“Let no one have contempt for your youth, but set an example for those who believe, in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12) Catholic youth have the potential to do great work in the Church to spread the love of Christ throughout the world. My bishop often speaks about the “young Church”, referring to Catholic teenagers not as the Church of the future but as the Church of the immediate present.
Society as a whole, including many faithful Catholic parents and adults, has staggeringly low expectations for teenagers. Many believe that teenagers are self-absorbed, shallow, apathetic about anything that doesn’t involve sports or clothes or video games, and incapable of dedicating their lives to a greater goal outside of themselves. I find it sad how many Catholic parents faithfully attend daily Mass and Adoration and yet do nothing as their children run off the rails, saying that “they’re only teenagers” and that they’ll get back on track eventually.
Yet we only have to open the pages of a saint book to read of the lives of many teenage saints – St. Maria Goretti, St. Dominic Savio, St. Joan of Arc, St. Rose of Viterbo. These young men and women displayed incredible holiness despite their youth. Furthermore, inspiring teenagers are not found only in the past. Lila Rose, founder and president of Live Action, started the pro-life group at only fifteen years old. Twins Alex and Brett Harris founded the Rebelution movement, which encourages teens to rise above low expectations, when they were also fifteen and published their book Do Hard Things at the age of eighteen. In the past few months, the newspapers have been full of stories of Malala Yousafzai. She became an activist for education and women’s rights when she was eleven and was shot in the head and neck by the Taliban in 2012. However, she survived and intends to continue her work. If these young people can display such courage and motivation, why can’t we?
Expectations have a stronger power than many realize. The low expectations for teenagers set by modern society are unfair. We are capable of so much more. But what are we doing to prove these low expectations wrong? The future of the Catholic Church in many ways does lie in the hands of those who are now teenagers. But living out our Catholic faith does not belong entirely to the future. It has to start now. If we cannot demonstrate passionate, faith-filled Catholicism as teenagers, how are we going to do it as adults?
The first step is learning what the Church actually teaches. My family places a large emphasis on studying the Catechism and I am grateful for the fact that most of the Church’s teachings are fixed firmly in my brain. But there’s always more for me to learn – and this is the case for most of us. The frightening truth is that many Catholics don’t really know the teachings of the Catholic Church. According to a Gallup poll published in 2012, a shocking 82% of Catholics say that birth control is morally acceptable. 82% of Catholics say that it is morally acceptable do what is expressly prohibited by the Catholic Church! But why is knowing the Church’s teachings so important? Why should you take the time to pick the Catechism of the Catholic Church up off the coffee table? It’s worth every ounce of effort you put into it, because to truly know the Catholic Church is to love the Catholic Church.
But Catholicism cannot be boxed in, left behind at youth group, Catholic school, or even Church. It’s far, far more than simply words on a page. It should and must be a living, vital part of our everyday lives. It needs to be our number one priority. Fr. Terence Henry of Franciscan University of Steubenville said, “The age of casual Catholicism is over, the age of heroic Catholicism has begun. We can no longer be Catholics by accident but instead we must be Catholics by conviction.” This is what we are called to as Catholic teenagers – heroic Catholicism. The theme for youth ministry in my diocese this year is “rediscover”. Fellow Catholic teenagers, let us take 2013 as the opportunity to rediscover the joy of being Catholic – and for some of us, to discover it for the first time. Let modern society rediscover what teenagers are as we exceed by far their expectations. Let us live as heroic Catholics – right now.