As I mentioned earlier, I attended the Diocesan Youth Convention last weekend where around 700 teens gathered from various Deaneries to celebrate their Catholic Identity. The weekend includes various activities and speakers that teens can choose from, and culminates with a dance and free-expressions lounge where youth can participate in karaoke, recite poetry etc. All in all, I would describe it as a community building event more than a "retreat" experience. That being said, please don't take what I have the wrong way, but I did have some MAJOR issues with some of the speakers that presented talks during the breakout sessions.
One of the breakout sessions was presented by a priest (a Franciscan). The title of the presentation was called," How to stay married forever " and was to last for one hour. I was interested in what this priest had to say, and so did the majority of the kids from my youth group, so we all decided to attend. I held much hope that this talk would address the most common mistakes people make when choosing a spouse or maybe address important qualities to look for in a spouse...the issue of sexuality in marriage, how to avoid temptations when dating...you know...the stuff that youth are really wondering about and wrestling with.
We all sat together at a round table. While we waited for the speaker to arrive, the girls at my table were talking about the future and their desire to marry, and so did the guys. I could tell that they had come for answers. Good answers to give them hope for the future and hope in marriage. Before long, the ballroom FILLED with young teens interested in how to stay married forever. I was floored at the interest level. I mean, these kids had 7 or 8 speaker options, but this talk title had hit some kind of nerve with them and before long, over 200 kids waited for the speaker to begin. I thought to myself: Wow! What an opportunity of a life-time! A captive audience of INTERESTED teen-agers wanted to know more about marriage and life-long love! What a sight!
But the opportunity was totally lost.
Unfortunately the priest whittled away the first 30 minutes of his talk by talking about the beauty of pasta and bread...his favorite foods and tempted us by saying over and over..."I'm gonna' tell you how to stay married in just a minute..but first....blah, blah, blah," Finally, when he eventually gets to the crux of the talk, he starts talking in some sort of nebulous language that only theologians and religious theorists could decipher....not teens: "When someone walks down the isle with their fiance, they must come to the alter "full"...maybe even "spilling over" with what makes them complete. (Huh?) One should never expect another person to "fill" them. They need to come to the alter filled. (filled with what? pasta? themselves? God's love? Could we be more explicit here for the youth, please?) The teenagers at my table turned to me, their expressions looking confused and dazed. One whispered, "What is he talking about Georgie?" I just shook my head slowly and shrugged my shoulders.
At this point, I was chomping at the bit knowing that this priest had only 20 minutes left to impart some kind of wisdom to the youth...it was not happening. The opportunity was almost gone. He continued with this ambiguous language of what matters in a marriage. Finally the agony ended and he opened the ballroom up for questions. The youth just sat there. Stunnned into silence. Not sure what to ask or how to begin...maybe they were stoned with boredom or zapped with the realization that they were doomed to make the same mistakes as their parents. After a couple of seconds of silence, I raised my hand. "Father, could you please address the obsession our society has with sex and how an unrealistic view of sexuality can hurt a marriage? " The ballroom perked up. He answered with more ambiguous phrases . After he finished, I whispered in one of the teens ears to ask the priest what qualities to look for in a spouse. She raised her hand eagerly and asked my question. He answered, "Well, I think I answered that already...you need to find someone who is "full"..someone who is compatible with your fullness." My table looked at me puzzled.
Here's the scary thing. This priest did this same talk last year and was asked back this year? To present this talk at three different times! Go figure.
That's not all! The keynote speaker was a female D.J. who did a good job helping the youth look for positive messages in secular music. She had their attention mostly because she played clips of popular music where the kids could sing along during the presentation. She had some good things to say, but continually referred to "marriage" as being a "lifelong meaningful relationship" and never referred to someone having a spouse....only a "partner". Now, is it me, or is it too much to ask that the leaders of our church, the keynote speakers, etc refer to things like sacramental marriage? and husbands? and wives? and spouses? I could understand this better if it were some sort of secular conference, but this was a Catholic Youth Conference where the kids were hungering for answers to life questions. References to the sacraments are integral to being a Catholic...where have we gone that we bow to modern terminology in our churches and ignore traditions we hold sacred? things we hold as essential tenants of our faith? How confusing is that to teenagers? It subtly sends a message to the youth of our religion that marriage doesn't matter..only "meaningful relationships". What does that mean anyway?
It's this kind of stuff that makes me want to run, not walk, over to some of the Protestant Youth Conferences and steal a few of their youth speakers. They don't sugar coat issues and their youth respond favorably. Why not? If our youth speakers make little or no references to sacramental marriage or chastity or even the Bible..with passion.... why not ask a Protestant leader who will address a least a few of these issues? Am I over-reacting here?