The Catholic Church in the United States embarks this weekend on a Fortnight for Freedom. Two weeks of prayer, education, fasting, and activism to promote and defend religious liberty for ourselves and the future of this great nation.
This weekend also holds the second weekend of Franciscan University of Steubenville Youth Conferences. More than 5,000 youth and their chaperones will gather in three locations—here on campus in Steubenville, in Alexandria, Louisiana, and in West Palm Beach, Florida—in witness of their love of the Lord, to be inspired by the Holy Spirit, to be emboldened to live as Christians in the world. They are the future of this great nation. They are the future of our Church. And they desperately need to know the love of Jesus Christ, and to know the truth which flows from that love, protected and promoted by the Catholic Church.
The youth conferences are in their 36th year, but never before have they happened under such a cloud of confusion and hostility from the culture at large. Our young people are stewing in a culture that becomes more and more anti-Christian by the day. The family, marriage, authentic love and sexual ethics, life itself, are all under acute attack. The Church is told to stay in her room and keep the door closed with the shades drawn. She is told she can no longer care for the sick, clothe the naked, feed the poor, or educate the masses, unless she bows to modern secular morality.
But this has the arrangement exactly backward. The Church does not exist to follow the culture—she exists to form the culture, redeem the time. The Lord did not come to be a reed blowing in the wind, but to be the Lamb who was slain to become source of life. The secular humanist utilitarians who direct the modern zeitgeist follow in a long line of hedonists who, wittingly or not, oppose the true flourishing of the human person, failing to realize or willfully ignoring what man and woman were created to be. The Church has always stood opposed to this coarsening, flattening, dispiriting (literally) philosophy.
The Church says man and woman, the culture says any arrangement is fine. The Church says wait until marriage, the culture says that’s impossible and dumb. The Church says it’s a child, the culture says it’s a woman’s right to choose. The Church says, “God loves you as you are, but He loves you too much to let you stay there. As John Paul II said, ‘you can expect moral and spiritual greatness of yourself.'” The culture says, “You’re already good enough, in fact, too good, stop trying to be better; just try to feel good in your mediocrity like everyone else, just redefine mediocrity as ‘greatness’ and call it good.”
And every year, at nearly 20 conferences across this country including one in Canada, nearly 35,000 youth and their chaperones have an opportunity to leave behind the flattening message of the culture and rejoice in the Good News, knowing that there is a glorious, exultant alternative. And then they are emboldened to go forth and help others see greatness that they were made for.
This year’s conferences, especially the conferences during this Fortnight for Freedom, are more special because of the storms raging in our society. The youth who come these days are even more deeply scarred than those who came even a few years ago. The proliferation of pornography online, the anti-Christian messages pumping through our schools, the steady erosion of support for true marriage and family life, and the constant barrage of secular humanist utilitarian morality.
The conferences cannot undo the damage in one weekend, but they can give evidence of an alternative. They can go a long way to marking the contrast between the culture of life and the culture of death. And just providing the spark that such an alternative is possible may be all some of our youth need to begin the ascent to their God-given greatness.
Tom Crowe is a writer and the web content editor at Franciscan University of Steubenville. The views expressed are solely his own and do not reflect the views of any other person or organization.