Revitalizing the Faith of Our Teens

For decades, the stage has been set by voices in the Church for a more profound understanding of the urgent need to turn focus and evangelizing and catechizing efforts toward young people, who are exhibiting unique generational trends in this modern cultural climate. Grasping the significance of these generational traits (and simply knowing of their existence to begin with) is imperative for selecting the most appropriate methods for reaching these young souls, and impressing upon them a love for Christ and His Catholic Church—a love which translates into a lifestyle and a yearning to participate in the evangelical and catechetical mission of the Catholic faith community. Dr. Tim Elmore, a leader in Generation Y and iY studies, describes this teen and young adult generation as overwhelmed, over-connected, overprotected, and over-served (Elmore, Generation iY: Our Last Chance to Save Their Future, pp. 21-25). These characteristics manifest themselves in a number of problems among the youth, including depression, obesity, difficulty fulfilling commitments, and a variety of other damaging behavior and emotional traits (pp. 19-23). They experience their faith by selectively choosing beliefs they prefer to adhere to while tossing out the rest. This mentality forms a breed of young people who are relativistic, pluralistic, inclusive, and individualistic about their religion, with less than one-third of teens believing that only one religion is true (Christian Smith with Melinda Lundquist Denton, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, p.131). Clearly this trend of thinking is harmful for young people in the Church, who need to hear an authentic and bold declaration from the mentors in their homes, parishes, and educational settings that the Catholic Church contains the fullness of truth and the complete presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist.

Smith and Denton, in their book reporting the findings from research conducted by the National Study of Youth and Religion (NSYR) Soul Searching, describe a grave detrimental indicator of the state of today’s young people is their inarticulacy. “We found the vast majority of them [teenagers] to be incredibly inarticulate about their faith, their religious beliefs and practices, and its meaning or place in their lives” (p. 131). Researchers have boiled the problem down to the reality that the youth have not, in many or most cases, been given proper education in the faith or the opportunity to talk to others about it (p. 133). This improper catechesis exhibited itself in one teenager’s interview when he made the claim: “I’ll never stop being Catholic; even if I stop believing in God, I’ll still be Catholic” (p. 134). A final major trend to note among the youth is there adherence to what has been termed “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.” “Feeling good” seems to be a basic tenant of this belief system. The authors describe young people as having an “instrumental view of religion,” in which “most instinctively suppose that religion exists to help individuals be and do what they want, and not as an external tradition or authority or divinity that makes compelling demands on their lives, especially to change or grow in ways they may not immediately want to” (p. 147). Authentic Catholic catechesis should reform young people’s understanding of authority as not something that needlessly makes compelling demands on them, but rather as what proves to be a loving guide to the happiness, security, and peace they are searching for.

Teens and young adults in Generation Y and iY often have a false concept of the Church as an institutional entity that is unnecessary—or sometimes even burdensome—in the practice of their everyday lives. Catholic parents, mentors, catechists, parishes and dioceses must help these young people to rediscover Jesus working in their lives. Pope Benedict XVI describes the effects of such an evangelistic and catechetical method by promising teens: “If you really discover God in the face of Christ, you will no longer think of the Church as an institution external to yourselves, but as your spiritual family.”

The Catholic faith should have a transformative, lived dimension in the lives of its teens, drawing them in to a living, dynamic faith which encompasses their very being and reaches the depths of their personhood. Cultivating a stronger devotion to the Eucharist in teenagers and young adults is an elevation of this personal, relational desire that Generation Y has to encounter in the context of their religion.

John Paul II’s call for new ardor and methods in the New Evangelization must be echoed to evoke a “new springtime” in the evangelization and catechesis of the youth today. Generation Y and iY young people are calling out for a vocation that involves vibrant adherence to something and someone they truly believe in—and the Church needs to fill that vocation by presenting an attractive faith and the person of Jesus Christ as that “something” and “someone” for which they are searching.

This article is a compilation of excerpts from Katie’s larger essay, “The Necessity for Innovative and Renewed Methods of Evangelization and Catechesis for Young People in Today’s Culture.”

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About the Author

Katie (Peterson) Warner, Communications Manager, Catholics Come Home, Inc., has spoken at Catholic and secular venues on topics ranging from media and the culture of life to evangelization in the 21st century, plus a variety of apologetics, theological, spiritual, and practical topics.

She has been a speaker at the National Catholic Bible Conference and numerous Legatus chapters, an emcee for the Eucharistic Congress of Atlanta, and has appeared on EWTN radio and an EWTN television mini-series.

Katie currently works for Catholics Come Home, a national Catholic evangelism apostolate working to invite fallen-away Catholics and non-Catholics home to the Catholic Church.

Katie holds a graduate degree in Catholic Theology, specializing in Evangelization and Catechesis, from the Augustine Institute in Denver, Colorado. Katie also has a degree in Communication and Professional Writing. Since her youth, her passion has always been to use her speaking, writing, and teaching skills to serve the evangelization mission of the Church.

Katie is a core member of a growing youth ministry program in Santa Clarita, California, where she lives with her husband, Raymond. In addition to her work in the parish and with Catholics Come Home, Katie writes for online Catholic magazines and is working on her first book. She plans to devote her life’s work entirely to Jesus, His Church, evangelization, and the sanctity of human life.

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3 Comments

  1. Katie! Thank you so much for your article today. Earlier this week I checked if you had written anything recently and re-read all that is on this website! I always enjoy your perspective, especially from a young persons point of view. Thank you again for taking the time to write… I always look forward to everything you do! I hope you are having a good summer… God Bless! Hugh Hayman

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