Pop Gospel

You must set aside 8 minutes to watch this video (a friend sent me). Absolutely out of the box evangelism.

I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.  — Pope Francesco

Watch by clicking here.

11 comments on “Pop Gospel

  1. FranR says:

    Are you promoting this as “evangelism” to be emulated?

    • I leave that inherently ambiguous so that my readers can judge for themselves what is, without a doubt, a bold insertion of Catholic identity into mainstream pop culture. So, feel free to offer your judgment here!

  2. Sandra Clarl says:

    Hi Dr. Tom,
    I thought you might enjoy this video made by a seminarian here in Miami Fl. -another example of evangelizing outside the box !! My kids loved it and are still singing the catchy tune!
    If this doesn’t work just look up Communion Alvaro on YouTube

  3. Phil Steinacker says:

    I have real problems with describing this talent show performance as evangelizing.

    First, by all accounts it is a pop style love song and not an authentic song intentionally written to God. I recognize the device; it is one I used myself when we “performed” a “Hair” Mass back in the 70s at my church using songs from the musical Hair. We also used to do a so-called meditation song after Communion sung by John Lennon, “In My Life,” which I think was on the Beatles album Rubber Soul.

    One problem is that these lyrics are intended to express notions of love as understood by the secular culture. Because of the huge gap between them and how the Church understands love (and marriage), there is frequently a disconnect between lyrics which don’t apply very well to worship or love of God. There is sometimes a sexualization of love implied in secular lyrics which is obviously problematic, but even where that is not the case one must be willing to either stretch the meaning out of shape to apply it or ignore it altogether.

    I can say now that in our enthusiasm to make Mass “relevant” we entertained ideas which are just plain wrong, and for good reasons. Such music at Mass desacralizes the time we spend worhipping Our Lord.

    Granted, her performance was not at Mass, but one must ask: if this is evangelization as so many suggest, who exactly is she evangelizing? More importantly, what message is the core of this evangelization?

    Does anyone really think a religious sister on national TV/Internet moving her body to rock beats while belting out a secular love song is effectively leading people to Christ and His Church? Seriously?

    In what ways will her performance causse people to inquire about Jesus or the rest of the Godhead?

    Surely no one is proposing that this performance will trigger serious meaningful interest in a religious vocation?

    As for what may be in the best interests of this sister, exploring the story of the famous “Singing Nun” from the 60s, while not portending the same outcome here, certainly illustrates how religious vocations can be derailed by unnecessary and risky dabblings in the secular world. You can get the update on her here:


    As for the Hip-hop Seminarian, I am familiar with such evangelization tools, and I agree they are effective. The lyrics are clearly written to evangelize – they are not secular lyrics hi-jacked and pressed into duty outside their original and often conflicting intent. It certainly isn’t sacred muscic and doesn’t belong at Mass, but put to good use via YouTube some young people may respond by seeking more.

    However, this singing nun should not be seen as an example of evangelization – at all, ever.

  4. Phil Steinacker says:

    You don’t have to so formal just because I challenged your position in the post above :-). Please call me Phil.

    Thank you for your initial acknowedgment of my comment. I neglected to respond when I got the forwarded email because I was in the middle of something which commanded my attention at the time.

    Thanks also for the link. I thoroughly enjoyed Kathryn’s post, and because of what I read there and in the comments I was able to activate the translation feature and witness what she described in J-ax.

    Before I continue, I’ll share some things which may give you an insight to how my perspective is often shaped.

    I was outside the Church for 31 years (ages 22-53; 1972-2003), although I continued to believe in God, because I wanted to do what I wanted to do.

    Thirty-six years ago I undertook a battery of tests which measured 22 apptitudes and one learned skill. As you know, aptitude testing yields no wrong answers and all of them revealed whether the subject solves problems using inductive or deductive thinking. Ultimately, the tests determined whether the subject is primarily a subjective or objective personality.

    In the post-testing interview I was told most folks score heavily to one side or another on a linear graph but that I scored almost dead center, slightly leaning to the subjective. The interviewer said I was an anomaly; not one they don’t see from time to time, but still pretty uncommon.

    It seems I possess the unique ability to “see” the subjective perspective while retaining the capacity to appreciate the big picture; the objective. Most folks are heavily rooted deeply in one orientation or the other. I found no career application that beckoned me , but I’m beginning to rely on it some to navigate through various scenarios I encounter in the Church today.

    I will reference these particular perspectives later (I hope I do this well).

    Kathryn, like so many, is quite taken with the response by the audience and the judges. I also acknowledge my own thrill to witness the enthusiasm as it happened. It was a powerful few minutes, particularly after the judges began to talk with her. I had tears in my eyes as the blonde judge spoke; don’t know why, exactly, but something about her heartfelt reaction spoke to me on a very human, subjective level..

    However, I’ve also witnessed repeated occasions in which solid Catholics are unable to realistically grasp the sort of intersection between the secualr and some aspect of the Church or the Faith. I fear Kathryn reads way too much hope into the repsonse of the judges – especially J-ax.

    During my self-exile from the Church I lived in a culture dynamically very similar that shared by many in the studio audience. The externals are different, sure, but the interior attitude is the same. I KNOW that subculture, and I’ve always known the Church – even from a distance.

    They are thinking how cool it is that this person with a great voice is a nun; that she is more like us (aka “normal”) than we ever expected. Any movement is by the nun towards the subculture; there is no movement by the subculure towards the Church and the Faith. The loud intense cheering must be discounted because such things are creatures of an orchestrated moment in a huge crowd, and the associated exhilaration dissipates quickly afterwards. along with the endorphins producing it.

    I stand by my original position. Too many well-meaning Catholics seem so easily distracted by the high-energy flush of the moment and confuse the cheering for an embrace of a new novel and “obviously” successful form of the New Evangelization.

    Tom, if you examine the lyrics of her song you’ll see they barely fit into a Catholic understanding of praying to Jesus or an encounter with him. You can check it out here: http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/aliciakeys/noone.html

    Worse, we have no assurance that the judges, most of the audience in the theatre, the Italian TV audience, and the 25 million YouTube viewers ever realized she intended the lyrics to apply to Christ the same way we attempted to apply the Hair Mass to Jesus. In fact, do we really KNOW she meant the song as a worship song, or are we assuning it? Is it possible she was just a contender who is also a nun?

    As for J-ax, “transformation” is too strong and too early. I don’t watch shows like this but I have seen other videos of contestants with amazing voices shocking the judges, and the truth is that in such extreme cases the judges’ reactions consistently are just as extreme. I barely detected possible tears in his eyes, but even if they are there that doesn’t mean he is transformed as we Christians know it. His statement that by now he’d be pope if only… is meaningless. That’s the kind of hyperbole which emanates from judges of such shows to add drama.

    Is it posible J-ax could be transformed? Of course! Every encounter with a Christian can and should be a hoped-for opportunity to become an encounter with Christ. However, it’s way premature to pronounce J-ax a changed man. He’s also the sort who might see the opportunity to “liberate” Sister Christina from what he viscerally regards as a dead end life.

    The fact this woman is a nun is not going to lead anyone to Christ or into a vocation. Hearing God speak, as you know, requires time and practice at listening through silence for His whisperings. These setting are always packed with sound. Also, she said nothing about Jesus at all, and so no one watching is going to do more than react viscerally (as I also did) to the powerfully intense moments experienced here, and then move on.

    Remember, my argument is that this is not evangelization. If she had sung an authentically God-centered piece with a secular arrangement or had delivered to this crowd a first-hand encounter with the sacred (and there’s plenty of available material in both forms to a great voice like hers), then that would be genuine evangelization.

    In fact, I’d be willing to wager the reaction would have been similar but not quite as pronounced (a little quieter, but still intense) had she exposed them all – including 25M Youtube viewers – to the true beauty found in her wonderful voice combined with authentic sacred music and a compelling text with a capacity to melt hearts (some Renaissance stuff is like that). Carefully chosen and executed, these audiences still would have been blown away but also come away with a possible piercing of their hearts from the tiny hook she could have slipped into them. If her comments were focused on Jesus as her Lord and Love, it would have been all the more powerful a witness.

    However, not ONE moment of this video is about Jesus or exalts Him in any way.

    Evangelization without proclaiming some part, at least, of the kerygma is NOT evangelization. Furthermore, even IF a tiny handful of those across the millions watching it on TV & YouTube actually came to Mass for the first time in years the following Sunday, it would still be too small a return given the other downsides to this sort of thing I already covered last time. Of course, it’s possible that watching this could open a tiny door for some which leads to meaningful conversion later, but there will be many, many far more significant steps in such a conversion process than that little one. In any case, it still fals under the heading “anything under the sun is possible.” Yes. Well.

    Still, I’m glad you sent the link, Tom. It helped me clarify my thinking. I see why many are flocking to this as opening a door to a vibrant form of evangelizing. I also see that we have much more work to do to uncover the authentic evangelization forms we will need to tackle a post-Christian pagan world. The challenges we face today are vastly different than what confronted Peter and Paul, and their successors through the next 500 yaers or more. Read some of J. Budziszewski’s work on the essential differences in the obstacles to evangelizing the theistic pagans of the New Testaement and the atheist pagans today who are mostly ungrounded in knowledgeable discussion of religion and philosophy, compared to their forebearers.

    “Meeting people where they are” must not be confused with embracing the elements of the culture which separate them from being children of God.

    I hope this was cogently expressed. I had to stop at length a few times to handle other things. I also write infrequently, and when I do I like to edit down for tightness of thought and better word economy. I don’t have time to do that here. I apologize, Tom. This is a lot to read.

    My friends are all urging me to blog, but I fear I’d become engulfed in a flood of writing. I wonder what performing CPR upon a blogger drowning in his words would look like?


    Thanks so much,


    • Phil, the formality was respect for someone I do not know. But I will happily drop it at your request. 🙂 Thank you again for your commentary/tome! I will read this carefully (I printed it), but my first glance through produced in me the same response I had to the first: you are a clear and cogent thinker, and your arguments are powerful. And you write very well, notwithstanding you protests of time constraints. I am especially grateful that you employ so ably the scholastic axiom that so few engage in these days: “Never deny (in toto), seldom affirm (in toto), always make distinctions.” Careful thinking yields a fruitful dialogue that is truly a dia-logos, a “through reason” experience of communication that seeks truth.
      Even as some expressions of evangelization must be spontaneous, daring or bold, that never dispenses the evangelizer from Lady Prudence’s stern demands. While she likes to dance and play, she does so only according to the rules of dance and play. So, points well taken.
      God bless your Lent and if you ever do decide to Blog, which I think you should, please send me the link. Best, Tom

  5. Dear Tom,

    Loved it! Thanks for sharing. You made my day.

    With love,

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