While Katie Keelan, 18, of Wauwatosa, currently a freshman at UW-Oshkosh, doesn’t think the world is R-rated, she said some things in it are – like nudity, extreme violence and curse words – with the exception of violence in the news or nudity in the tribes of Africa.

“There might be some morally offensive language and images, but I don’t let it affect my faith or how I run my life,” Keelan said. “God has shown me that as long as I have faith in him and in Jesus Christ, then the world I live in, the words I hear and the images I see, do not hinder the way I feel.”

Keelan said being “cool” used to mean fitting in and conforming to social standards, but her Catholic education helped her realize the importance of being who she wants to be.

“At this point in my life, I think it is cool to be Catholic, because I am comfortable with my faith and beliefs,” she said. “In the past, it might not have been the easiest if I hadn’t attended a Catholic grade school or high school, but that helped me be comfortable with it, and now that I am at a university, religion is something that is accepted no matter what religion it is.”

Denial not the answer

To live out her faith, Keelan said she attends Mass and knows God loves her no matter what, but she also doesn’t try to live as though the R-rated aspects of the world don’t exist.

“To ignore the issues in today’s world is comparable to pretending that we live in a perfect world, which is far from the truth,” Keelan said, explaining although it’s not impossible to shield herself from the R-rated things in the world, it’s ignorant. “That does not mean we have to accept an R-rated world or participate in it, but it is there and why deny it? If you don’t like the world you live in, then you can do what you can to change it.”

Keelan also said that sometimes society is persuasive and she’s tempted by things that might be viewed negatively.

“And I may give in to some of them (temptations) like getting my nose pierced and saying an occasional swear word, but that does not make me a bad person. God is still in my heart and I still have faith in everything I do,” Keelan said. “God is always with me and the only way I let society impact my faith is by making it stronger.”

While going against the societal grain may be difficult, Keelan said that the most important thing young adults can do is live life the best they can.
“Go to church as often as possible and live a life God would be proud of. In today’s conflicted society, there are so many temptations to do things that aren’t necessarily moral or good, but if we truly have faith, then taking the right path will not be an issue,” she said.

‘False sense of sexuality’

Matthew Brotz, 23, a Cardinal Stritch University senior, said that one of the things that “bugs” him the most is the “unnecessary use of inappropriate or vulgar language” in popular songs and movies, but also the portrayal of sex in the media.

“It doesn’t seem to matter whether or not the characters are married. Sex is just seen as something humans do, and we should just accept this. What is supposed to be a private thing shared between a husband and a wife has now become public entertainment,” Brotz said in an e-mail interview with MyFaith. “Even more bothersome about this is that some of these shows are seen by younger people, children and teens, and this gives them a false sense of sexuality.”

Brotz, who attends Lumen Christi Parish in Mequon, said that being Catholic in an R-rated world means living outside the mainstream culture where he also said Catholicism is viewed like many religions as something “widely frowned upon” in the media, TV, movies and music.

“For many, even those who are Catholic and believe, it is easier to ignore their faith in front of others than stand up for it,” he said.

By surrounding himself with friends who share his faith, Brotz said he doesn’t experience the struggle between being “cool” and living his faith because they all agree that it’s “cool” to talk about their faith. In circumstances where people don’t share his religion, he’s never afraid, but proud, to admit his Catholic identity.

“The challenge, though,” Brotz said. “is in what to immerse yourself in. I will see many previews for movies or for TV shows and think, ‘Wow, that looks funny.’ But then I start to think, ‘Is this production really in line with my Catholic values? Should I watch it, or financially support it?’ I think that’s the biggest struggle for me, personally.”

Support for living your faith

Brotz’s involvement in two local Catholic young adult groups – Lolek in Elm Grove and Water’s Edge in West Bend – help him live out his faith in the secular society.

“In both of these groups, we have social gatherings where we discuss our faith as well as fun events such as summer sports games and sledding,” he said. “We also do service projects, like a recent stocking-stuffer event that benefited children in refugee camps.” Brotz also attends church every Sunday and daily Mass as often as his schedule allows, prays often and tries to live each day in a way he feels that God would want him to live.

While he doesn’t think it’s impossible for young adults to shield themselves from the R-rated world, Brotz said it’s all about whether or not people buy into the evils that will exist as long as unbelievers continue to support them.

“We can, however, choose consciously to not support the R-rated world, and to keep in mind that God loves us no matter what,” he said. “and we can be strong and live our lives the way he wants us to. This is very difficult at times, but I believe it will be worth it in the end.”

One of the most important things that Brotz said young adults can do is to join a group like Lolek or Water’s Edge, where fun, genuine people are not afraid to openly discuss their faith, but another option is to attend eucharistic adoration.

“I remember the first time I did so and it really made me aware of God’s undying love for us. It gave me the courage to not be afraid to admit I am a proud Catholic, even when so many are willing to look down on me for it,” Brotz said, explaining that it might be difficult for people but his attitude is that while he will not ridicule or treat anyone differently if they don’t accept his faith, he won’t back down on his beliefs to keep a friend.

Samantha Erschen, 22, who’s in her first year of graduate studies at Cardinal Stritch University, and belongs to St. Anthony on the Lake Parish in Pewaukee, said she doesn’t believe God calls people to shield themselves from the R-rated world.

Called to be counter-cultural

“I believe, rather, that God calls us to take observation of our surroundings and peers, understand the culture and then be the living counter-cultural example presented to this world,” Erschen said in an e-mail interview with MyFaith. “Meeting people where they are, assuming we are safe and use God’s strength, and then taking the lead will cause us to face the problem head on and strive to make a change.”

Erschen said that responding to difficult situations by being excited about living the Catholic faith is a way to overcome the struggle.

“Hold morals and values in your regard and see them as treasures,” she said. “I see my morals as gifts that I give to this world and, perhaps, to my future spouse if God calls me to the vocation of marriage. I take responsibility in leading my younger brother, cousins, and younger members of my parish community by examples ‘in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity’” (1 Tm 4:12).

When the world has R-rated qualities that cause a struggle for young adults trying to live out their Catholic faith, Erschen said it’s important not to judge.

“Meet people where they are and live the way God calls us to live, with compassion and in community with one another,” she said. “God calls each of us to a particular aspect in life. If we find that vocation, we find aliveness, excitement and enthusiasm to live each day we receive.”

In the midst of the struggle, Brotz said to remember that there are many other young adults going through the same thing.

“I would just say that if you are a young adult who is struggling with living out the Catholic faith in today’s society, know that you are not alone,” Brotz said. “Pray hard, attend Mass and come to a young adult group meeting. We are all in this together and the Lord is here for us. He hears our prayers, and he is always pulling for us to do the right thing. Most importantly, never lose faith.”

Here are a few others’ viewpoints on the topic:

Jackie Lesperance, 27, a member of St. Monica Parish in Whitefish Bay, said that being Catholic means not looking beyond this world. “I think being Catholic means that you don’t look to this world when you’re setting your standards for what’s acceptable or desirable – you look to Jesus,” Lesperance said in an e-mail interview with MyFaith.

While she would consider a lot of what’s shown on TV, in movies and music videos as “over-sexed,” she said some is “borderline pornographic” and on purpose. “From the picture they paint (in the media), it would be strange to think that someone could actually graduate from high school without having had sex with multiple partners – it’s ridiculous,” Lesperance said. The challenge Lesperance faces is trying not to judge. “At this point, for me, the biggest struggle is to not be overly judgmental of the individuals who either participate in the production of this type of media or watch it,” Lesperance said. “I can disagree with (the) content of a movie, but it’s not for me to judge the content of a person’s soul.”

Lesperance lives out her faith in the R-rated world by reading the Bible, spiritual books, praying and investing in shared-faith friendships. “I don’t think it’s possible to block out everything bad, but I also don’t think tha tyou need to shielf yourself entirely from the world,” Lesperance said. “We are called to love the world into something better. That being said, we don’t need to clutter our heart and mind with unhelpful images and messages. I try to steer clear of anything that dramatizes or reveres pettiness, promiscuity or materialism.” Lesperance suggest others do the same in their lives. “Definitely pray – regularly. And don’t forget that every dollar you spend is a vote,” she said.

Heather Distel, 26, who belongs to St. Patrick Parish in Elkhorn, said that remaining faithful to the Catholic Church’s teachings is what it means to live the Catholic life in an “R-rated” world. “Not only do I remain faithful to the teachings, but I strive to live out my love for Christ in my daily life, no matter the adversity,” she said in an interview with MyFaith.

One way Distel lives out her faith is by choosing to save sex for marriage. “It definitely is something that is not the popular thing to do and it becomes all the more difficult when society as a whole can’t understand why,” Distel said. “Because of that, I am all the more sensitive to material that is R-rated, inappropriate and the like because it in no way helps me to remain faithful to that decision that I made a long time ago.” But she also lives out her faith by being what she described as an “actual faithful Catholic.” “Many people claim they are Catholic but they don’t put it into practice in many ways. I talk to Christ and Mary every day and rely heavily on them,” Distel said. “I do not understand how people can survive everything this life hands to them without faith.”

One thing she does to better the rating in her world is using the remote when watching TV. “One thing I can do that seems very elementary is change the channel/stop the movie if something comes up in a program that I find inappropriate or ‘R-rated,’” Distel said, though she would like to hear how others “shield” themselves from the “R-rated” content because she finds it difficult to do. “I simply avoid shows, movies and magazines that I know have questionable material.”

Peter (last name withheld), 31, a member of Saint Mary’s Visitation Parish, Elm Grove, said that holding fast to the truth of Catholicism in an “R-rated” world where society and even friends may try to pull us away from that truth is what it means to be Catholic. In terms of what he considers “R-rated” content, Peter said that it’s important to look to what the topics teach and where they lead people. “Jesus said it best in Matthew 18:6 ‘Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. …’” Peter said in an e-mail interview with MyFaith.

“For example, it would be wrong to make a blanket statement such as ‘Sexual themes shouldn’t be shown,’ because the Church itself discusses such themes,” he explained in an e-mail interview with MyFaith. “However, the Church presents such themes in a way that leads people towards respecting dignity of other human persons through a proper understanding of ourselves and our purpose. The media, on the other hand, frequently does it in a way that teaches us to treat humans as objects for our personal gratification. Therefore, R-rated messages, as mentioned in Matthew 18:6, are messages which lead people away from the teachings of our Lord.”

As a UW-Madison student, Division I athlete and member of a fraternity, Peter experienced when “cool” was in a struggle with his Catholic faith. “ ‘Cool’ for athletes and fraternity guys is often defined by how many beers you can drink and how many girls you can take home. But ‘often’ doesn’t mean ‘always.’ There are other ways to be cool,” said Peter, who used the pressure as a challenge to find ways to live out his faith and be accepted for actions, which were “cool and Jesus-approved.” “For example, when I lived in the fraternity, I organized parties which substituted table-soccer games, dart contests, swing dancing and poker tournaments for charity in place of the typical binge-drinking fests,” Peter said. “A little creativity and proactive planning can put you in the center of the social scene while preserving your Christian values.”

As an athlete, Peter said he was respected, not for having the most talent on the team, but for his hard work. “People respect work ethic. Examine your talents and se them as best you can…sometimes it’s hard, especially when you’re young and new at school, but just keep at it and if you need extra help, try hanging out more with people who respect your values. …” he said, adding that finding group events in the church bulletin as a good place to start. “Your reputation and respect will grow in time with these friends and with others as you keep living for the will of God.”

While Peter said his values are under constant attack in the “R-rated” world, he has a defense that’s stronger. “Christ is the best defense against these attacks, so I must stay close to him through prayer, fidelity and truly understanding the teachings of my faith,” he said. One way that Peter and his girlfriend go against the grain of society is by studying the Theology of the Body. “Society suggests that the only way to express love and intimacy is through sex. Studying theology of the body with my girlfriend has been a beautiful way of fostering intimacy and purity in our relationship at the same time,” he said.

Something he suggests that others can do is to frequently raise this question, “Especially in situations where society is putting pressure on you: How can I act, in this moment, in a way that glorifies God and shows my love for Christ?” Peter said.

But Peter also said that the “R-rated” world didn’t fly under God’s radar. “Jesus recognized that it’s an ‘R-rated’ world, which strives to lead us away from God’s will when he asks, in the Lord’s Prayer, that we not be led into temptation,” Peter said. “The only shield from the ‘R-rated’ world, therefore, is our Father in heaven. We can keep that shield strong by living in Jesus Christ.”