Coming Out of the Closet: I Am Not Charismatic

            I have a guilty secret, and I think it’s time to come clean.
First, I must explain that the city I call home has long been what might be called a hotbed of the charismatic movement, hosting multiple charismatic retreats and Praise and Worship youth events each year. Parishes across the diocese hold special Praise and Worship adoration nights. Almost every parish has a Youth Mass, at which P&W music is played, and a youth group for which the same music is played.  
Now, in a way, this is all well and good. I’m overjoyed to see people, especially young people, taking their faith seriously and praising the Lord with their all their body and soul. There are some very wonderful people whose lives have been changed by this sort of music and prayer.  So, as I say, it’s all well and good—for people who are charismatic. But after years of attending charismatic youth groups and Masses and listening to Praise and Worship Music, I have a confession to make: I am not charismatic.
            I can’t help it. I honestly did my best to “just let the Holy Spirit move me” by participating as fully as I knew how, holding my hands up and swaying and singing along with all my heart. After all, for people my age, there wasn’t all that much else available. Every youth event and every youth group is, so to speak, à la charismatic renewal.  Short of joining the “elderly and older” choir—or the convent—I didn’t really have a chance to participate in a more traditional style of music, liturgy, or praise.

            So, I tried it. But through it all, I wasn’t really satisfied. I eventually had to face the fact that charismatic prayer and charismatic music move me much less to raise my mind and heart to God than does more traditional music—and I don’t mean the 1970’s and 80’s Marty Haugen songs in the Glory and Praise Hymnal.

One of the most common assumptions in youth groups seems to be that it is easier for everyone to really “participate” in liturgy or prayer if it is cushioned with the rock-music patterns they are accustomed to.  It’s thought that Praise and Worship music is easier to sing along with, easier to “get into” than other music. I agree; but that doesn’t mean that it will better raise the mind and heart to God.  Irish drinking songs are also easier to sing along with and “get into,” but that is not an indication of their intrinsic musical or spiritual merit. Making up solo dance moves is easier than learning the complexity of the tango; but dancing the tango, once you’ve learned it, is a much more awe-inspiring way to dance.
The word “charismatic” comes from the word charism, which means a special gift given by the Holy Spirit to individuals for the good of the Church. Being “charismatic” in the Praise and Worship sense is simply not my individual gift. I find I can pray much more easily when listening to Gregorian chants and polyphonic motets by composers like William Byrd or Palestrina than to something akin to what plays on the soft rock station.  Again, for people who are charismatic, I believe God can and does use P&W to bring them closer to Him. But it is not this way for everyone. I began to be frustrated when I found that every time I confessed to a youth group that I prefer old music and am “not really a fan of P&W,” I was looked at as if I had just announced I was going to join SSPX and wear a burqa.
The response I got alerted me to the fact that the vast majority of Catholic youth in America are treated as if they would all unanimously prefer praising God to pseudo-rock than to anything else. The sacred music that has been at the heart of the liturgy for hundreds of years has just as much power to move hearts and is just as much a channel for the Holy Spirit to reach us as anything produced by a snare drum and a guitar. Why is it automatically assumed that it is better to give everyone under 21 what Matt Maher wrote last month than, say, Thomas Aquinas’ Pange Lingua? (Edit: I’ve heard Matt Maher’s version, “Jesus, Lamb of God,” but it’s just not the same as even two or three guys singing Thomas Aquinas’ own version a capella.)
Baseball legend Babe Ruth once wrote a sort of spiritual auto-biography entitled “The Kids Can’t Take It If We Don’t Give It.” in which he pointed out that if we neglect to pass our religious tradition and heritage on to the young, they will never have it, and we can’t expect them to one day just wake up and choose it for themselves. Teens in my diocese who are regularly fed Casting Crowns, Switchfoot, and Rich Mullins probably haven’t even heard of Palestrina’s soul-stirring Sicut Cervus.  Have most Catholics my age even been given the chance to experience really sacred music, or learn about their Catholic musical and liturgical inheritance? Are they expected to go find it on their own if they want it?
So, I love my charismatic friends, and I love the liveliness of their faith. But I’ve had a taste of the indescribably beautiful treasures the Church has to offer in sacred and liturgical music, and my question is: when do we get to share it with our youth? Because, as Babe Ruth would say: they won’t ever have it if we never give it to ‘em.    


  1. Another wonderful post….

    I find myself having the same thoughts you have in that I am not charismatic, especially when it comes to music. One of the things that I greatly love since becoming Catholic is the musical heritage of the Catholic Church, such as Gregorian chant. Not going to a more traditional parish, I am unfortunately not able to hear it much in a parish setting. But whenever I am able to hear it (I have a couple CD's, for instance, or perhaps over the Internet or EWTN), I do love it.

    I do not really listen to much contemporary Christian music, but no doubt there is plenty of it I would enjoy listening to at times (Being a GKC fan, I naturally want to listen to some more of Rich Mullin's music, for instance). And, indeed, some that I have heard I love. But I *much* prefer more traditional music (especially in the context of the liturgy). I find it much more helpful in lifting my heart up to God in worship. Perhaps others are different, but I can only speak for myself.


  2. I think part of the reason so many parishes are turning toward this “feel good” type worship is because it's what the Protestant youth groups do! So many of the Catholic youth turn to Protestant “worship” because it's an easy way out- they're missing the depth and beauty of Catholicism! If the Church doesn't start holding tight to their traditional way of worship, we're going to slide into a more Protestant way of life, and teens are going to start losing the intensity of true faith that surpasses feelings.
    Thanks for this post!


  3. I share your problem. Praise and Worship music is, as you said, supposed to help young people connect with the mass. But for me, brought up on the more traditional music, it is a distraction from the real meaning of mass. If all the youth come to mass for is the music, how are they going to cope when there is no modern funky music?

    That's actually a question I've thought about quite a bit before, and something my family has discussed many times. In our parish we have 'Children's Liturgy' a watered down version for the young children. But I have noticed that when they leave the children's liturgy and become teenagers, you rarely see them at mass. And I just wonder, is it the fact that, because they have been brought up on a mass specially constructed for them, they find the real mass too hard to handle?

    Anyway, I loved your post. You always write such thought provoking posts. It's a pleasure to read your blog.



  4. Thank you all so much for your kind comments! 🙂 I definitely agree with you, Mike, Arafea, and Imogen! I really feel that it isn't fair to young adults (or anyone) if they aren't given the opportunity to enjoy and appreciate some of the breath-taking sacred music of the Church.

    Elavria, actually, the title is not from a Chesterton quote, lol! (Surprisingly!) It's actually from another of my favorite authors, as you can read here: 🙂


  5. I respect your opinions and your choices, but in writing this topic, you are generalizing the charismatic spirituality assuming that it only consists of rock-ish music and that only young people participate in it.
    Charismatic music is just that, music singing of God's goodness, steadfastness, etc. It is not a genre, it isn't a specific style either. It varies from from modern to older, more classic “church” music, hymns like “Be Thou My Vision” and the like.
    Also, you have to understand that young people, especially teenagers, like a certain kind of music because their youthfulness gives them a certain energy older folks don't have anymore. Regardless of their religious beliefs, you'll hear young people listen to lively music with upbeat tempo. It's a matter of age, psychology and human growth & development.

    Keep in mind that being charismatic is not “the” gift one can receive. There are charismatic gifts such as wisdom that does not necessarily mean you have to sing to receive or share. Charismatic spirituality is simply recognizing that the Holy Spirit is at work just as He was from the beginning of time and that He wants to cooperate with us in evangelism. Charismatic spirituality is about having a deep, personal and daily relationship with the trinity. It's not music, it's not raising your hands or praying out loud. It's about you and God, and you express your devotion to Him according to your personality.

    I don't think young people aren't given the “opportunity” to “favor” older liturgical music. They know it's there, but like I said, their age prefers another type, just as Christians from different eras have liked different types of religious music like gospel, blues, etc.

    Just think that the so called “traditional” music was once upon a time modern. And some older folks might have found it too rowdy for them.

    The great thing is that there are many Masses, many ways of praying. Being a good Catholic doesn't mean you favor one music or another, or that you even have to pray the rosary (it's optional and not to everyone's style).

    So don't worry, and don't assume people assume things about you. Be at peace.


  6. Interesting post — and I loved hearing people's thoughts. My youth group is rather “charismatic” in the sense that you mean. My family has never been a charismatic type either (and I know I'm generalizing here). However, I've come to appreciate the up-beat music that is used to praise God. I feel that it does help me really feel God's love for me, and express my desire for Him as well. However, I think it has it's place. I also happen to love traditional Latin hymns and other more traditional music, especially at Mass. I feel that during Mass, more sacred and conservative music should be used — and I happen to dislike the 1970s and 1980s “hymns” very much for that reason. I think the upbeat music that teens (including me) love can be used in praise and worship sessions — those have their place. But, time should also be spent praising with quieter chants and other hymns. I love praying and meditating to chant music, when I want more contemplative prayer, or the rosary, or just sitting and listening. But, when I like to pray and have fun praising God with other people, I love the praise and worship music. It really helps me to connect with others in seeing how great our God is.

    So, those are my thoughts — I definitely do see how some teens don't really wish to appreciate the traditional music, and I do think it should be introduced to them. My mother loves traditional hymns, so I get to listen to them quite often, and I like searching them out on my own. Others aren't like that, but I still think each music has its place in our liturgy and in ministry. 🙂

    –Liz B


  7. I realize I'm jumping in late here, but I agree with you 100% percent.
    “I began to be frustrated when I found that every time I confessed to a youth group that I prefer old music and am “not really a fan of P&W,” I was looked at as if I had just announced I was going to join SSPX and wear a burqa.”
    This line is CLASSIC. CLASSIC. I LOVE it.


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