The Catholic Thing
The Youth, the Pope, and the Media Print E-mail
By David G. Bonagura, Jr.   
Thursday, 04 November 2010

Whenever and wherever the pope appears in public, young people gravitate to him with genuine affection and enthusiasm. At World Youth Day, papal trips abroad, and weekly audiences at St. Peter’s, young Catholics chant: “John Paul II! We love you!” or “Ben-e-det-to!” – at the awe-inspiring sight of the Successor of St. Peter. John Paul II and Benedict XVI have been moved, in turn, by every new encounter with the young, and they address them with paternal love and respect. The two pontiffs have written thousands of pages of learned philosophy and theology between them, yet their speeches to young people are among the greatest and most accessible statements of the essence of Christianity in the modern era.

But only a small number of young Catholics are blessed to see and hear the chief shepherd of the Church in person. The vast majority meets the pope only through the mainstream media and the framework in which the media cast him. This would be no cause for alarm if EWTN or other sympathetic media outlets were the primary sources of information. But most young people hear about him through the likes of CNN or Wikipedia, at best, or Bill Maher at worst.

   Benedict XVI . . . with paternal love and respect.

Several conversations with Catholic high school students over the last few months have made this painfully clear to me. After Benedict’s trip to the United Kingdom, I asked a few groups of such students where the pope had visited the prior weekend. Only a handful had any idea that he had set foot outside of Rome. But for those who did know, the answer to my follow-up question, “Why did he go there?” was unanimous: He went to apologize for clerical abuse. Blessed John Henry Newman and Benedict’s lovely remarks about him might just as well have never existed.

Not surprising, given the mainstream media’s obsession with the abuse crisis. Far more disconcerting, however, is what young people think they know of the man who is Benedict XVI. In three different settings over the last few months, five students, independent of one another asked me whether the pope was a Nazi. They all asked this innocently, merely repeating what they had picked up elsewhere. But where did they hear this? Not long ago – it’s gone now – if you typed “Benedict XVI” into the Google search bar, “ Nazi ” was one of the first options offered by the auto-complete function. Apparently, Internet searches for the alleged connection pointed the search engines in that direction.

It’s easy to excoriate the media or the Catholic hierarchy for this state of affairs – each incurs some blame. And neither has been very helpful in addressing the crisis of faith among the young. They have received the supernatural gift of faith in baptism, but the natural conditions necessary for faith to develop do not exist in our culture, except in rare circumstances. Grace has great difficulty perfecting nature when nature is deliberately being held incommunicado.

No written exam on the papacy is required for entrance into eternal life. But the way Catholics see Christ’s Vicar correlates with how they see Christ himself. Young Catholics today are like the people tied up in Plato’s cave: their only knowledge of the pope and the saving message he bears comes not from the Church, but from distorted shadows on the electronic wall, shadows deliberately contrived along non- and even anti-Catholic lines.

     Greeting their Papa.

Handing on the faith to the young in the cave is extraordinarily difficult, but the few young Catholics who have emerged intact are determined to break the chains binding their duped contemporaries. They are the ones chanting the pope’s name at his public appearances – the young priests, religious, seminarians, youth ministers, catechetical instructors, and lay faithful – and they are preaching, teaching, and living the Gospel. They also increasingly utilize technology to penetrate the media’s cultural shadowlands. Our Lord promised that the truth would set us free. The light of truth is now shining into the cave, even if the darkness swallows much of its brilliance.

The greatest living and effective weapon in the arsenal of truth is the pope himself. His person electrifies sympathetic observers; his message tugs at their hearts. And he is readily accessible in schools and religious education programs via creative uses of technology. I recently read Benedict’s address to students in the United Kingdom with three high school boys. Two were impressed at its profundity. The third was visibly stirred. If some aspect of the media can be harnessed to bring the pope and his message to Catholics – rather than the media distorting his image and ignoring his message – we may be surprised at how many souls are waiting to be freed from life in the cave.

David G. Bonagura, Jr. is Adjunct Professor of Theology at the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception, Huntington, NY.

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Comments (11)Add Comment
written by Lee Gilbert, November 05, 2010
"If some aspect of the media can be harnessed to bring the pope and his message to Catholics...." Right. Ala James Dobson, let me role play with you for a moment.

Our family of five children, two of them adolescents, live near a college campus and provide room board to a very interesting and personable young man. He has an incredible fund of funny stories and magic tricks. He's good looking, very athletic, plays the guitar, and my two teenagers worship the ground he walks on.

But here's the thing, whenever he is entertaining us or interacting with us, there is ALWAYS something that's a little off, just a little. Perhaps it's a little laugh at the expense of the Church, a story that's slightly off color, or thinly veiled amusement at our going off to Church on Sunday morning. It is dramatically affecting my family. Only since he arrived have my children started asking me why we have to go to Mass on Sunday. How can I harness his incredibly winsome personality to bring the message of Christ and His Church to my family? What should I do? I am at a total loss.

Any Catholic father saying that over a beer at the Knights of Columbus would have everyone looking at him in complete disbelief. Somebody would say, "What, are you kidding me? Throw the guy out!"

Until Catholic fathers decide that the Catholic formation of their children is more important than televised sports, and until they do the sort of thing you did with those three young people- imparting to them the holy lore that makes a Catholic life possible and attractive- then we are going to continue to experience the same dramatic attrition that we have for the past five decades.

I should think it would be far more possible to harness the incredible power of baptized and confirmed Catholic fathers than the power of the media, which after all function and thrive primarily as vectors of the world, the flesh and the devil. Anticipating this possibility in 1949 Pius XII in his allocution on Radio and Television quoted the pagan poet Juvenal: “Nothing impure in the home!” After we have “thrown the bastard out,” our wits will likely clear sufficiently to see what to do next, which is probably as completely obvious.
written by Bill, November 05, 2010
A Tradionalist friend of mine, an attorney, was asked to teach CCD for high school students preparing for Confirmation in an upscale Novus Ordo parish. In his first meeting, after speaking of Christ for about ten minutes he was asked by a student: "Is Jesus still alive?" Another student volunteered she thought He was dead.
written by Grump, November 05, 2010
Lee, I sympathize. When my kids were growing up, they only watched Sesame Street. (That was 30 to 40 years ago). Today, it must be impossible to keep children shielded from the onslaught of evils that flow electronically into every home.

It was a good start throwing the bastard out, as you put it. But unless you can pull the plug on your TVs, take away their cellphones, Ipods, etc., you simply can't restrict the junk that impressionable youngsters are exposed to nowadays.

At 68, I feel a bit like the German poet Goethe, worn out and pessimistic that a great age has passed and am left to repeat his words in 1818: "I thank God that I am not young in so thoroughly finished a world."

written by Jacob, November 05, 2010
Grump you seem to answer your own sentiment with your name choice.

You're telling me when you were young and they wouldn't let black people eat with you that was the promised age? When abortion and "the pill" became common occurrences (the fifties), that was a great era?

I also have a tendency to romanticize the past but at your age you should be past such delusions.

One of our biggest problems is that the last two generations have been deeply flawed yet spend all their time blaming their kids that they didn't raise them right.

You guys built this society we have right can't all of a sudden blame us just as you're turning it over. Let's hope in thirty years we'll have enough virtue to take responsibility for the problems we've maintained or created..rather than taking the coward's way out and blaming our children.
written by Grump, November 05, 2010
Not "blaming" anyone, Jacob, merely giving a point of view. When I went to school, the worst offenses you could commit were talking, chewing gum, making noise, running in the halls, getting out of turn in line, wearing improper clothes, and not putting paper in wastebaskets.

Contrast to today’s main problems -- drug and alcohol abuse, pregnancy, suicide, rape, robbery, assault and guns in the schools.

In those days, there was no Internet, no texting, no computer dating, no day care centers, no group therapy, no word processors, no credit cards, no gay parades, no ATM machines, no talking back to your parents or teachers, no TV talking heads and no reality shows.

I did my best as a father and my kids turned out very well. We made mistakes, of course. Every generation does. But, consider that the further we get from the original Pair, the more imperfect we become.

In the next 40 years you will be able to repeat the same mistakes and then add your own and then you, too, will complain about the new generation you raised.
written by Lee Gilbert, November 05, 2010

According to Jacob you blame the younger generation, but frankly I don't see it. Where?

You do write: "You simply can't restrict the junk that impressionable youngsters are exposed to nowadays."

But television was junk affecting impressionable minds in the fifties. I was there and lived through it. Where do you think the Woodstock generation came from? There was a constant walkdown of our morals, a walkdown that continues.

Therefore, as a young parent in the late 70's I also was very concerned about television and the "culture."

Providentially, we lived across the hall from a young Korean couple who also had a baby boy. From their apartment came very strong cooking odors and a lot of Korean chatter.

It occurred to me one day that their child might as well be growing up in Seoul. And with that came the realization that I could create in my own home whatever culture I wished.

Parents, especially fathers, don't realize the power they have. The culture of their home is TOTALLY in their power. They are the gatekeepers. They can give their kids such a formation that by the age of 12 or 13 they totally despise the popular culture, or at least the seamier aspects of it.

Many dads will say in response that they don't want their children to live sheltered lives, but they exist for no other reason than to provide sheltered lives for their children.

If they raise them on the lives of the saints and other heroes, if they expose them to good literature such as the Chronicles of Narnia etc., by READING TO THEM in the evenings, they will elevate their tastes, undergird their morals, baptize their imaginations and preserve them completely from being swept away by "the culture."

This is the way Therese Martin was raised, the way Solanus Casey was raised and many, many other strong people of the pre-television era. We can do the same thing. There is nothing standing in the way except a lack of leadership.
written by Achilles, November 05, 2010
Jacob, you can not possibly be serious.
Your post today was much clearer than yesterday.
Television is about 10 gabizillion times worse today then it was 40 years ago. The commercials, content tethered to hedonism and narcissism, it is incredible.
Your indictment of Grump is way off the mark. The facts are, even though the 60's generation narcisis has made quite an impact on the current dissolution of morality, our current degradation stems much more from the flawed antrhopology of many self conscious philosophers such as Hagel, Marx, Freud, Comte, et al. and the social utopian social constructors that believe in progress and the perfectability of man have steadily wasted our moral capital inherited from our Founding Fathers. TO deny that our current problems are not much more severe than they were in past decades is a much greater problem than anything you incorrectly attrubuted to Grump.
It is as Augustine said in the City of God, either you "love God to the contempt of self, or you love the self to the contempt of God," Man trying to elevate himself above God is the problem Jacob.
written by Grump, aka Gramp, November 05, 2010
Lee writes: But television was junk affecting impressionable minds in the fifties. I was there and lived through it. Where do you think the Woodstock generation came from? There was a constant walkdown of our morals, a walkdown that continues.
I was born in 1942, and grew up watching The Hit Parade, The Honeymooners, Show of Shows, Bishop Sheen, I Married Joan, Howdy Doody, Amos N Andy, etc. Are you seriously going to compare that with what is aired today both on network and cable?
Lee, I don't dispute that it's been downhill since Woodstock, but it was a sharp descent from the 50's to the '70s and now we're in the deepest moral abyss in our lifetimes.

I am not pointing fingers here. When you point a finger, there are three pointing back at you.

Parents, however disciplining, cannot TOTALLY control the actions of their children. If this were the case, we would not have so many runaways, "delinquents" as we used to call them, disrespect, patricide and matricide, etc. At some point -- and it used to be earlier in the "old days" -- children must bear responsibility for their own actions. There is only so much parents can do.

I give the last word to:

Proverbs 23:22 "Listen to your father, who gave you life,
and do not despise your mother when she is old."

written by Achilles, November 05, 2010
Gramp, Jacob's point of view is deeply corrupted. WE have officially entered a new dark age where those with the most IQ points arrive at the same concusions as Hitler. As parents our duty is to imitate Christ as did the saints, and leave what is owed to Ceasar to Ceasar and his minions. Pax Christi vobiscum, achilles
written by Edmund, November 06, 2010
I like the cave analogy for these times. Three cheers for the young men and women religious who are heroically leading them out. Each soul counts.
written by marcus, November 09, 2010
The phrase "be in the world, not of the world" keeps coming into my mind while reading this article and the comments. I think I disagree with the statement that it is the role of parents to "shelter" their children. It is the role of parents to form their children so that they can live in the world and be a positive influence in and to it. Granted, formation may include sheltering, but not entirely. I'm all for limiting tv and video games but not to the point that they literally have no idea what they are. I've seen that happen. We can't just keep things away from our children without telling them why. Children need to know, to an extent, what is out there. Otherwise won't they be caught of guard once they experience it? And children need alternatives. Parents need to read to them, to play sports with them, take them hiking, build things, etc. They need to know right from wrong and to have a properly formed conscience.

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