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Helping Teens Express Their Spiritual Preferences with Respect

As kids grow older and develop their own liturgical and spiritual preferences, how can parents help them understand and express those preferences in a respectful way? Part of the answer is teaching them that the only “better” Catholic is the one God is calling them to be.


by Heidi Indhal


Our faith is a thing of beauty. Deep layers of rich tradition built upon the culture of art, architecture, music, and more that enhance our experience of Christ in the Eucharist during the Mass. Whenever we travel to a new church in a new city, Jesus is the same! What’s more, around the world our one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church is expressed in beautiful and unique celebrations and traditions that are equally reverent and faithful to the Holy See. Church buildings are built in styles ranging from simple to elaborate, Gothic to modern, and all celebrate the same Catholic beliefs.

Sometimes, however, we can get the idea that one of these traditions is superior to another. That someone who expresses their faith in a more complex or traditional way actually has more faith in the first place. But do they? This is the question posed by one of my teens recently, and it snowballed into a great conversation that could be used by all Catholic parents to help us phrase these differences to our kids in a positive light.

The simple answer, as I told my son, is that the only “better” Catholic is the “you” closer to whom God is calling you to be, not the “you” chasing the Catholic life he’s calling your friends to live. We easily can get so wrapped up in what our faith looks and sounds like that we forget what it is. I believe that, as a whole, Catholics could do a better job of pursuing holiness among ourselves without placing value judgments on just what perspective and expression of faith is “correct.” (*See note below.) 


Phrasing Internal Voices to Avoid Judging Others

As my son and I talked, we teased out a few ideas about how we phrase our internal voice to avoid judgement on others while remaining humble enough to learn and grow.

If, for example, we internally express our personal preferences for prayer and worship as “have to,” we approach unfamiliar settings (and those who enjoy them) with an attitude of: our way is correct, and anyone who doesn’t do it that way is therefore wrong. We place ourselves in the role of judge, jury and — dare I say — (gossipy) executioner.

If we take that back a step, we can frame these same issues as “should be.” In this case, we drop ourselves from judge and jury, down to critic. Sometimes this might be helpful, but more often than not it leads to a perceived authority that may not exist.  

The third option is “I prefer.” Because I do prefer things one way, but that doesn’t mean it’s always done that way. Preferences don’t change Jesus. Preferences demonstrate the virtue of humility when they listen and learn from our fellow Catholics. Preferences allow us to live our unique call to holiness through our talents and charisms. Preferences means friends, parents and siblings don’t have to express an identical life of faith to be equally devout.


What Do You Prefer?

Our faith is Jesus. Jesus present in the Eucharist — available every day around the world. I prefer an English-spoken Mass with traditional smells and bells. My kids have mixed opinions on the smells. I find that perfectly acceptable so long as they don’t hold their opinion as more valid than their brothers’ (easier said than done!), or let it dictate their behavior in Mass. During Mass I prefer a more traditional hymn with some chant mixed in from time to time. Yet, I prefer to enjoy more contemporary Christian music outside of Mass, and I love a good radiant adoration.

That’s who God made me to be. Who did he make you to be? How about your kids? Consider speaking with your kids about their own inner voice by creating a group brainstorm with your kids of have-to, should and I-prefer topics. I bet they have examples you’ve never considered!

Here are a few basic ones to give you a start:

Have to: “We have to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation.”
Should: “We should pray as much as possible to form a strong relationship with God and to better know him.”
I Prefer: “I prefer to sit in the front of the church during Mass so I am not distracted.”


*To be clear, I am speaking only of things that could be culturally varied, NOT things like the order and parts of the Mass, selection of readings, and core teachings of the faith.


Follow Jerry Windley-Daoust:

Publisher, Gracewatch Media

Jerry Windley-Daoust is a writer, editor, and father of five. He writes essays and stories at Windhovering and is the show-runner for Gracewatch Media, a small Catholic publisher. You can follow his latest publishing projects at gracewatch.org.

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