This past week I brought 8 young people and two other chaperones to my first NCYC (National Catholic Youth Conference) in Indianapolis. I wanted to share my thoughts on the experience.
1) The main reason I brought my young people to NCYC was to see 25,000 other Catholics together praying and celebrating life together. There are roughly 1,000 students at my local public school, and 8 of them are Catholic. That is obviously a pretty low ratio. NCYC, the March for Life, World Youth Day, etc. are opportunities for young people to realize that they are not alone in their Faith. This was certainly true for my young people at NCYC. They were blown away by the fact that so many other people their age share their Faith.
|"You are not alone" - being with 25,000 other Catholics made it all worth it!|
2) The keynote speakers were amazing. Topics included bullying, loss of a loved one, hurt, sin, disappointment, etc. If you ever get the chance to hear Bob Perron, Jackie Francois Angel, or Ansel Augustine, then do it. Also Matt Maher, the only national Christian music performer that I personally like, was great. Also a shout out to Archbishop Tobin who was great both with our opening Mass for our Archdiocese, and also at the closing Mass as well. Additionally, Bishop Caggiano from Bridgeport gave an amazing reflection at one of the morning prayer sessions that got everyone fired up!
1) The liturgy. I have been telling my young people that most in the Catholic world seem to think young people are “spiritually retarded” in the true sense of the word retarded – like they have a ceiling and they can’t go to the next level and so they have to be treated like children. It seems to be that some think that Catholic teens can only handle real short bursts of “spiritual things” so everything has to be flashy and showy. Archbishop Buechlein once noted that NCYC is “90% show, and 10% content.” After my first NCYC, I would wholeheartedly agree. I’m not advocating 100% content, but perhaps we could move away from the 90/10 ratio and get closer to 50/50?
There was a “prayer session” one morning where a kid was running around on the floor with a sheet over his head, and then a bunch of kids on stage held up red sheets that were lit up, the lighting went berserk, crazy music kicked in, and I thought, briefly, that I was watching the Beijing Olympics opening ceremonies again. My kids turned to me several times throughout NCYC and asked "do they think we're spiritually retarded?"
2) There was nothing for the young people on homosexuality. There had to be over 100 breakout sessions and presentations over three days, and not one covered the topic that our young people want to know about. Bishops were reporting that the number one question they were fielding in their panel discussions with young attendees was “what does the Church teach about homosexuality.” Too bad the conference didn’t try to address the issue with anything. That fact alone makes me very suspicious.
1) NCYC does a great job of getting young people in the door. I remember walking up the steps of Lucas Oil Stadium on the first night, and when our kids saw the lights and heard the music and so forth, they went from walking lazily up the steps to literally running for the doors to see what all the excitement was about. They were pumped up and drawn in. NCYC nailed that aspect of things. The opportunity, then, is to move the young people to a new spot by the end of the conference so that, at the end of the conference, the teens recognize that they don’t need such things to encounter God. It seemed, though, that NCYC ended in exactly the same way that it began…that we never moved away from entertainment…no one challenged the kids to move beyond pyrotechnics. The problem with that is that they leave the conference wondering “why can’t Mass be like that when I get home?” The answer – because no parish has 3 story tall jumbotrons and professional music. I’ve often described Protestant worship services as pep rallies with no game to follow – they get you all jazzed up, but you’re not quite sure what to do when they’re over, whereas the Catholic Mass is the game. NCYC felt a lot like a good pep rally, but there needs to be a bigger push to help the kids realize the deeper realities of our Faith. They can handle it, and they want to be shown those realities.
2) I didn’t hear much at all on the Eucharist nor did I hear much on confession. Those are the two things that any youth conference ought to be emphasizing and getting kids to encounter, and I didn’t see that taking place, nor did I hear it from the speakers. On Friday, the middle day of the conference, my kids and I had to have Mass at the high school we were staying at, and we had to have it at 7:30 in the morning because there was no Mass scheduled at NCYC that day except during dinner. The two options at a National Catholic Youth Conference should not be “dinner or Mass?”
1) Before the closing Mass, all the 200 or so priests gathered and were chatting with one another. It was a really good opportunity to meet a bunch of new guys from all over the country as well as an opportunity to connect with guys that I had studied with in the seminary. The OVERWHELMING topic of conversation is exactly the same things I mentioned above. I probably heard 20 times “this is great for my kids to see all these other Catholics…but it could be so much better.” I had never heard of Steubenville Conferences, but a lot of the young priests in attendance (the vast majority of the guys who were there) were talking about them telling me I needed to check them out as well. After hearing about them, I checked them out when I got home, and that will definitely be the next thing I try to get my young people to attend. I would say that from the looks of things, Steubenville Conferences seem to be the biggest threat to NCYC at the moment.
I’m sure that young priests can easily be dismissed as crazed and conservative, but I would also ask that it be considered that perhaps the reason we want the things we do is because we grew up in this generation of young people, and maybe the things we are clamoring for come from an actual awareness of what people from our generation need and want, and that perhaps we’re not just a group of angry people who wear cassocks and talk about the Eucharist and confession because we’re simple-minded foot soldiers of Pope Benedict. This analysis is certainly free to be dismissed, but I would say that Pope Francis recently called a “conservative” Italian blogger and thanked him for his criticism. I certainly hope this can be received by the leaders of NCYC, and that they continue to evolve and discern where the Holy Spirit might be leading them today.