There was a time in the not-so-distant past when the young Catholic was obliged to begin any defense of the Church with the phrase, “I know the world thinks Catholicism is old-fashioned, legalistic, and otherwise an oppressive force upon the youthful, budding mind, but in actual fact…” Only then could he move into his apologia, having admitted — and thus avoided — the fact that everyone thought his religion was old, stodgy, and outdated.
It is an interesting turn of events, then, that the world has managed to reach such profound levels of boredom, stupidity, and timidity that the young Catholic is currently in the business of beginning any apologetic with the claim, “I have the answer to this boring, legalistic, and otherwise unsatisfactory modern existence; her name is Catholicism.”
Well then: I have the answer to this boring, legalistic, and otherwise unsatisfactory modern existence; her name is Catholicism, and she makes life in this pagan world hilarious, joyful, and worthwhile. Of course, any “Why I Am Catholic” list can only ever be a shoddy, incomplete way of explaining the one reason anyone is ever Catholic — because Catholicism is true. But nevertheless, there’s nothing quite like a good list.
1. Sex, Sex, and Sexy Sex
In case you haven’t heard the rumors, teenagers are rather interested in this whole concept of sex. This interest, judging by the hormones pumping through my body, is a thing that would exist no matter what the state of the culture they inhabit. But what our culture does have is the breathtaking opportunity to take that excitement and either give it life or kill it. I maintain that our culture kills it, buries it, and then tramples on its grave for good measure.
Think for a moment about what we young people are fed: We hear the entire non-Catholic world gravely admonishing us that sex should be safe, like a suburban mom reprimanding the neighborhood kids for riding bikes without helmets. We hear the entire liberal world telling us that sex “really doesn’t matter; it’s just a natural, biological act,” like sneezing and sweating. (These same people, oddly out of sync with their previous “natural, biological” stance, also kindly add that the whole business can be done just as well with another member of the same sex, like studying or shaking hands). The world of pornography says that sex shouldn’t even have to be real; one can just make it a game of vicarious imagination, with all the passion of online chess. Planned Parenthood adds its noble voice to the fray, working hard (and making millions) trying to link our beautiful, youthful excitement to a business of slaughter and genocide — which is very classy on their part, and certainly makes us all want to grab a few condoms and get right to it.
On top of all this, we are bombarded from every side with innumerable voices screaming that sex should be sterilized in foreign countries, displayed on TV, free from moral scruples, taught in kindergarten, performed in groups, improved by various mechanical devices, used among friends, discussed in magazines and talk shows — until sex has been killed, buried, and trampled upon. By the time the average American boy turns 18, sex has been utterly stripped of all beauty, excitement, danger, and passion — and as a result (wonder of wonders!), it has lost any of the intrigue it once possessed. The result is not liberation; it is abject and acute boredom.
In the middle of this clamor — like a solid rock rising above filthy waters — the Catholic Church makes an incredibly radical statement: that sex should be good. Teenagers everywhere perk up. She says that sex is absolutely beautiful — that it is, in fact, a taste of heaven. She says that it is not safe and sterile, but rather that it is so dangerous, so very potent and powerful, that it should only occur between two individuals who have made dire oaths not to run away from it. She says — restating a truth humanity has forgotten — that sex creates life, and that it is mind-blowingly adventurous for this very reason: Two will become one flesh, and that flesh will learn to walk, love, burn with fire for God, die, and spend eternity with Him.
What an age we live in, when it is old Mother Kirk who lifts her beautiful, wrinkled head and reminds her children to have great sex. And what joy it is to be a young Catholic, to live among the bored and the boring, and to see what marvelous — and passionate — light shines through the darkness.
2. The Lack of Youthiness
There is a problem with the word “youth,” and it is one of definition. One might say a youth is simply a human being in the position of being young. Our world, however, seems to be of the opinion that these “youth” are alien creatures in need of special attention and pandering, lest they devour their societies in a fit of anarchy. Thus we have politicians clamoring after the youth vote, media making literature and art for the youth, modern Christianity spending time and money on youth programs and events; in short, much attention is paid to what the youth want.
But if the youth are simply human beings in the state of being young, then all they want is exactly what all human beings want: Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Sure, they might want it with a more obnoxious passion, and with a painful lack of knowledge, maturity, and understanding — but the desire is the same.
The Catholic Church is one of the few institutions that admits this fact. Where else can a 14-year-old and an 80-year-old receive the exact same teaching, view the exact same beauty, perform the exact same rituals, and be brought into perfect communion with each other, besides at the Holy Mass? Certainly, there are youth groups within the Church — teenage Bible studies, prayer groups, religious education programs, and the like — but in their proper function, they teach the same truths that everyone else receives, and explore the same goodness and beauty that their parents seek.
What a refreshing experience this is — not to be pandered to, coddled, buttered, and told the lie that what we really want is some well-designed websites, smart phones, and porn. How awesome it is to be among my peers and realize that I am not a youth; I am a human being, made in the image and likeness of God, and I am seeking Him like everyone else.
3. The Rebellion
Flannery O’Connor noted that “smugness is The Great Catholic Sin.” There are, of course, those Catholics who use the Faith to smugly float above the filth of the world, always too good for it, never under any pressure to touch down. Sometimes that Catholic is me.
But real rebellion does not avoid the world, or simply contradict it. Real, Catholic rebellion is having virtue next to the man who does not. It is to have love, drinking at a bar full of men who know only lust. It is to sow light in the darkness, to throw Hope into this fumbling, despairing world like a Molotov cocktail and to feed its flames with a reckless joy. It is living “in the world but not of the world,” yes — but it is also living in the absolute confidence that the Truth we hold can save the world.
And that, if anything, is why it’s so awesome to be a young Catholic: We will change the world. Not merely as young people — as already noted, we are under no delusions that we are somehow endowed with special youth-powers — but as Catholics. For there is only so long one can hear lies before speaking the truth, or see injustice before administering justice.
To the young Catholic born into a dying age, this feeling of rebellion comes naturally. Think of the March for Life: hundreds of thousands of young people, rebelling into sanity. There is no protest like it, where sheer evil is checked not by anger but by laughter, joy, and beauty. Think of World Youth Day: Millions come, in stark contradiction to a world that claims that the pope is irrelevant, that the Church’s teachings are outdated, and that the Faith is dead. There is no event like it.
G. K. Chesterton summed it up, as he is wont to do: “The Catholic Church is the only thing which saves a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age.” We choose freedom where so many are born into chains, and thus we know what we’ve been saved from, and we love our rebellion all the more. We can see the contrast: The world is dark, truly, but the light shines all the brighter for it.