Healthy Soul/Lessons Learned/Living Out Your Faith/My Life/Teen Life/Witness and Evangelization Confessions of a Recovering Youth Group Addict by Leah Murphy Confession lines, am I right? Throwing on the ol’ sackcloth and ashes because it’s Ash Wednesday #datash. Therese is just EVERYTHING. I want to go to that retreat that Emily Wilson is speaking at, but I don’t want to miss this other one that Leah Darrow is at! #CatholicProblems The things we say as young Catholics are ridiculous. They’re awesome. They’re absurd. And, a lot of the time, they wouldn’t make sense to the secular world. And that’s OK. We know that everything we do, say, and believe as Catholics isn’t always going to be swallowed easily by a secular society (see Matthew 10:22, John 15:18, among others). However, I do think our Church could benefit from breaking away, just a tiny bit, from the crutch we’ve made of our “Catholic branding.” What do I mean by that? I mean that, as a Church, we should move away from seeing our faith primarily as a brand we put on ourselves, a logo we put over everything we’re doing, so to speak. Instead we should see it as a relationship that we live — a relationship that can be shared via a various of hashtags, the occasional clothespin, and a collection of Steubenville and summer camp tees, but is not based on those things. Full disclosure: this is coming from a recovering youth group addict. I was the girl who showed up early to every Life Night, signed up early for every retreat, attended literally 6 Steubenvilles as a high schooler (how is that even possible?), and proudly carried my (somewhat intentionally) tattered Bible around with my everywhere. I cared a lot more about seeming Catholic, looking holy, and being on the “in” of the Church than I did about actually knowing Jesus and allowing His love to transform me. Good thing Jesus is so much bigger than my desire to look a certain way because, slowly but surely, even through every cross clap I ever did, His grace was beginning to work in my heart; which is why this phase of the spiritual journey isn’t a bad one — God works with our openness — but it was a phase that that I believe He calls (and equips) us to grow out of. Because God is merciful and loves me a lot, He knocked down the little Catholic identifiers that I clung to to show me that the only thing I needed to be clinging to was Him and His love. He showed me that if I committed to that, I wouldn’t need to worry about seeming Catholic anymore, I’d be living it authentically. If You Have “🙏” in Your Bio, Then Pray! As I was living in the “look Catholic first, be Catholic second” phase of my life, I made sure everyone knew I was the youth group kid. I would put on memorable prayer services in my religion classes, I would direct conversion skits for retreats, I wore retreat tees to youth group, and I would always add some kind of Catholic identifier to my social bios. And although prayer services, retreat skits, and publicly claiming my Catholic faith online aren’t bad things to do by any means, I had things backwards: I prayed because I thought that’s what the good, Catholic youth group kid did, when, instead, I should have been praying first and allowing the ways I lived my life to flow from that prayer. Authenticity in our faith is really difficult when we feel like we have to look a certain way. If the saints were the most faithful followers of Jesus the world has known, we should be following their examples. And do you think St. Francis cared for a minute about whether people thought he looked Catholic while he was chatting with animals about God’s goodness? Or that Mother Teresa publicized if she went to Mass that day? The saints didn’t care if their actions looked Catholic or not, because the Catholic “look” of their actions flowed authentically from the fact that they cared first and foremost about Christ — not the other way around. Be in, but Never Exclude After a Steubenville conference, I posted a photo with my one of my fave Catholic celebs because I thought he was really cool and I liked the fact that only my youth group friends would know who he was. I captioned it something goofy — probably some of his lyrics — because I wanted my youth group friends to get it, but no one else. That was a lame thing to do. Living out an authentically Catholic life is really difficult when we’re more caught up in being on the “in” of Catholicism than we are caught up in being on a journey, with Jesus, to heaven, and bringing as many people with us. If we like the fact that we can laugh at Catholic inside jokes because we get them and others don’t, something’s wrong. Community is a key part of our Catholic faith, but if our love for an exclusive community is greater than our love for evangelization, we need to reevaluate why it is we’re leaning so much into community. Do we love journeying towards heaven with these people? Or do we just like feeling like we have an “in” somewhere? Be on an Outward Mission When I got back from a mission trip, I remember my family and friends asking me about my whole experience and I kept saying “it was just such a profound experience that I can’t put into words what happened. Really I only think my fellow missionaries would be able to relate.” And, while that may have been true to some extent, I know myself well enough to know that there was some part of me that was pridefully thinking “now I’m a missionary Catholic, and they’re not.” My testimony had so much more to do with what made me different, than it had to do with sharing what Jesus actually did with someone who hadn’t lived my experience. Catholicism should never be lived inwardly. To be Catholic is to live your life in a public, mission-oriented way. So yes, this means that you should be bold in authentically evangelizing via social media, you shouldn’t be ashamed to wear your retreat shirt to school and share what God did in your heart, and you should feel empowered to carry your Bible with you and dive into God’s word whenever you have a free moment. But none of those things should ever isolate you from people who aren’t where you’re at on your journey. As a Catholic, you haven’t earned a spot in an exclusive club. You’ve received the gift of a relationship with Jesus and that’s something that needs to be shared, not kept inside a comfortable subculture that can’t relate with the rest of the world. Catholicism is Your Sacrifice The things that make us “feel” Catholic right now will fade away. And when we grow out of the best Catholic teen conferences, we’re left with our relationship with Jesus. Just us and Him, without the youth group t-shirts, having favorite Catholic “celebs,” and the perfect, 100+ liked #fromabove post of your Bible, coffee, and prayer journal. And, as comfortable and fun as those Catholic identifiers are (and don’t get me wrong, they do have a place), they can’t be where our faith flows from; because, when they’re taken away, if our faith was flowing from them, we’ll be left with a very shallow relationship with Christ. Sure, they might be marks of a faithful Catholic, but they shouldn’t be the standard we’re striving toward, as if the amount of retreats we go on somehow validates our faith. When we’re authentically Catholic, the way we’re perceived will matter very little to us. We won’t think twice about being judged by the world for posting a photo in a chapel, sharing about what God is doing in our hearts. But we also won’t think twice about trying to build up a reputation as the holiest teen in the diocese. We’ll care first and foremost about following Jesus and saying yes to whatever He calls us to. We have to keep our focus on Him, not the things that go along with HIm, so that we can know His voice well enough to recognize it whenever He is speaking to us. Sometimes it’s a little scary to grow out of those comfortable Catholic identifiers and into a more authentic relationship with Him. It’s definitely uncomfortable. I know from experience that, no matter how many “Porn is Lame” stickers were on my hydroflask, no matter how many tiny saints keychains were on my keys, and no matter how much I was known for being the youth group kid, what matters most is placing my heart in Jesus’ hands and, with abandon, living in His will, no matter how that looks to the bystanders.