This post is what I sent in response to Meghan Wenger's request for stories. (See my post on June 14, 2011.) She is going to be a junior at Boston College. She is working on a book project and looking for examples and reasons for young people to be Catholic. It's not too late for you to help her out, also. She'd like your story by July 1st, 2011. Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org
I was in front of the altar pronouncing my wedding vows, and privately promising God that I would use this vocation of marriage as a means to save my soul, and take my husband, and any future children, along with me. This Catholic ceremony was very important to me. I wanted the sacramental grace that only the Catholic Church can give. Sure I can get married by the Town Clerk and have a piece of paper that says I’m married legally. Sure I can stand in front of a justice of the peace, and my husband and I can make personal commitments to God. And sure, we could have just lived together and made a commitment between ourselves. But I wanted more. I wanted the best. I wanted what only the Catholic Church can offer – sacramental grace. To Catholics, marriage is a sacrament! It is that important.
All the milestones in my life are marked with special religious signs: birth (Baptism), childhood (First Communion and First Penance), Teen years (Confirmation), choice of vocation (Marriage, Priesthood), and death (Sacrament of the Sick, formerly known as Last Rites). I love them all. I love the Traditions, the Communion of Saints, Mary, and most of all, the Eucharist. Being Catholic is part of my identity. It’s how I view the world.
Let’s take one modern issue. Today’s culture tells us that people thinking of marriage should cohabitate to see if they’re compatible. Today’s culture is also telling us that homosexuals should be able to get married. Today’s culture also encourages divorce if things don’t work out. Can’t you see how this perception is weakening families? The modern cultural perception of marriage is just plain wrong.
The Church has always encouraged strong family life. Its voice can be heard opposing anything threatening the traditional definition of marriage. Strong families are something that not only the church needs, but also society. Our present culture of easy divorce, cohabitation, and same sex marriage is redefining the family. It is undermining the traditional family. The Church teaches us to uphold the family. I agree. To tell you the truth, I think this present idea of co-habitation is nothing more than free maid service with sex. I see no advantage for a girl doing this. The guy gets free sex, maybe even some rent money, and probably someone who’ll cook and do laundry.
Catholic family life does not only include the biological family. Being Catholic means you are part of a larger community. This is most powerfully symbolized in the Eucharist—the central sacrament of our faith. Understanding the Eucharist, one learns that we are never alone. God is with us in Holy Communion. When we receive the Blessed Sacrament, we are one with God. We can open ourselves to God’s presence in Eucharistic Adoration, prayers, scriptures, and the reception of sacraments. Catholics are not alone. That is why we are concerned about others. Just as we are one in communion with God, we are also in communion with one another. We care about the salvation of others’ souls. Not only do Catholics give to the needy, but we care enough about others to try and stop them from killing themselves, their babies, and others. Yes, we believe in life. Life is a gift from God, which is why I love celebrating the different stages of life through our Catholic sacraments.
Since we have this view of one large Catholic family, Catholics are taught to see and pray for global concerns. We have a universal vision; yet, Catholicism teaches that each individual is important. Catholics have a long history, beautiful basilicas, schools, and hospitals, besides its wonderful liturgy and music. Identifying with the Catholic Church gives everyone a connectedness; they are members of the one true Church founded by Jesus Christ. Everyone is seen as having an inherent dignity. Each of us was created by God, and should be treated as such.
I’ve found that my Catholic faith has given me the answers to all my real-life questions. Today, however, young people have unique challenges. When I grew up, I was surrounded by a Catholic culture. I went to a Catholic school. Just about all my friends were Catholic, and those that weren’t didn’t think any differently than I did because they were from religious families that upheld the same Ten Commandments that I was taught. Television portrayed ideal families that were models for everyone to live up to. There were even commercials on TV that touted, “The family that prayed together, stayed together.” My parents didn’t have to be vigilant to raise me with Catholic values, because we were surrounded with them in school, play, and culture.
Today, the world is the opposite. Our good Catholic values are mocked. Traditional families and their values are denigrated. Even computer games portray unacceptable aggression as fun, exciting, and well—normal. The words to some songs that I hear are below the minimal standards of decency. It seems like anything goes.
One way for our young people to confront this contemptible culture is to be grounded in faith. If someone is confident in their knowledge, “if they know where they are coming from,” then not only will they not be swayed by all the “bling” of the modern world, but also be able to confront it. Pope Benedict XVI, in the foreword to the new catechism for young people, YOUCAT, says
So I beg you: Study this Catechism with passion and perseverance. Make a sacrifice of your time for it! Study it in the quiet of your room; study it with a friend; form study groups and networks; share with each other on the Internet. …You need to know what you believe. You need to know your faith with that same precision with which an IT specialist knows the inner workings of a computer. You need to understand it like a good musician knows the piece he is playing. Yes, you need to be more deeply rooted in the faith than the generation of your parents so that you can engage the challenges and temptations of this time with strength and determination.
Times have changed. The world and its culture does not support Catholic families. You have to work at being and staying Catholic, but it’s worth it. Young people need to study their faith: the catechism, scriptures, Bible commentaries, papal encyclicals, Church history, and writings of the Church Fathers. They need to be active in their parishes.
My faith has enabled me to make sense of the world. I have always felt supported by my religion, i.e., spiritually, and emotionally and physically in my parish community. Knowing that I am connected to a universal Church, with people praying for me and my needs has always been a comfort, and a source of strength. Being Catholic for me is a concrete experience, not just an idea. To see my children carrying on the Church customs and traditions is a source of comfort for me, because I know they’ll be all right. Their needs will be met the best they can be. All they have to do is to remain faithful. This is my prayer for my family and all young people.