ASK FATHER: As a youth minister, I don’t think clergy have my back.

From a reader…


Father have you seen this recent Pew poll on how we as Catholics view the Eucharist? I’m a Youth Minister @ my Church. I can do talks till I’m blue in the face, but feel I don’t have the Magestrium has my back. What to do?

First, I have great sympathy for you.  You clearly want to do the right thing, help other young people to learn and live the Faith.

Firstly, you have to learn a lot.  Know the Magisterium (note the spelling) of Popes.  Also, the teachings of Popes are founded on fundamentals.  You have to know well the fundamentals of the Faith.  I suggest getting copies of the different levels of the Baltimore Catechism, which is clear and practical.

What I think you are saying with you don’t think that the “Magisterium” has your back is that you don’t think that the pastor, bishop, bishops, Pope have your back.  You sense that you should be heading this way but they are going that way.   You might worry that you will teach one thing and then Father will say something contradictory from the pulpit.

This is when your preparation is so very important.   If this is important for every Catholic today, it is that much more important if you are in a position where you are forming people.  That’s aimed at parents, too.

If you don’t think pastors, the “Magisterium”, have your back, then make sure that you have the Magisterium at your fingertips.  “Always be ready to give reasons…”.

Know your Faith.  Spending time in Scripture and in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.   When you hear something that isn’t right, or that is iffy, ask about it.   But be ready to clarify things if questions come up.

If there were some particular thing to focus on right now, take your cue from the Pew research and get up to speed on the Eucharist, both the doctrine about it and all that has to do with its celebration.  That means liturgy as well.

The Eucharist is described as the reality from whence everything we are as Catholics flows and back to which all that we are and do must be returned.  It is fons et culmen… source and summit.  Things come from sources and they flow back down from summits.  Make this a regular part of all that you present: basic teaching about the Eucharist.

Persevere and GO TO CONFESSION.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. mysticalrose says:

    I understand this concern completely. Over the past 6 years I have seen my authority in the (college) classroom slowly fade away. It is pretty difficult to convict one’s students of Catholic moral teaching when it appears that the Pope opposes it. And trust me — the lapsed and unchurched knew from word one that things were different “now” and that the Church has “changed” because of Pope Francis.

  2. Lurker 59 says:

    Some thoughts on the matter.

    I would caution against developing an “us vs. them” process. The kids will get caught in the middle and youth, when caught between authority A and authority B, gravitate towards choosing neither. This is why marriages of mixed cults tend to produce agnostic or atheistic kids.

    It might be absolutely true that the Magisterium doesn’t have your back, and especially true that your local priest doesn’t, BUT in what ways do you have the back of your local priest? Focusing on this will help to alleviate the development of hostility and antagonism in YOUR workplace. This is true for any job where the boss is lacking in competence or understanding of the business. Being good at your position as Youth Minister is not just about ministering to the youth but about how you function and minister to your coworkers and boss — like any other job you have to feed the office plants not just push your own paperwork.

    Now how do you communicate the Faith to youth in an environment that is indifferent, does so poorly, or is hostile? Youth are impressed by authentic action. You want to communicate an intellectual understanding of a topic, say the Real Presence. Ok, but what are you doing to, by your actions, manifest that intellectual understanding in your own life in a visible way that others can see? Ok, now how do you go about inviting your charges into a participation in that life?

    It is important to keep in mind, as someone educating, that the Faith is something that is believed, lived out, and then understood. It is not mathematics where one first understands concepts then is able to put it into practice. The practice comes before understanding. That is why we are not gnostics. It is why the academic is not more holy than the farmhand. It is not so much about talking until you are blue in the face but about working until you have blisters.

    When the youth see what you are doing, the way you are living the Faith, they will want to understand why — then you will be able to explain and in detail.

  3. erick says:

    About that poll. It seems it has been misquoted. The poll found that roughly 30% of Americans – not Catholics – did not know the teaching of the church on the Eucharist. I think the number for Catholics was more like 50% (still atrocious). Also I wonder whether they truly had a sample size that could legitimately gage Catholics because the poll was targeted at Americans in general, not Catholics in particular. But I couldn’t read it carefully so maybe I’m missing something?

  4. DonL says:

    Good advice Father Z, but all the same it is a very sad time in God’s Church when the laity must be better prepared to understand and teach the faith than the “magisterium” .

  5. Suburbanbanshee says:

    The Pew poll question wasn’t as bad as the one in the 80’s, but it was still potentially confusing.

    “Regardless of the official teaching of the Catholic Church, what do you personally believe about the bread and wine used for Communion?
    During Catholic Mass, the bread and wine —

    “Actually become the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

    “Are symbols of the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

    “No answer.”

    This seems confusing. They say “during Catholic Mass,” not “at the Consecration” or “during the Eucharistic Prayer” or any of the other possible answers that would seem normal.

    Because obviously, during most of “Catholic Mass,” (a weird way to put it, instead of “a Catholic Mass”) “the bread and wine used for Communion” are still just bread and wine, and do function as symbols of stuff like human labor. The “become” part might be rejected, because they might be rejecting consubstantiation. It just doesn’t seem Catholic, the way it’s asked. Bleh.

  6. DonL says:

    Lurker 59 I might raise the question of what comes first in being the faithful.
    I always loved the old Baltimore Catechism’s wisdom of sequencing that we must “know, love and serve, God” in that order.
    We must know , in order to love God, (otherwise, love is empty) we must love as a result of knowing God, and therefore, serving God becomes the manner by which we show our love for God.

  7. Elizzabeth says:

    Excuse me, but what does “I don’t feel the magisterium has my back” mean?

  8. Hugh says:

    I’ve been dismayed on two different occasions by devout, feisty, well read and very intelligent friends of mine when they revealed a materially heretical belief concerning the Eucharist. The proposition they held was that, notwithstanding the appearances of bread and wine to our normal sense perception, if you trained a powerful microscope on either form of the sacred species, you would, at some level, begin to see what you see when looking at blood or body tissue with the same instrument. They looked puzzled and highly skeptical when (to each person) I insisted that if one DID see blood or body tissue when looking through a microscope at consecrated bread or wine, one would be witnessing a second-order Eucharistic miracle, like that of Lanciano.

    Another weird meme I’ve heard from disparate otherwise fiercely orthodox Catholics was that, if you could successfully produce a “human” clone, then it wouldn’t have a soul!

    No doubt I entertain ignorances of the same order that I’ll be ashamed to discover at some point. As I get older, I find I’m increasingly in catch-up mode on Catholic teaching. I’m rereading Frank Sheed’s “Theology and Sanity” for the umpteenth time and still face-palming every other page.

    Off topic: thought for the day, from St Charbel:

    “He who prays begins to experience the mystery of existence. He who does not pray barely exists.”

  9. iamlucky13 says:

    Some teenagers ask very good questions. Some times they do it to try to trip up the grownups, but often they are earnest questions, and these earnest students will benefit greatly from good answers.

    I don’t think there is any single resource that handles all aspects well – not just what we believe, but also why we believe what we believe.

    Two other books I think are worthwhile to have on hand in addition to the Catechism for youth ministry:

    Theology for Beginners (as in beginning Theology students, not beginning Catholics) by Frank Sheed.

    Beginning Apologetics by Fr. Frank Chacon and Jim Burnham, actually a series of short study books. The third book in the series is specifically on the Eucharist.

    Theology for Beginners is probably best for personal study, to better understand personally the concepts you’re trying to explain. The organization of Beginning Apologetics makes it useful as a reference to look up answers to specific questions. It is geared mainly towards discussions with Protestants, but the topics are common, and young Catholics will likely have heard similar points made by Protestant friends.

    Quoting Lurker 59:
    ” Youth are impressed by authentic action.”

    One authentic action that can be taken, in addition to being reverent at Mass, where some of the youth you work with will notice your actions supporting your words, is participating in Eucharistic adoration. Better still, plan some events with the youth throughout the year to include both an explanation of and participation in Eucharistic adoration. Hopefully your priest at a bare minimum has your back well enough to assist with this.

  10. iamlucky13 says:

    Quoting erick
    “About that poll. It seems it has been misquoted. The poll found that roughly 30% of Americans – not Catholics – did not know the teaching of the church on the Eucharist. I think the number for Catholics was more like 50% (still atrocious). “

    I read a little more after clicking through to the fuller report, and it seems it is correct.

    At the bottom of the article is a link to the result of that specific question. If I understand right, 1,835 out of 10,971 respondents identified as Catholics. They asked those Catholics this question:

    “Regardless of the official teaching of the Catholic Church, what do you personally believe about the bread and wine used for Communion? During Catholic Mass, the bread and wine”

    69% responded that they are symbols.

    Note that they asked everyone “what does the Catholic Church teach?” and they asked Catholics specifically “what do you believe?” Only 50% of Catholics responding (compared to 34% of all respondents) even know that the Church teaches the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. 56% of those who do know the teaching accept the teaching.

    Less surprisingly, among those who report they attend Mass weekly, 63% believe what the Church teaches. Of those who attend monthly or less, it is only 25%, and for those who attend “seldom or never” it is 13%

    There appears to be some respondent comprehension error in the poll. Of the Catholics who do believe in transubstantiation, almost 6% believe the Church teaches they are symbols, and 3% are unsure. How weird is that?

    The unfiltered survey results are here:

  11. erick says:

    Thanks for checking that out more carefully for me. Good to know. Still I wonder, is 1,800 a representative sample of Catholics? Honest question.

  12. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    Iamlucky13: respondent comorehension error???? Are you serious?

    Have you attended an average non-Latin Mass parish? It would be safe to say 6% of parish priests teach that the Eucharist is only a symbol. And that 3% teach nothing. Those would be generously conservative estimates at the apostacy by the clergy…

  13. iamlucky13 says:

    1835 should be enough to get a very representative sample, but the method of choosing participants is important. As far as I know, Pew’s methods have been examined by others and are considered sound.

  14. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    I can’t speak to big data, but I tried to publish a survey paper in a peer reviewed journal in residency. A complaint by the reviewers was that my respondent rate was less than 2.5% which they considered the minimum acceptable for serious data.

    If the entire US self reported Catholic population was only 90,000 then the 1,800 would be acceptably reptesentative.

    There are 70+ million Catholics in the US, so 1,800 would represent only 0.0026%. I dont think that’s a representative sample. My peer reviewed med sci journal reviewers would have summarily rejected it.

  15. GregB says:

    I’ve become of the view that in all too many cases faithful Catholics are finding themselves in the position of Uriah the Hittite. How is a person to know what is the real Catholic teaching when there are so many frauds, many in clerical garb, often of high rank; when it takes a good, faithful religious education to establish that they are giving fraudulent teachings? It would seem that Gresham’s law (bad money drives out good) is at work in religious instruction.

  16. Gaetano says:

    If you think it’s tough as a youth minister, just imagine what it’s like for a priest/religious who understands how few in his diocese/congregation have his back. The same with women religious. I recall a gathering where several seminarians denied the Assumption, and no one even challenged them.

    At some point, one must ask what can be changed, what cannot, and proceed. Look to people like St. Athanatius, who fought Arianism almost single handed.
    Be glad you live at a time where internet communities can provide support. In the bad old days of the 70’s-early 90’s, there were far fewer resources.
    Lastly, if you feel yourself surrendering to the dissonance, it’s time to either find more support or shake the dust from your feet and move on. There’s no sense making yourself crazy when the people who are supposed to support you are actively undermining you.

  17. iamlucky13 says:

    Atra Dicenda, I’m not sure I stated very clearly what I meant with respect to those 6% and 3%: At face value, the results indicate 1 in 15 Catholics believe the Church teaches the Eucharist is merely a symbol, yet they believe it is Christ by their own discernment.

    Perhaps this is less remarkable than I consider it, but I find it more understandable that many Catholics believe the Eucharist to be as ordinary as it appears despite being aware that authority teaches it to be miraculous than I do that a few believe it the miraculous despite being told by authority it is as ordinary as it appears. Hence my suspicion that some respondents did not understand the questions.

    Regarding sample sizes, keep in mind that a high response rate from small sample population that is well-selected to be representative of the entire population is much more likely to represent the entire population accurately than a low response from a larger intended target population. One reason for this is there a considerable chance that factors that lead members of the sample population to decide not to respond could correlate to factors under study. This is called participation bias. While respondents only represent 0.0026% of US Catholics, among those chosen by Pew to participate in the study, the response rate was 76%.

  18. TonyO says:

    A complaint by the reviewers was that my respondent rate was less than 2.5% which they considered the minimum acceptable for serious data….

    There are 70+ million Catholics in the US, so 1,800 would represent only 0.0026%.

    To add to what iamlucky13 said, the “response rate” has to do with the number of responses out of the number that they sent out. Since they did not send out 70 million questionaires to all the Catholics in the country (what about the 40 million kids in that?) .0026% is NOT the response rate. More likely they questioned a number between 3000 and 7000 – this is very common in the polls that are put out by professional pollsters. The trick is to seek questions from a fairly representative group, and this is very hard to do. There is no way to be certain you have asked a representative group, but you can increase the prospects by knowing all the major factors that wold be likely to affect the answer and try to get people on all sides of those factors. It’s a science, but it’s results include a certain degree of probability, not certainty.

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