Winning Back the Youth of the Catholic Church

My Montclair State University group at SEEK 2015 this January

My Montclair State University group at SEEK 2015 this January

A critical problem arose in the Catholic Church over the past couple of generations: the faith has not been passed on from generation to generation. This phenomenon is particularly shocking because passing on the faith to the next generation has been taken for granted for practically the entire history of Christendom. Though some of the blame could justly be placed on the new and increasing attacks against the Church in the past century, most of the fault lies on the Church itself, in failing to proclaim the importance of the Gospel, present a relationship with Jesus Christ as the fullness of life, and encourage the family model of discipleship. If these problems continue, the very existence of the Church in the West could be threatened.

The first and most fundamental problem I see is that the Church hasn’t proclaimed the Gospel in a way that reaches the hearts of the people in the pews. The Popes have been great about reinforcing our need for Christ above all else, but by the time we start talking about the faithful in your local parish, the message seems to be lost in translation. The Gospel is the fundamental reason why we are Catholic Christians! It is our greatest treasure and basically the meaning to life. And yet when I ask Catholics why they are Catholic Christians, they can only muster that it was what their parents were. When people respond like that, they haven’t taken ownership of their faith. It isn’t something that they chose to live themselves because they were looking for purpose and hope in life, so how they think of their religion isn’t too different from how they view their ethnicity or nationality.

The most important things for a Catholic – scratch that, for all human beings – to know are the Gospel message and how to live in relationship with God. Without that, all Catholics will just go through the motions because they have this faith tradition but they don’t understand WHY it is important or HOW to live it out.

From my experience, as a whole, today’s parents have not been catechized well and do not prioritize forming their children’s faiths as much as their education, friends, or even sports. As a consequence, their children are barely getting catechized and rarely experience life in a family that strives to put Christ first. Growing up, most of the kids in my CCD classes didn’t know the first thing about faith, and definitely didn’t have many Christ-like role models, myself included. I recently helped out at a Confirmation retreat, and when I questioned the candidates about their prayer habits, very few of them said that they pray regularly. From my own experience as a child, I can verify that. That’s a huge problem. If you’re not praying, you’re not fostering a relationship with God. If you’re not in relationship with God, you’re definitely not on the right track to becoming a practicing Catholic.

How are Catholic children learning about the faith nowadays? Are they learning it at all? Take your average Catholic and ask them how to pray the rosary. Or ask them what the Immaculate Conception is. As a missionary who works with college students, I can tell you firsthand that even most of the students who regularly go to Sunday mass don’t know things like that, things that genuinely help them understand their faith and live it in a way that leads them closer to God.

But simply learning the facts of the faith are not the most important thing: encountering Jesus and learning how to live in relationship with God are the most important things. How many of our children know that they are called to live as disciples of Christ? How many of them know about the Great Commission and that all Christians are called to be missionaries in their own lives? These things aren’t taught best in the classroom, or even at Sunday mass – they are best taught in day to day life by their parents, God parents, and other role models. The results speak for themselves. If attending religious education (RE) classes for a year or two before Confirmation was working, we’d see Catholics living as disciples of Christ for the rest of their lives, and striving to bring others into relationship with the Lord. Instead, 85 percent of Catholics stop practicing the faith within 7 years after their confirmation. (Do the numbers sound high to you? Well, to this 23 year old, it sounds dead on. I was confirmed about 7 years ago, and of the 30 or so peers that were confirmed with me, I’d estimate that 5 or so continue to attend mass somewhat regularly.)

That such a crazy high percentage of Catholic youth stops practicing their faith as they grow up is simply unacceptable. Our bishops and pastors need to get serious about reaching out to the youth. If they are simply worried about parish debt and church merges, they haven’t seen anything yet. 50 more years of 85% of young Catholics leaving and we’ll be lucky to have a handful of parishes for each diocese. Jesus gave us a commission to make disciples of all nations, and here we are losing almost every young Catholic who was born in the Church. If this was a business, people would be getting fired. Since this is an even greater matter – eternal life – souls are being lost. We need to get serious at the parish level about reaching out to the youth.

The most recent popes have seen this problem of re-transmitting the faith in traditionally Christian countries like Europe and the Americas, and have called for a New Evangelization, trying to re-evangelize cultures that used to be taken for granted to be Christian. It’s great to talk about the New Evangelization, and the popes have made great points, but as for carrying it out, I haven’t seen it at the parish level much yet. At the parish level, all that I’m seeing are some youth groups with various success, CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine) or RE programs, and very few adult movements.

(Note: To be completely clear, I’m all for youth groups and CCD/RE classes. I’m very proud of all of the people that sacrifice their time for the kids. I’d like to do the same myself one day.)

Youth groups are great if done well, they are a perfect opportunity for kids to be surrounded by other kids who practice their faith. I personally had a powerful experience in a youth group and that’s what encouraged me to take the next steps and make my faith my own. I think that we need to place a greater emphasis on youth groups in every parish because they are a natural way of living and sharing the faith among peers, and can be used to evangelize in an effective way to non-Catholics and non-Christians as well. Make sure that the pastor and any other religious are involved, as they can naturally witness to Christ in a unique way, and the children will think more naturally about their vocations if they see that the priest/sister is joyful and friendly.

CCD and RE programs, on the other hand, are often being used for purposes other than which they were created for. Often they are being used as last ditch efforts to encourage young adults to live their faith as Christian adults, yet they are just one hour sessions in classrooms once a week. It becomes more like an obligation and a class rather than something inspiring and life-giving. I appreciate all that CCD and RE teachers do in trying to share the faith with children, but the problem is that one hour a week will not transform an individual’s life. (Sound familiar? Sunday mass has the same problem. We need our parishes to truly become communities of faith, supporting families and being active more than just Sunday mornings.)

By God’s grace, I am one of the anomalies. I’m actually a young person who found his faith mostly at the end of high school and in college. As I mentioned beforehand, youth groups played huge roles in my faith. I had the basics of the faith from growing up Catholic and going to CCD, but it wasn’t until I saw my peers also living out their faith that I had the courage to explore and live my own as well. In college, I had the opportunity to join a men’s bible study ran by guys just a year or two older than me, and learning how to become a man of God by their witness both in the bible study and in day to day life played a huge impact on my life. They encouraged me to not settle for mediocrity and challenged me to not only live my faith on my own, but to strive to lead others to Christ myself as well. A couple of events also played key roles. The first one was FOCUS Conference (now called SEEK Conference), where I was both amazed by how many other young Catholics there are in the United States and wowed by the wisdom of the speakers as they shared truths about the Church that I had never understood beforehand. The other event that sealed the deal for me was the Koinonia retreat program at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. These retreats are almost completely run by students for students, though we of course have a chaplain and religious sister on every retreat for the sacraments and spiritual guidance. This three day retreat inspired me because all of the talks were by other young people my own age who had struggled with living out their faith themselves, and together we strove to pray for and support each other when we were back on campus together. I really can’t say enough about how important FOCUS and Newman Centers have been to my faith life, I wouldn’t be the person that I am today without their role in my life. Other groups that I’ve heard of or encountered that also seem to also be inspiring the youth are Life Teen, National Evangelization Teams (NET), Steubenville Conferences, Awakening retreats, Totus Tuus programs, St. Paul’s Outreach, genuinely Catholic colleges, and Catholic Christian Outreach (Canada).

With all of these things in mind, what’s the solution for the Western Church? How are Catholic youth going to encounter Jesus in a way that is lasting and transformative? Here are some ideas I have:

  1. Saints need to witness to Christ in their day to day life. We need to pray that God will send us saints, people who genuinely witness to Christ in all phases of their life, especially to the youth. People like you and me need to abandon our will to God and allow Him to work through us in whatever ways He wants. God wants to renew the world through us.
  2. Parents need to take the faith seriously and pass it on to their children. This is not something that we can take for granted anymore, since most parents aren’t prepared to do this in the first place. Parishes need to give support to parents and help teach them the faith and help them encounter Jesus so that they can do the same for their children. I’ve heard of great retreat groups that do this, but even more than a retreat is necessary… maybe getting small groups of parents together regularly to help encourage each other in this would be helpful? Separate men’s and women’s groups would work too.
  3. Children need to be encouraged to become saints. So many children desire to become police officers, doctors, presidents, and members of the armed forces, and we are proud of them for their big hearts and willingness to serve others. Why don’t we also encourage them to become saints? Becoming a saint isn’t beyond the reach of our children by any means! We can also encourage them to be open to other vocations like the priesthood and religious life in addition to being faithful fathers and mothers. Children want to do great things with their life, and to suggest to them that becoming a saint is unattainable is one of the biggest lies that a parent can teach their children. We must teach them who they are as children of God and how they are all called to be saints in their everyday lives, so that they can be St. Johnny the Fire Fighter and St. Alice the Doctor.
  4. A family should be a school of love. Unfortunately, in modern times there have been many attacks on the family, pitting husband against wife and parents against children. As a whole, the family seems to be more independent and isolated than ever before. This is not God’s plan for family life. Family life should naturally lead children to a life-long relationship with God. Parents have a unique and important role (that they claim at their children’s baptism) of raising their children in the faith. Parents give witness to Christ-like lives, teach their children what true love is, and teach them how to live as disciples of Jesus. The family should always put the salvation of their souls above all else.
  5. “The best instrument to evangelize young people is other young people.” – Pope Francis. Youth groups, bible studies, retreats, and conferences work because young people naturally respond well to other young people who they can relate to better. The trick is to make sure that when young people have that  “retreat high” that they have a support system that can encourage them to live out their faith after the retreat.

Despite the many issues that the Church faces in modern times, I believe that the youth can be won back to Christ and His Church if the importance of the Gospel is presented, personal relationships with Jesus are promoted, and parishes and families took greater responsibility for their children’s faith formation. Though the times are tough in the West for the Catholic Church, there is plenty of hope for the future as there are new movements throughout the Church that have been effective in bringing young people back to Christ. Let’s begin to take reaching out to our youth seriously. The very future of the Church and the world depends on it.

Where else has the Church done a good job in sharing the faith? What are some other ideas that you can think of? Comment below or tweet at me anytime, my handle is  @itschrisgoulet

God bless!

What is Chastity and Why is it Important? An Interview with a Youth Chastity Speaker

The following is an interview with Perla, a youth chastity speaker. I have been so privileged to get to know her personally, and I hope that her story and words of wisdom on chastity inspire you as well!

Hi Perla! Thank you for taking the time to meet with me! Could you start by sharing a little about yourself? What was your childhood like?
Thanks Chris! Well, I come from a family of 5 and am the oldest sibling. I have a really close extended family where I grew up in Chihuahua, Mexico. Then my dad worked in the United States, while the rest of us were in Mexico, so we all moved to the United States when I was 10 in order to live together.

What impact did moving to the United States have on your life?
It played a huge impact on my life! It was a whole new world – I had to learn English, the culture was so different, my extended family was so far away, and we didn’t get close to many people outside of our family.

What careers and interests did you have growing up?
I always wanted to become a teacher, I love little kids. I think I even have a special charisma with kids, I loooove kids. And math. So I wanted to become a math teacher. Of course, that changed when I got to college, when my encounter with Christ happened.

What was your encounter with Christ?
I had all the big questions, like what is the meaning of life, what happens after death, etc., but I never looked to the Catholic Church for those answers. I changed my major 5 times, always searching for the answers to life. Psychology gave some answers, but not enough. For a while, I thought that maybe service was the answer, so I did a lot of service. Then next I thought that it was love, so I started dating this guy. But nothing was enough, and I was tired of looking for answers. Then one day one of my friends invited me to join a Catholic bible study. I only joined because I witnessed how much joy my Protestant friends had in their lives, and they did bible study too. So I was willing to give a Catholic one a try. The bible study was run by three middle-aged couples, who hooked my friends and I by offering us a home cooked dinner – it worked for us college kids! In their homes, we went over the scripture readings for the next Sunday mass on Monday nights. I began to learn so much! Once I encountered the truth of the Eucharist and from there the truth of the Catholic faith, I decided to look at Catholic universities to finish college. A son of one of the families that hosted bible study went to Ave Maria University and told me about it. It was the only college that I applied to at that point, and praise God, they ended up offering me a full ride to study there.

What degree did you end up graduating with? And what did you want to do when you graduated?
I majored in Theology with a minor in Philosophy. I had this deep desire to do the same thing for other college students that was done for me: maybe offering a bible study for other college students. Providentially, FOCUS (the Fellowship of Catholic University Students) came to Ave Maria and shared their mission with the students and I, and it lined up perfectly with what I wanted to do after graduation! I applied and got accepted!

You were a missionary with FOCUS for how long, and what was it like?
I was a missionary for three years. It was a great experience, I loved meeting students where they were at and challenging them to take their faith seriously. It was also a great adventure, especially with being open to be placed anywhere in the country. I always thought that it was very humbling to have students open up to me and give me their trust and friendship.

How did you come across your new job?
After my 3rd year with FOCUS, I felt a strong call to come back home and work within my home diocese, San Angelo in Texas. The diocese didn’t have any openings for evangelization or anything like FOCUS, so a close friend invited me to apply for a job as a prevention specialist.

What is a prevention specialist?
We work as a team of 8, most of us are between ages 23-26, and we go to elementary, middle, and high schools in Midland, Odessa, and surrounding cities. Our aim is to prevent them from falling into high-risk behaviors and be fulfilled in their good decisions. So we speak with the students about their self worth, the purpose of their bodies, the purpose of sex, sexual abstinence, the risks of the media, STDs, parenting, and how to build healthy relationships. In addition, we offer assistance for anyone who has suffered from abuse or addiction afterwards.

How long are you at a school?
We are there for three days, Tues-Thurs.

What does a day at a school consist of?
Our presentations last for 45 minutes, but our total pace can vary anywhere from 1 to 7 presentations a day. And we might travel to a few schools per week. So we are aiming to work with around 30,000 students by the end of the school year!

What is your main message to the students?
The thing that I really focus on for them is that they know who they are. We talk about how they have so many important sides to them: physical, intellectual, emotional, social, spiritual, and sexual. We talk about why we have certain yearnings in our hearts in the first place, so that they can see their natural good desires. A big emphasis is placed on showing what is necessary for sex: commitment, faithfulness, truly loving your spouse. Because the purpose of sex is to bond husband and wife together and for the procreation of children. Bottomline. From this understanding we can show them that sex truly belongs in marriage- fulfilling also the heart and mind because all 6 sides of the person would be truly satisfied.

Was there a moment in your life where you started getting interested in speaking about chastity?
Yes! There were major two instances. Growing up, I had the common girl dream of meeting that perfect guy, falling in love, and getting married. But what my friends were doing, what the world was offering, with hooking up and all that, it never satisfied my heart. It was never going to fulfill me at the end of the day. Even a good relationship in high school was not satisfying for me because we weren’t going to get married soon after. There were plenty of attractive guys in high school that I was attracted to, but dating and hooking up just didn’t click right even though I didn’t know why exactly. The other instance was as a missionary on the college campus, where I was seeing women fall under pressure to have sex before marriage and not live chastely. There seemed to be a missing link between their faith, the meaning of their body, and their yearning for true love. It seemed as if God had to be kicked out because all He offered where restrictions to their desires. So I spent a lot of time with some college women learning and reconciling all of these things with God’s desire for us! So we deeply understood that chastity in fact fulfills our desires. It is way more than just “don’t don’t don’t.”

We hear the world chastity a lot, but are less familiar with what it actually means. How do you define it?
I understand chastity as purity of body, mind (thoughts and imagination), and intentions. Purity meaning no stain of selfishness, lust, slavery to passions, but free to love, to choose the best for the other person with joyful selflessness.

As you grew up, did you ever dream that you’d become both a missionary and chastity speaker?
No, not at all. Haha.

What would you have thought?
I would have thought that I would have been going abroad, India or Africa. I would have never thought that I would do it here, home, with my generation. That would have seemed extremely radical.

How has it been now that you’re living it out?
It’s been a transformative experience: to see the goodness of God in how He cares for me. I’ve learned how to put others before me. I’m convicted of the truths that I’m saying as a chastity speaker, as well. It’s challenged me to live with integrity in all areas of my life and truly love everyone who is around me. I’m asking myself questions like “am I building healthy relationships myself?”

Is our culture to blame for these problems of chastity? Or would you attribute this to their youth or something else?
I think that there are many factors. Yes, I think that society plays a role, especially the media like movies, music, and TV. I think those things have a huge pull on young people. It’s also on the parents, if they are not convicted of the truth and share it. Their children need to see good examples from them so that the message will get to their hearts. A third factor is that boys and girls need to be challenged, challenged to do something better. Such as love requires you to wait, to build your character first. Many times they are told that they don’t have self-control because they are young, but they actually do. They can stand up with courage against the current. I don’t think that they hear that enough, or at all.

What is different for the youth growing up in 2015 from what it was like for you growing up?
The biggest difference is that for today’s children the internet is so available, especially on their phones. It offers them so many extra risks and distractions.

What advice would you give the parents of children nowadays?
I would affirm them that they have a big influence on their kids’ lives. They mold their kids. I would challenge them to look into the truth of all these things, to live them out, and pass them on to their kids through example. I’d also ask them to try to monitor their social media time, monitor their exposure to the internet. I’m thinking especially of the risk of pornography.

What sort of role do you think pornography plays in our culture’s battle with chastity?
It plays a huge role. It is so available, and really young people are exposed to it, even as young as 9 years old. Every heart longs for true love so there is a natural curiosity for what intimacy is, but pornography does not offer an answer it actually begins to warp people’s hearts and minds and scar them for life in a sense. It handicaps them for true love and true sacrifice.

As a college campus missionary, it’s common to hear about students “hooking up.” What would you say to someone who just wants to have some fun for one night?
If I could really talk to them, I would ask them, have you looked at the true desires of your heart? Your heart has a true yearning and desire to be loved. You won’t be satisfied until you are known and loved: hopefully by your family and your spouse in the future. That yearning is in everyone’s hearts. One night stands… there is no way to truly love a person through that or be loved. Then understand that the opposite of love is use. Sure, hooking up offers a thrill but at the end it will not be fulfilling and isn’t love. It is the use of each other- most likely girl using guy for emotional gratification and guy using girl for physical aspect. It’s seeing only the body of the person without revealing who they truly are. You in fact see less of them instead of more.

How can someone struggling with chastity start to change their habits?
If you’re Catholic, make sure go to confession. Confess it clearly, humbly, and sincerely. Ask God for healing, in your heart and mind. Go to the sacraments. Besides that, get an accountability partner/group. Most young people ARE struggling with this, in actuality or in understanding. Be honest, form a small accountability group, and set small goals to grow little by little.

Any final thoughts?
I want to stress this: know and believe that God is interested in your love life. God is not a boring God. Trust and believe that He has something beautiful planned for you, and He will not leave you disappointed.

Thank you Perla! Thank you for your very important work with the youth!

Hope Through Brokenness

shattered-cup

For much of my life, I’ve found myself pretending to be perfect.

I care so much about what people think about me, where it bothers me when people don’t think that I’m (cool, fun, smart, nice, insert good thing here). It’s simply a part of the human (*after the fall*) condition: we are insecure about how we are perceived because we don’t completely trust that God and others love us and want what’s best for us.

So I have found myself putting on a face, faking that everything’s alright when it’s not. I’d imagine that everyone reading this can relate. Our world is pro at this, especially with social media like Facebook and Instagram: we put up our best, happiest pictures for the world to see. And then what happens? Everyone looks at those pictures from their bedroom all alone or something and gets jealous thinking that they’re a loser because they aren’t experiencing all of the crazy stuff that their friends are.

We have to remember that life has both good and bad moments, and that’s okay! Pretending that only good things happen is a false hope. Even optimism, as much as I love it, is a false philosophy if it isn’t based on reality. It’s okay to be sad for a while, it’s a regular human emotion that God gave us. Even Jesus cried when His friend Lazarus died! John 11:35. (He later raised Lazarus from the dead… haha goes to show how awesome being Jesus’ friend is… : )

In life we go through a boatload of stuff. Good and bad, happy and sad, exciting and depressing. What keeps you centered through it all? Is what keeps you centered going to constantly be there for you? Does it help both in good times and in bad?

What keeps me centered through all the bumps in the road is my faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus is always there for us, even when it’s hard to just have faith in the first place. I love and appreciate the support of my family and friends, but they simply can’t be there for me in the most intimate ways that I need it. It’s one thing to calm someone who is crying. It’s a radically different thing to give peace to a soul. True intimacy not only allows us to share our bodies, as we are accustomed to thinking of it, but also our emotions, fears, hopes, dreams, struggles. If we are holding things back, then we are not being truly intimate (quick stereotypical Catholic thought: apply that to contraception.. (light bulbs, anyone?)). And only our God, who created each of us uniquely, can truly understand us and accept us completely as we are.

I remember a friend of mine making a statement to me a few weeks ago: “Chris, I’m not even sure if Christianity is relevant to me.”

You know, there are probably times when we are all tempted to think that. If everything is going well, if we seem to be in a good place and are living an exciting life, why would we want anything more? But if we come to realize that even in our greatest triumphs, our most ecstatic joys, there is still a part of us that is crying out for more. These moments are oh so familiar for those who are poor, spiritually broken, alone, needy, sick, and mourning. Our souls are longing in these moments for complete and total love. For security and fulfillment. Something that this world cannot give.

As for the relevance of Christianity: it is only as relevant as its God. And our Lord Jesus Christ, the bridegroom to each of our souls, is exactly what we need. We are like broken pots, busy trying to hide our imperfections from each other, afraid that someone might notice. We have two options. We can stay all by ourselves, continuing to try and live a lie of our own self-fulfillment, or we can call out to the master potter, who will hastily come to us, pick up each of our pieces, and put us back together good as new.

This Christmas marks the coming of Jesus Christ into the world to do just that. He came so that He can help us become the children of God that He created us to be. All that we need to do is call out, and He will be with us to help heal our brokenness.

Here’s a prayer that maybe you can join me in praying this Advent: Lord Jesus, I need you. I am broken and in need of your help to heal my body, soul, emotions, and all. Please come and heal my faith, help me to believe in and know you with great conviction. Give me a strong hope to get through the difficult times of life. Give me a strong love for the people in my life, especially those in need. Help me to see you in the poor, the suffering, the needy. Come into my life and renew me, make me your own creation. Amen. 

How I Define Myself

About two months ago at the Latin American Student Organization (LASO) general member meeting, we played a very interesting social game. The leader assigned different names to each part of the room: class, race, religion, sex, and gender. We were told to stand in the part of the room that we identify with the most. I really enjoyed the premise of the game, which really made me think, and I especially liked the opportunity to talk as a group about why we identify with one over the other.

Being LASO, the LATIN AMERICAN Student Organization, you can guess which part of the room was most populated… the race one. But I noticed a unique pattern for why people identified with class, race, sex, and gender: they usually identified themselves with the one that they were most discriminated against for. The people who came from the lower class talked about how they didn’t have the same opportunities as their peers from middle or upper class families. Women talked about how because of their sex they have been treated as objects and haven’t had the same respect as men. The story goes on similarly for race and gender.

Interestingly enough, I was the only one to stand at the “religion” section. I’m the white guy in the group, and a missionary on top of that, so yea… I stood out like a sore thumb as always. Because of the awkwardness of being the only one in my group, they didn’t ask me to share why I was standing there. But I think I’d like to share now, in case anyone is curious. It really made me think, that’s for sure.

I identify with religion more than the others not simply because I am a “normal” American. Middle class, white, male. So what. There’s plenty of reasons for me to be proud to be from a middle class family of immigrants that “made it.” The ancestors that I identify with the most is my mom’s side, German farmers who immigrated to America because of religious persecution in 1841. They founded the town that I was blessed to grow up in. (Big honking beautiful Catholic church right in the center. Take that, religious persecution.)

My home parish: St. John the Baptist

My home parish: St. John the Baptist

Note: I very much resonate with and respect the students who identify with their Hispanic heritage above all else. These students are mostly first or second generation Americans, faced with difficulties in their homelands and searching for a better life in America. I bet that many of their parents have trouble speaking English because of that and many other factors school has always been more of a personal struggle for them. I bet that most of their families have been through times of living paycheck to paycheck. I also resonate with and respect the students who identified most with sex, gender, and class. This post is not to bash those students at all in any way. My goal is just to point out that while those are great things to identify with, I believe that religion – properly understood – takes the cake hands down in this one.

I identify with my Catholic Christian religion the most because I do not define myself by what other people think of me, instead I define myself by God’s love for me. I was created out of love for love. People might make fun of me and tear me down, but I try not to be bothered too much by what they try to do or say to me, because no matter what, I know that God loves me exactly the way that I am. God loves each of us exactly the way that we are, no matter our background, skin color, sex, gender, religion, age, etc. This gives me hope at all times and is a relationship to cherish. God is my rock and my foundation, so the rest of my life is at least set on firm ground.

If I were to define myself according to what others think of me, wouldn’t that leave me vulnerable to being hurt by them? I absolutely love this line by Lecrae:

“If you live for their acceptance, you’ll die from their rejection.” – Lecrae

Our true hope in both good times and bad is God’s love for us. He has a great plan for us, even despite the struggles that we will surely go through, and He reminds the prophet Jeremiah:

“I know well the plans I have in mind for you, plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope.” – Jeremiah 29:11

I think that most of the students identified with a certain thing because that’s a struggle that they have to deal with from their background. I’d say that that’s okay! We all have struggles, there is no shame in that. But I would encourage us all to turn what we identify with from a negative to a positive. Why dwell on your struggles if you could look forward to the future?

There are also those who identify with something because they genuinely like or treasure it, like their heritage for example. Even this pales in comparison to our relationship with God, our ultimate heritage. At the end of the day, though race, class (that you grew up from), sex, and gender are permanent things, they are just earthly things. The only thing that lasts through eternity is our relationship with Jesus.

“What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? As it is written:

“For your sake we are being slain all the day;

we are looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:35-39

Dia de los Muertos: Why are the Skeletons Happy?

Dia de los Muertos altar

The following is a talk that I gave for a Dia de los Muertos celebration this week, where I looked at the religious significance of the holiday.

Hi everybody, my name is Chris Goulet and I’m one of the missionaries at Montclair with Newman. It was great being able to speak with you last year at the Dia de los Muertos event, and it was amazing to see so many beautiful friendships begin thanks to that event, and I’m hoping and praying that we’ll see more of the same this year!

I’d like to start off with a fun topic: ghosts. What do you think that Catholics think of them, do they exist or not? How about I poll you guys. Raise your hand if you think that Catholics believe in ghosts.

The correct answer is yes! We have to define what we mean by a ghost, though. A ghost is a human soul without a body, which is what everyone is after they die. At death, our souls leave our body. Since humans end up going to heaven, hell, or purgatory, we can technically say that there are ghosts in heaven, hell, and purgatory! We can even see stories of ghosts all over the bible, for example how Moses appeared to Jesus in Matthew 17 at the transfiguration.

I’d be more than happy to try and take a stab at any other questions about ghosts, demons, spirits, zombies, and vampires after my talk if you have questions, but for now I’ll keep it to Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead for those of you who are Spanish challenged.

I think I was in 7th grade when I first saw a happy skeleton. Growing up in the United States, when I thought of Halloween, I thought of ghosts, vampires, demons, and of course skeletons. Halloween was a scary time where we watched horror films and in a sense glorified evil. The skeletons that I grew up around had glowing red eyeballs and would come and strangle you. Has anyone seen the movie Mars Attacks? I think American skeletons remind me of those Martians more than anything else. Anyways, when I saw those happy skeletons in my 7th grade Spanish class, I was pretty confused. These skeletons were definitely the G rated version. They’re singing and dancing and wearing funny hats! I thought that skeletons had to be creepy? Why would those weird Latin American people tease us with these happy skeletons? They must be a little coo-coo… Well, it wasn’t until I learned more about my Christian faith years later that I was able to fully appreciate the beauty of Dia de los Muertos.

In Dia de los Muertos, the dead are remembered by their loved ones. This is a unique take on the Catholic holidays of All Souls Day and All Saints day on November 1st and 2nd. I’m sure that all of you have unique ways that you honor your family and friends that have died. In my family, we often go and visit the gravesites of our loved ones on special days like when they died and Christmas Eve. We bring flowers to decorate their grave and even sometimes pray for them out loud. It’s a way of showing them respect and remembering them after they’ve passed on.

But here’s a question for you: why is it human nature to do things like this? What is it in our hearts, our souls, that makes remembering the dead a natural reaction? Any ideas?

I’d argue that deep down, we know that death is not the end. If death is the end, and we are simply “warm bodies,” then why care about people after they died? If we are just bodies, then we cease to exist at our death. That’s it, I hope you had a nice life. Oh and by the way, there was no ultimate purpose or meaning to it, you simply took up space and added to the greenhouse effect here on Earth.

But I’m sure that most of you agree with me that there is something more to human beings. Life doesn’t end at our death, that’s only the beginning. We know that our loved ones are still close to us even after they die. We naturally are inclined to pray for the dead because we know that there is some sort of judgment at the end of our lives, and we want the best afterlife possible for our loved ones. We also are naturally inclined to ask for their intercession for us, that they pray to God to protect our families and friends. So for all of these reasons, praying for the dead makes sense.

Here’s another question for you: why do you think that death shocks us? If death is a part of life, why is it shocking when people die? After all, we all know what we’re going to die sooner or later.

To answer this, I’d argue that death was not supposed to happen. It’s unnatural. Human beings were created to live forever. The famous story of Adam and Eve in the bible shows us a theological explanation for our death: we die because we are sinners. Adam and Eve weren’t supposed to die, but because they chose to disobey God, the entire world was fractured and humanity’s relationship with God was shaken. It is only by God’s mercy that we have an opportunity of a restored relationship with Him, and hope for life after death. This mercy, of course, came in the form of Jesus Christ, the God-man. Jesus came to show us God’s love and defeat sin and death once for all. Thanks to His sacrifice on the cross, we now can hope for eternal life through Him. So this is yet another reason why we pray for the dead.

So those happy skeletons that I was talking about at the beginning? Well, they’re happy because they know that there is more to life than just this earth. It’s a healthy reminder that death isn’t to be feared, but that Jesus came to redeem them, and one day those old bones will come back to life in the resurrection. Death and sin have no power over them when they are in Jesus. Even the devil himself can’t overcome them when God is on their side. The skeletons are happy because they are not removed from their families and friends forever, but instead they are closer than ever to their destiny of love and peace in heaven. They know that the pains of this world are temporary and will soon pass away. They know that there’s hope even in the greatest trials because Jesus is always there for us. They know that death is not the end of life, but merely a transition into a better one.

God bless you all and have a great Dia de los Muertos!

You can check out my talk from last year right here if you’d like.

15 Reasons to go to SEEK Conference 2015

seek cover

SEEK Conference is just around the corner! Here’s 15 reasons why you can’t miss it:

1. Spend 5 days with some of your best friends! Unfortunately I can’t guarantee that a pope will show up…

SEEK 2013 with Pope Benedict

2. SEEK the truth

3. Hear some of the best speakers in the Church. So much so that you’ll have withdrawals..

4. Encounter Jesus in a new and profound way

SEEK adoration

5. Make new friends for life

SEEK 2013 goofy

6. Get some of your deepest questions answered by the experts. Fr. Robert Spitzer’s got science covered, Lisa Cotter has girls covered. I still haven’t decided which topic is more complicated.

Lisa Cotter: Why do Women do that? Understanding What Chick Flicks and Love Songs Have to do with Chastity

7. Meet other college students from all over the country, and even the world!

SEEK 2013

8. Hang out with 10,000 other young people. Some have more… personality… than others

9. Open your life to new opportunities and directions

10. Stay up late every night. People will be playing ninja, signs, what are the odds, and all other sorts of wacky games late into the night… and it’s epic!

SEEK 2013 Ninja

11. There is 24/7 adoration of the Blessed Sacrament

adoration

12. Matt Maher will be there

13. Show off your school pride. Do you know your school’s fight song? You’ll probably want to before you go, and wear lots of school colors.

SEEK 2013 Illinois colors

14. Nashville. I hear there’s a music scene?

Nashville

 15. Jim Gaffigan.

Come SEEK with me. We’re all on this journey of life together.

This was actually my blog post immediately after SEEK 2013… so check out what I thought!

Register now!

Why I Believe in God

Colorado

This sure as heck isn’t an exhaustive list, but here are some very simple reasons why I’ve never struggled with belief in God:

– We live in a beautiful world

– How else could anything exist if there wasn’t something there to “bang” the Big Bang?

– Love exists

– When I pray, things happen. Not every time, and not always in the way that I want them to, since God isn’t a magic genie but rather our Father.

– The entire story of Jesus is way too crazy to fake. Starting with the 12 Apostles themselves, millions of Christians died for Him, especially those first 300 years afterwards when it was a crime to believe in Christ. Those people that died in the Coliseum? Those people were often Christians. Why die for something that you knew to be a lie?

– There is purpose and meaning to life

– Even in the darkest moments of life, we have hope

– We desire more than what this world has to offer and are incomplete without God. Just listen to Drake: “I want it all, and then some.” According to the world, he’s made it. But even he admits that he’s still missing something. “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” – St. Augustine

– The most genuinely happy people that I know are always the ones who have a close relationship with Jesus. They know that God loves them, and everyone else, and there’s nothing that this world can do that can take that from them.

– I have experienced Jesus’ peace and love in my own life, and seen how He’s worked through me in ways that I could have never expected