Some young Catholics tend to be passionate about Natural Family Planning, the Pro-Life Movement, or an exclusive attendance of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. One may not share a deep passion for any of these, yet still be a decent or excellent Catholic IMO. Most of all, intuitively, I personally, cannot imagine any of these labeled cliché.
I also did not include the dusty played out things of a bygone era. Some of these things include: Felt Banners, Allegiance or Association with the Democratic Party, modern mega-churches, Campaigning for Contraception, Nuns in Pantsuits or without habits, reducing everything to psychology, being personally indistinguishable from secular self-indulgent agnostics. These belong EXCLUSIVELY to an older generation of American Catholics, and therefore are not discussed in this group as much as dismissed.
Young Catholics are not thoughtful about their faith
Yes, it is true. In my experience, young Catholics get a lot of flack for the faith they try to live. They get put on the spot. They get called out. They get humiliated. They are declared “ANATHEMA!” by secular agnostics. They get derogatory labels and names. It was my experience for most of my youth before I entered religious life. And to this day, anybody I knew from school or my past life refuses to keep in touch with me.
So, we cope with that by clinging desperately to fixtures of Catholicism, and ignoring or dismissing any thoughtful criticisms, even from other believers. We are convinced that a thoughtful Catholic who criticizes non-essential features of Catholicism to be in league with people outside the Church who really dislike it. They must be heretics, or liberals, cafeteria Catholics, or “Not REAL Catholics!” We lack subtlety, nuance, complexity, delicacy and sophistication.
This is not an Edict or Absolute Condemnation
In fact, it is not even a personal condemnation. This is more complicated than moderating people’s passion. I am not looking to dismiss the priority people place in these things. By leveling the charge that these are cliché, I hope that young Catholics can 1) find humor in the fact that these are more niche then actual official Catholic practices, 2) not be shocked or offended that other Catholics do not take to these things wholeheartedly, 3) broaden their horizons of what being a Catholic today means. In the case of the few that top the list, it is really about broadening your Catholic Imagination.
I am partial to many underrated catholic things not listed, being too infrequently discussed. Things listed are all over blogs, events, seminars, and conferences. On the flipside, there are so many rich treasures in our Tradition, that are often neglected in favor of many of the things on this list. A list of underrated Catholic Traditions might include: The Liturgical Cycle, moving Ascension Thursday back to Thursday and Epiphany back to January 6, Lectio Divina, Pope Benedict’s Jesus of Nazareth series, Abbey Ale, Eastern Orthodox Theology and Mysticism, and Catholic Memes. Well, the last one is not so much of a deeply rooted tradition, but yeah, it is pretty cool.
Just imagine if your Catholic events covered these topics!
I almost included something here about the Divine Mercy Chaplet, but decided to exclude it. Although I have no problems with it as it is. What I have found more often, is that it becomes a superficial fixation more than a deepening spiritual exercise. Many of the Great Spiritual Masters warn of devotionals potentially hindering our spiritual maturation. Whereas I find people fix onto it like it’s the latest trendiest Catholic thing, like it’s the new One Direction video or something. Since there was the novena going on, I didn’t want people to quit the novena. I wouldn’t recommend not praying it, as much as I would recommend experiencing more on the Catholic traditions of prayer, particularly more ancient ones.
10. “Discerning your Vocation” into pychologically destroying yourself.
"I’m discerning…" Have you ever seen a vocation wreck? Have you ever been one? You know, everytime they meet an attractive person they are convinced that God is throwing them a curveball. Everytime they have a sudden desire for Consecrated Life, they are frustrated at God. "Why does God keep confusing me about my vocation!"
Or you know, the discerning thing is a way of avoiding something, whether it be loneliness, or commitment, or lack of success in life.
It really is acceptable, I believe, to say, I am not discerning right now because my life is undergoing so many transitions from school, work, family, and moving around. Genuine Discernment, according to the great spiritual masters, has to happen at a time of relative stability and Spiritual Intimacy. Spiritual Discernment should be happening with a spiritual director & retreats. It isn’t something that you do amidst chaos.
There could also be a subset here for “I’m praying for my future spouse.” I mean who else does that?
9. Catholicizing your favorite non-Catholic thing
"Les Mis, that movie is sooooo Catholic!!!" or "The Avengers! That movie is SOOOOOO CATHOLIC!!!! LOOK!!! CATHOLIC!!!!" You know what it’s like, I have been doing this too for a long time. Some of us may have had our share of Catholic adults that are convinced that Hollywood is the playground of Satan and his cohorts, but our experience of quality film is such that it is sometimes too overwhelmingly inspiring to be dismissed as evil.
The same can be said of music: “Mumford & Sons is SOOOO Catholic! LISTEN!!!! CATHOLIC!!!!”
You’ve seen it, maybe you have done it too. It used to be such that the Bishops issued a list of forbidden books, and now it is quite the opposite. I wonder if the Catholic Label is thrown around so haphazardly at everything we prefer or find satisfying. It may be unfair to the artists themselves.
I mean, I remember when everyone was saying Star Wars, or the Matrix is so Catholic. Really?
It might be more fair to say that Mumford & Son’s music resonates with my faith or Catholic identity. It may be more fair to say that the Lord of the Rings is Catholic, well, because it actually is.
8. Theology of the Body
Back in 2003, I read Karol Wojtyla’s “Love & Responsibility.” A year later, I read Christopher West’s “Theology of the Body for Beginners,” Which has since been revived. I have met people who have had their lives turn around for the better because of it. It wasn’t until hearing of “Theology of the Body,” that they have firm conviction of human dignity.
Now there’s an explosion of married qualified theologians, it is only natural that they are turning to the topic of Theology of the Body. Until recently, there had been little depth in theology around the sacrament of marriage & human sexuality.
I see the term “Theology of the Body” everywhere. I have talked to people that wonder if we are catering to our over-sexed culture by insisting that we have the sexiest ideas of sex in Theology of the Body. Some wonder if we are narrowing our faith vision by spending a lot of time on this. Mayhaps there are some young Catholics who can go to a Theology of the Body group, and scratch their head, and not want to go to another. They can still be a decent Catholic without it.
As someone who is vowed to a celibate life, I rely on a spirituality and framework that is not contingent with “Theology of the Body,” and I do not doubt that many other people do as well. As I understand it, Theology of the Body hinges on the essential nature of the human person created in God’s image. My self-identified understanding has more to do with the essential character of the Baptized person configured to Christ.
7. Praise & Worship
When I came into my Church Youth Group, there was a lot of Praise & Worship. It was like there was this youth group culture around that. Now it’s like, so many of those people that came into Church as youth, have come into a world where Praise &Worship is the norm. It used to be: “There are a bunch of youth here, we need PRAISE & WORSHIP!!!” Now it is like: “There is a bunch of young adults, we NEED PRAISE & WORSHIP!!!”
I am still a fan of Matt Maher, Audrey Assad, Chris Tomlin and all those people. I have been personally bothered by the formulaic and theologically unsubstantial lyrics of P&W music. “We praise you Lord, We lift up our hands! We lay down our lives before you!”
I do think as we mature in our faith, we do need something with more substance to it. Some musicians, like Gungor, have been creating music that is more poetically rich and theologically subtle then I have heard by most Christian Pop P&W. However, most of the oldies are recycled, and have only hedged the little Catholic events with the same songs.
6. New Evangelization = Share photo on Facebook
Popes John Paul II & Pope Benedict made the New Evangelization a priority of their pontificates. Benedict even went so far as to create a Twitter account. Pretty astonishing proof of the existence of the Holy Spirit in the Church, since Ratzinger is hardly a 140 characters or less kind of guy.
But everyone has a facebook. Your middle school math teacher, your grandma’s book club friends, your favorite grocery store bagger! So let’s all be friends because we had a random conversation when you were having coffee with a mutual friend, and so maybe they can get you to LIKE their underwater basket weaving team and invite them to their competitions!!! And Be sure to like Tom Bruer’s Propane Tanks Facebook page for exclusive offers!
So when the New Evangelization gets brought up, we think, GREAT! I will Evangelize on Facebook by sharing someecards photos. I think there is more to the New Evangelization on Facebook. It is not just that Facebook has gotten so large that there is no real connections, and that algorithms actually inhibit the message from being proclaimed by closing you into your inner circle, but of course evangelization is really about posting clever pictures to all the people you are facebook friends more for obligation then anything else.
5. “They are being so unfair to us Catholics!”
Artist portrays Christians as bigots and hypocrites, and is described as visionary, while a Christian suggests that the entertainment industry is not family oriented and is dismissed as a bigot. Some Radical Fundamentalist Islamist can do everything a Christian doesn’t without getting accused of it, and a Christian can do nothing a radically violent Islamist does, and get accused of it. It’s Easter Sunday, and Google chooses Cesar Chavez.
Yes there is a double standard, but we may be either too rash in broad-brushing every challenge to Christians as somehow rooted in unfair hate for us. More often then not, I have seen Christians despair that Christianity has no esteem, as if Christianity or Catholicism, by necessity needs to be on a pedestal in the secular world. Last I heard, Jesus Christ, in the Gospels, tells us that this sort of thing can be to our benefit. Blessed are the meek or whatever.
4. Pre-Vatican II vs. Post Vatican II
Before Vatican II everyone counted their rosary beads, and the priest had his back to us! Before Vatican II, everything was beautiful and reverent! All that is left of the pre-VII Church are ideas and images of perfection that has somehow eroded. And we, Catholics, screwed it up! What else is new, that’s what we are good at as Catholics, we are really good and messing it up. So move on, and make it better.
Unfortunately, most people reinforce and recycle the narrative of Vatican II in their little bubbles, and have little clue to how passive aggressive and socially disordered much of American Catholicism sometimes was. There were priests who were convinced of their damnation for stuttering a word during the Prayers at Mass. There were people convinced that honest mistakes were putting thorns in the baby Jesus head. There were priests quite skilled at finishing Sunday Mass in 15 minutes so that their men’s club could get out on the green earlier. Some people thought that Jesus had the Last Supper in Latin, and all the Apostles knelt and received Communion on their tongue. There was plenty of glory, and there was a whole lot of mess, that us Catholics excelled at sweeping under the rug.
3. Absolute Allegiance to the Republican Party
Mitt Romney came along, and it was clear that he was not going to do anything to help the Pro-Life Cause. But instead of thoughtful criticisms of Mitt Romney, or the National Republican scheme of things, the kind of thoughtful criticisms that could very well give a deeper Pro-Life conviction to the Republican Party. Instead, Catholics attempted a variety of mental gymnastics and rhetorical maneuvering, mostly inspired by a deep fear or loathing of the other guy. The other guy that won anyways.
Plenty of young Catholics have had a real awakening, because, we were hereditary democrats who were fed up with debt induced inhumane (and even cynical) bureaucracies. That, and how the Democratic Elite have driven the Pro-Life cause to the margins, virtually excommunicating us as heretics, or declaring us anathema. But that is another story. I think part of taking ownership of a Republican Identity is being able to thoughtfully critique the flaws in the state of all things Republican. Moreover, I think, part of taking ownership of your Catholic Identity should help you to have enough distance from your political allegiances to be leaven in the world.
The next time the GOP throws a waste of a candidate like Romney, we can have the wherewithal to notice when we have been duped. Or, take a thoughtful alternative approach like Libertarianism.
2. “Church Militant”
There are many images of the Church: God’s Reign, Pilgrim People of God, The Vine, Mother, Leaven in the World, Bride of Christ, Hospital for Sinners, Herald of Salvation… The least favorite image of mine is perhaps Army or Military. There are references to the Armor of Christ in the Bible, so one can argue it’s Scriptural Foundation. Images, by their very nature, are supposed to help us understand something. The images, however, reveal different aspects of the Church. Among young Catholics, Very rarely do I find alternative images to “Church Militant” being used.
So what? Are we going around marching with weapons all the time? Are we in lock step? Are we wearing uniforms? I, personally find images of the military more stifling to the images of the Spirit. I am not even bothered by the term “Spiritual Warfare,” and I can probably write another blog post on the significance of that.
Unfortunately, with so many terms thrown around “Attack on Marriage,” “The Culture Wars,” etc. It provokes all sorts of questions. So, what, are we at war with homosexuals? Are we at war with Feminists? Are we trying to overtake feminists, atheists, liberals and homosexuals with violence? Do we engage in rigorous discipline only to be effective combatants, or does our disciplines and penance have more to do with letting go of our fixation on sin?
Considering how we, as a nation, are becoming adept at subjecting foreign nations to constant warfare, bombs, and drone attacks. Warfare, in the pre-nuclear age was understandably considered a noble thing. Swords, Horses, Banners, and Armor. The way that science has amplified the destruction and trauma of war has made it more savage.
I am certainly not an absolute pacifist. Considering that this is an image of the Church, and not necessarily THE essential nature of Church, I think it would be helpful for young Catholics to integrate more images.
1. Use of the term “Real Catholic” or “True Catholic”
You remember the time when you got dragged into Church, and you were thinking about getting back onto your Xbox, and playing Halo. I mean, the time years back before you got into your faith, and you actually tried to pay attention at Mass, listen to the readings, pray your heart and soul, and receive Jesus in Communion after preparing your soul going to Confession. Maybe there are things about your life before your encounter with Jesus that make you shudder. Maybe there are things that you regret. Most of all, maybe you relish in how much better off you feel with a personal relationship with Jesus in the Church and the fullness of faith.
The danger is that in order to distinguish yourself from your past, your parents who go only on Easter, Christmas, and a few other Sundays that they are in the mood, your Confirmation classmates who were rolling their eyes at the retreat, the Catholic school kids who were hooking up, and the list goes on.
Aside from the fact that it sounds overly judgmental, or self-righteous, it oversimplifies everyone else’s brokenness. Who are we to say that God is not already working in their lives. That is what Augustine’s Confessions was all about. God, somehow, managed to reach Augustine through and amidst all the mess, emptiness, muck, mire, self-loathing, and putrid sin. Yet, God’s integrity was never compromised. Even as Jesus heals the sinful and ritually impure, he is not afraid of being contaminated by being Cafeteria Jews, or not True Jews who keep the Law. Jesus knows that grace and mercy can always overpower the impurity of sin. Jesus integrity was never compromised by closeness to the sinful or the ritually impure. So why is it that we are so convinced that our faith is so flimsy that it can be ruined by associating with Baptized Catholics who have not arrived at accepting all the rich beauty of their Catholic Identity yet?
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