Politics & Policy

Celebrate Youth

A beautiful message for all from Sydney.

‘Have you noticed how sad the world is?” Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga, president of Caritas Internationalis, said to a gathering of Spanish-speaking youth over the weekend. “Well, that’s our mission,” he continued, “to irradiate joy, because the world lives in sadness and needs joy.”

No doubt you’ve noticed the sadness. Possibly in your life, in the lives of those you love. You’ve seen it in pop culture. Last week, as hundreds of thousands of young Catholics were making their way to Sydney, Australia, to be rallied by Pope Benedict XVI at World Youth Day, a magazine sat on newsstands nationwide sporting former Nickelodeon star Jamie Lynn Spears. OK! Weekly had Miss Spears with her “Baby Maddie!” declaring, “Being a mom is the best feeling in the world.” One couldn’t help but think of those Gloucester High School girls as the 17-year-old unmarried, now cohabitating, mother looked at you with lost eyes. To borrow a line from Jay Leno: Not OK!

We should all be glad, of course, that Jamie Lynn had her child. But we must stop and wonder aloud: Why would such a successful girl, a rare cultural icon of seeming virtue, not want more of herself? Why wouldn’t she have the confidence and self-respect to do something other than what, supposedly, everyone else does? I’m glad she had her baby, but why did she have to get pregnant in the first place? There are other fun opportunities for a single young person, on TV or off, than to be led by her hormones — or his — into sex and pregnancy before she’s ready.

The kids who gathered in Sydney want something different from Sex and the City and One Tree Hill. They are drawn to the offer of more. As Pope Benedict put it in his welcoming address, borrowing from Saint Paul: “Christ offers more! Indeed he offers everything.”

This doesn’t mean that the World Youth Day youth are immune from temptation. This doesn’t mean some won’t succumb. And this doesn’t mean every teenager has to embrace Christ, of course, to avoid pregnancy. But the World Youth Day witness goes beyond the uplifting eternal message the Catholics there embraced. The message for everyone is: Kids can do countercultural. Countercultural can be cool. Countercultural sure beats the same old. (And, yes, Paul VI was right.)

God bless Jamie Lynn for making the best of her situation, but not everyone has the resources to be able to proclaim as an unmarried 17-year-old, “Being a mom is the best feeling in the world.” Thankfully we have private crisis-pregnancy organizations who are ready to help those pregnant women who need the help. But while helping those who find themselves with an unplanned-for child, we’ve got to keep asking ourselves, How can we do more to inspire young people to want more?

A picture of hundreds of thousands of happy, energetic, creative young people can’t hurt.

And it’s not just about teens — it was more than teens at World Youth Day. Besides morality and theological concerns, common sense and data support the contention that you’re really better off keeping sex to marriage. You’re better off waiting on living together until there is a real commitment.

Quaint but true. And though e-mailers will no doubt declare that that’s a sad, sex-hating attitude, the fact is it’s a healthy embrace of greater joys — including, for everyone who takes on the challenge, waiting on a love that should know no end. It’s about respect and confidence. It’s about expecting more than what too many have settled for. It’s about holding out for everything.

It sounds like an after-school special, but how many otherwise smart girls still think if they give him everything they will get everything? It’s hard to blame them: Our popular culture rarely provides them attractive alternatives; too often, the adults in their own lives provide them with no attractive alternatives.

A single person can live a full, happy, busy, fulfilling life without sex. Too many young people don’t know this, and are instead chasing a happiness that often turns into a very sad story. There is a better way, and the young Catholics who were in Sydney have the challenge to go forth and live it. They are doing a brave thing in trying to irradiate the world with joy, all by themselves — so feel free to join them. You must admit, it doesn’t sound all that bad.

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is the editor of National Review Online.

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