Here in the Diocese of Nashville, dining out can get tricky – especially during the summer months when fifteen million tourists flock to the Music City. Finding just the right, out-of-the-way place before the hordes of our great out-of-town guests find it is a quest. I don’t mean to brag, but, frankly, I’ve gotten pretty good at it.

A Fraternus buddy and fellow Exodus 90 brother and I had just settled into one of my favorite haunts, hidden behind the Cathedral of the Incarnation; when he asked, “Do you think millennials—men of your generation—see the Catholic Church as relevant anymore?” I get asked some form of this question a lot, so I responded without hesitation, “I hope not.” The answer surprised him.

Relevancy appears to be little more than a popularity contest. The men of my generation—the infamous “millennials”—are going to see what they are going to see. The Catholic Church should never feel compelled to be popular, relevant, or hip for them or for any other generation. She has never existed to be cool or culturally germane, and she should really stop trying to pretend she is. Such efforts are actually embarrassing. The truth is, millennials need the Church to be even less popular than she is. “Salt and light” are not always inviting. They are not about acceptance or relevancy in a relativistic world. What they are—what they should be—are the requisite characteristics of the Bride of Christ—the One. Holy. Catholic. Apostolic Church.

Almost 50 years ago a little known professor of dogmatic theology at the University of Tubingen said it well. That professor, Fr. Joseph Ratzinger—later Pope Benedict XVI—said it more beautifully, and perhaps more prophetically, than I ever could:

The future of the Church can and will issue from those whose roots are deep and who live from the pure fullness of their faith. It will not issue from those who accommodate themselves merely to the passing moment or from those who merely criticize others and assume that they themselves are infallible measuring rods; nor will it issue from those who take the easier road, who sidestep the passion of faith . . . The future of the Church, once again as always, will be shaped by saints, by men, that is, whose minds probe deeper than the slogans of the day, who see more than others see, because their lives embrace a wider reality . . . By this daily passion, which alone reveals to a man how many ways he is enslaved by his own ego, by this daily passion and by it alone, a man’s eyes are slowly opened. He sees only to the extent that he has lived and suffered. If today we are scarcely able any longer to become aware of God, that is because we find it so easy to evade ourselves—to flee from the depths of our being by means of the narcotic of some pleasure or other. Thus our own interior depths remain closed to us. If it is true that a man can see only with his heart, then how blind we are! We have no need of a Church that celebrates the cult of action in political prayers. It is utterly superfluous. It will destroy itself. What will remain is the Church of Jesus Christ, the Church that believes in the God who has become man and promises us life beyond death. Let us go a step farther. From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge—a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning . . . But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church. Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely. Then, they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret.[1]

If the future Pope Emeritus was correct, and I believe he was, then any attempt to “generationally tune” the Catholic Church will end up looking like what George Weigel calls “lukewarm, pick-and-choose Catholicism” or what Bishop Robert Barron calls “beige Catholicism”. It won’t be genuinely relevant, it won’t be accepted, and it won’t survive.

To be clear, I’m not an “end-of-the-Church-as-we-know-it” kind of guy. I’m not packing my bug-out bag in order to be ready to head to the catacombs, and I would certainly never wish any pain on the Church I love so much. To the contrary, because I love Our Lord and His Church, I pray she will publicly persevere and hold to her Bridegroom’s expectations. That said, it has to be clear to anyone who’s seriously paying attention, that it’s time the Church stopped being concerned with relevancy and acceptance, and once again focused on being authentic and true. At the end of the day, that’s all that really matters; and it’s what this world is crying for.

We millenials have plenty of people defining relevance, and the very act of doing it (even when achieved) is a preparation for obsolescence.  With so much clamor to be seen, what we need is authentic, because the relevant know little of that.  An authenticity born of the Church’s sacrifice—the blood of countless martyrs—will convince far more real men to join the faith than any amateurish attempts at being culturally relevant.  An authenticity that comes from two thousand years of commitment to truth, justice, beauty, and One Lord, one Faith, and one Baptism; that is the unchanging Holy Church of Jesus Christ my generation longs to see and experience.

To paraphrase words from Thomas Woods, if we want young men—or men, in general, as far as I’m concerned—to truly embrace the faith, we have to rise above the herd, declare our independence from a culture that thinks so little of us, and proclaim that we intend to live not as beasts but as men.[2] When we finally embrace this kind of conviction, mark my word, we will see millennial men embrace the Church and her Bridegroom by the millions. I’m praying for that day when enough of us man-up to the world and muster the courage to shout in honor of our Lord and every martyr who ever has sacrificed his life for the Church:

This is who we are—the unchanging Church of Jesus Christ built on the solid rock of Holy Scripture and Tradition. We’re not apologizing, and we’re not going away. We’re not going to be swayed by cuteness, and we’re not going to change just because you think we should—even if the whole world around us does.

God speed that day.

[1] Joseph Ratzinger, Faith and the Future (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1971)

[2] Thomas Woods, How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization (Washington, DC: Regnery, 2012), 214

  • At least by my observation, millenials are more educated about the Faith, and far more traditional, than the less educated, but more influential, Baby Boomers who seemingly control everything.

    I’m in the generation that falls between the two, which came right behind the Boomers. We’re frankly more similar to later generations than the Boomers, but have come so close to them in years that we’re constantly in their shadow and constantly in contact with them.

    With the Church, it’s interesting to watch how Boomers continue to believe that all the stuff that they though hip and cool when they were in their twenties is still just that. If you enjoy a personal type of agony, for example, go to the Mass that’s supposed to be for teens. Sure, there will be teens there, often doing the readings and what not, but the pews will be full of aging boomers of the hippy class. In contrast, speak to the Millenials, and they’ll know more about theology, and lament even the minor things like the “guitar” Mass, far more than anybody else in the parish.

  • Tim McHugh

    I agree with article, but it doesn’t mean we should stop trying to explain why The Church IS relevant . Good apologetics is needed more and more…

  • The only solid rocks that there are in Christianity are the Holy Spirit and Sacred Scripture.
    All of Christianity is regulated by Sacred Scripture. Tradition appears to be more fluid.

    • Gocards1

      “The only solid rocks that there are in Christianity are the Holy Spirit and Sacred Scripture”. If this is true then why are there over 30,000 protestant denominations all teaching something different but all claiming to be led by the Holy Spirit and Sacred Scripture. Also, without Sacred Tradition, the world would not have Sacred Scripture. If you don’t have Sacred Tradition you wouldn’t even know which books belong in the New Testament.

      • Tradition has self-limited. Vatican II, in Dei Verbum 21 says: “Therefore, like the Christian religion itself, all the preaching of the Church must be nourished and regulated by Sacred Scripture.”

      • Gocards1

        I’m not trying to diminish the importance of Sacred Scripture, just trying to increase importance of Tradition from your statement showing as an example of how the “me, the Holy Spirit, and the Bible” does not lead everyone to the fullness of truth.

      • We need the Holy Spirit and Scripture to help us figure out what part of tradition and Church teaching contains fullness of truth. It’s becoming increasingly evident nowadays.
        An interesting quote from Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium 12 says: “The entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One,(111) [cf. 1 Jn 2:20, 27] cannot err in matters of belief. They manifest this special property by means of the whole peoples’ supernatural discernment in matters of faith when ‘from the Bishops down to the last of the lay faithful’ (8*) [Cf. 1 Cor. 10: 17] they show universal agreement in matters of faith and morals. That discernment in matters of faith is aroused and sustained by the Spirit of truth.”
        We all have skin in the game.

  • Randal Agostini

    What do you define relevant to mean? If one wants to be in agreement with Jesus and emulate his teaching then it should all be relevant. It is important to reach out to those whose roots are not deep and who do not live from the pure fullness of their faith. Most of us are benefactors of a church environment that allowed us to place roots in our own time.
    Most would appreciate a church that is even more relevant to our daily requirements, which is a page out of original Christianity. Early Christian society was very attractive to outsiders, which was the driving force of the growth. The readings from today show how God himself found it practical to feed the Israelites, while stressing that was not the final objective. We are proud that the church founded hospitals and universities to look after our corporal needs. More of these services, not less, will go a long way to create an even wider environment of faith, which should generate the true light of Christianity.

    • John P Glackin

      As long as the government is not funding these institutions. The should be led and run by the Church.

  • Phil Alcoceli

    Great article. A real diamond and real gold don’t worry about being relevant but about being authentic. Authentic brings relevance without ever seeking it. Our God and Lord Jesus is Infinitely Authentic and seeks us but never begs or accommodates in any way to our sinful comforts. Authenticity only comes with solid, uncompromising, healthy boundaries. Need a reference? Ask those who keep real diamonds or gold. Ask every healthy living cell in our bodies. This is so true, even Heaven has high walls, gates and angels acting as bouncers on those gates (Revelation 21:12). Heaven has very strict entrance policies. Hell has wide open borders. Sound familiar? Catholic Authenticity is True Abundant Life, boundary destruction is Death. Those very occupied today with destroying boundaries have the ultimate self-aggrandizing power trip. Reference? Ask serial killers, the ultimate boundary destroyers.

  • coybdr529

    “The Catholic Church should never feel compelled to be popular, relevant, or hip for them or for any other generation. She has never existed to be cool or culturally germane, and she should really stop trying to pretend she is. Such efforts are actually embarrassing.”
    Very well said.

  • CLafayette

    Real men want a strong definitive Church…the “wishy-washy” pablum that is the present “church direction” should be and will be “spit out”.

  • Conspirador

    So when they say more “relevant” they mean to say a church more “entertaining”?!

  • Gary Ney

    “the Catholic Church will end up looking like what George Weigel calls “lukewarm, pick-and-choose Catholicism” or what Bishop Robert Barron calls “beige Catholicism”. It won’t be genuinely relevant, it won’t be accepted, and it won’t survive.
    80% of Catholics are lukewarm, beige and eat at the table of cafeteria.

    • Deacon Andy Espinosa

      In other words, “Cafeteria Catholics”

  • Mike Tenney

    I think there is a mean between extremes to be maintained. Yes, the truths of the church are eternal and we should not chase popularity or relevancy for relevancy’s sake. That said, the Church is in a relationship of God and man bridegroom and bridegroom). While God is unchanging, his bride is not. There are certain unchanging aspects of human nature but also great differences between cultures and times. For evangelizism’s sake, we must continue to be “relevant” in a sense. True, it is easy to go too far in that endeavor and compromise the truth. But It is also easy to go too far to the other extreme of imagining that we need to keep the church exactly the same as it’s “always been” forgetting that things like private confession, Eucharistic adoration, genuflecting, chant, organs, papal encyclicals, and mass in Latin, and lots of the social teaching are all innovations or developments from some period in church history.

    • John P Glackin

      And these things were being guided by the Holy spirit.

    • Mike Tenney

      Edit “bridegroom and bride”. 🤦🏼‍♂️

  • LinusPoster

    Ooo… catholic blog entry with references and citations? So often I see catholic opinion or advice spewed without a single reference to anything, with or without authority. Keep up the work. 🙂