‘It Doesn’t Get Much Cooler Than That’

The winners of the Register’s first-ever essay contest relate why “Catholic Is Cooler Than Secular.”

First Place —

$1,000 Scholarship

Catholic Is Cooler Than Secular

By Christopher Oppermann

The Catholic Church is much cooler than the secularism of the contemporary West. Indeed, secularism has a rather peculiar relationship with Catholicism: It is not so much that Catholicism is directly opposed to secularism; rather, Catholicism, more often than not, perfects the ideals of secularism. The Catholic life picks up where secular uprightness can go no further. Catholicism provides meaning and purpose, where secularism can only offer a superficial or feel-good rationale.

Take, for example, our contemporary culture’s craze with social-justice issues. We hear constantly of campaigns by Bono, Starbucks, Motorola and dozens of other celebrities and corporations to buy their campaigns’ products or support their causes. Yet their appeal is often made to a vague sense of “social responsibility,” or to some emotional ethos that is difficult to articulate.

Catholicism, on the other hand, provides a solid intellectual foundation, grounding social justice in the unchanging truths about the human person: Each man and woman is created in God’s image and deserves our love and protection. Catholicism has the power to transform the idea of “community service” into the reality of passionate and loving charity. The Catholic Church delivers more food, water, medicine, health care and other necessities of life to more people around the world than any other private organization, and it does so with dutiful silence, without pomp or publicity. Participating in and contributing to the Church’s works of charity makes a person part of a social-justice movement that is bigger, more effective and deeper in meaning than any secular organization in the world today. It doesn’t get much cooler than that.

Or take, for example, how the Church gives new and better meaning to the supreme secular virtue of “diversity.” Catholicism recognizes that to give up one’s commitment to dogmatic or moral truth merely for the sake of avoiding conflict robs him of anything worth living or fighting for. But at the same time, the Catholic Church manages to draw members from all states and walks of life. In her, the wealthiest businessman and the most destitute peasant both find refuge. Only a constant commitment to truth and tradition, like that kept by the Catholic Church, can create a lasting home for hundreds of cultures and millions of peoples. Not even the university, the American incarnation of diversity and tolerance, can match the unity among peoples that the Church has effectuated throughout its history.

The Catholic Church is so cool, in fact, that today’s secular society owes its very existence to Catholicism. Western art and architecture, for more than 1,000 years, evolved under the patronage and inspiration of the Church. Catholic scientists developed the foundations of modern science. Catholic monks preserved the records of the West’s ancient heritage. Canon law laid the foundations of modern legal systems. The list of Catholic contributions goes on and on.

The little bit of true coolness that secularism can claim comes from the Church. Catholic is cooler than secular — way cooler.

Christopher Oppermann is a freshman at Harvard College in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

First Runner-Up — $750 Scholarship

Catholic Is Cooler Than Secular

By Kelly Conroy

iPods are a great new technology with many benefits. They provide “pump up” music to listen to when we run or “favorite tunes” while we wait on a bus. iPods are small, lightweight and come in a variety of colors and styles. But what really makes iPods cool is their potential — their potential to become “Catholicized.” By this I mean the addition of the Rosary, Liturgy of the Hours, Gregorian chant and Catholic talks to our play lists. iPods can be full of dirty music with foul language and inappropriate themes, or they can be used as instruments to help us learn more about and grow in our faith. iPods are just one example of the way that we can escape the secular norm and use modern advancements for Catholic purposes.

I am just a freshman in college, but in my 19 years, I have learned that it is cool to be Catholic, to be a part of the 2,000-year-old tradition that helps us to live fully so that we can share eternity with God.

In my junior year of high school, my brother left home to enter the seminary. He gave his room to my older sister, his boom box to one of my younger sisters, and his coin collection to the other. He gave me his iPod. At first, I was disappointed because he did not have any new “cool” songs. Instead, I found religious songs, prayers and talks. I plugged the iPod into my car on the first day of my junior year of high school and continued to do so every day. I never realized what a blessing it would be to begin every day with a Rosary and end the school day with lessons about the Church!

My prayer life took a giant leap, and I felt more peaceful and confident at the start of each day. The time I spent listening to the iPod strengthened my resolve to attend Mass, confession and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament more frequently.

My Catholic faith is more important to me than secular entertainment because it is what makes me happy for more than just a couple passing hours. So when my friends ask me if I “jam out” to my iPod, I respond, “Oh yeah — I jam with Jesus!”

A popular classmate of mine once walked up to my car as I was leaving school and poked his head in the window. He asked, “What in the world are you listening to?” After I told him, he just shook his head and walked away. A couple weeks later, he brought up the incident and wanted to know why I listened to the “Catholic stuff” and how I was always happy. These questions led to many discussions on the faith. He continues to search, just like the rest of us, but he did say that the Catholic Church seems “pretty cool.”

I think it’s pretty cool that we can use secular advancements to share the Catholic faith with others.

Kelly Conroy is a freshman at

Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland.

Second Runner-Up — $500 Scholarship

Catholic Is Cooler Than Secular

By Melanie L. Souchet

Roman Catholicism and secular society seem to have a one-sided love-hate relationship. I say “one-sided” because only secularism indulges in the “hate” bit — most of the time. Secularism can be positively bipolar in its treatment of Catholicism. On one end of the spectrum there are books like The Da Vinci Code, which insists Jesus wasn’t celibate and that Catholics are a bunch of crazy, conspiracy-hiding maniacs. Then you turn around and see the Catholic-on-accident movie The Exorcism of Emily Rose, which portrays Catholicism in a respectful light. One second, secularism is tearing the Catholic Church down; the next, it seems utterly fascinated by her.

One might ask, “Why is this? If secularism doesn’t like the Catholic Church, why doesn’t it just ignore her? What you don’t care about shouldn’t affect you, right?” Obviously, this isn’t the case; otherwise, the works of people such as Dan Brown or Richard Dawkins wouldn’t have a following.

There’s only one explanation. The First Rule of Grade School Bullies: “He’s only making fun of you because he likes you.”

That’s right; the reason secularism loves to tear down and/or profit off of Catholicism is that it knows something deep down, something that it rarely willingly admits out loud.

Maybe, Secularism thinks, Catholic is cooler.

If this is the case, then what makes Catholic cooler? It’s simple: Catholicism offers things secularism only promises. How many people have steeped themselves in secularism only to come away empty? They feel happy, but not for long. Most of the time, they’re just empty. These people just sort of shuffle through life feeling lukewarm and semifull. In some extreme cases, they even destroy their lives in an attempt to find this happiness.

Some of these people search for lasting happiness and discover religion. Some discover Catholicism. Then they know they’ve come home.

They found everything they knew they were missing — and some things they didn’t even realize they were missing: self-worth, purpose, forgiveness and an undying, pervasive sense of hope. They find joy, that real happiness that lasts longer than a few days or weeks.

But — most importantly — they find themselves in the fullness of a truth they were seeking all along. They find themselves in the arms of God, who cares about them more than anyone else in the world, who never stopped loving them. Life is worth living when you’re loved as God loves.

Catholic is cooler because, unlike secular, Catholic satisfies. She offers hope, salvation and a life beyond the rat race. She offers the happiness and love that all people long for. Catholicism has God, and that’s enough in itself.

There are many other things that make Catholicism cool. The ancient nature of the religion, the architecture of her churches, the Swiss Guards, the priests’ garments. But I think one girl at World Youth Day summed up Catholicism best through this cheer: “There ain’t no party like a Catholic party ’cause a Catholic party never stops.”

Catholic is cooler than secular.

Melanie L. Souchet, a home-schooled senior in high school, writes from Brunswick, Maine. She has narrowed her choice of college to three Catholic institutions.

Points and Parity

The judges in the Register’s first scholarship-essay contest had their work cut out for them. The nominating committee — led by the magnanimous Register donor who put up the money for the awards — pared the field to seven outstanding finalists. Then five Register editors had the tough job of deciding which of those presented the best case for why “Catholic Is Cooler Than Secular.”

Each judge awarded seven points to his or her choice for first place, six points for second place and so on. There were no unanimous choices, but the integrity of the simple point system bore out in the results: Each of the top three had at least one first-place vote.

The essays were lightly copy edited for presentation to our readers.

Congratulations to our winners. Thank you, all entrants. And a special tip of our hat to our donor who made the contest possible.

— Editors

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito says of discerning one’s college choice, ‘There has to be something that tugs at you and makes you want to investigate it further. And then the personal encounter comes in the form of a visit or a chat with a student or alumnus who communicates with the same enthusiasm or energy about the place. And then that love of a place can be a seed which germinates in your own heart through prayer.’

Choose a College With a Discerning Mind and Heart

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito, assistant professor of theology at the University of Dallas (UD) and subprior (and former vocations director) of the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas, drew from his experience as both a student and now monastic religious to help those discerning understand the parallels between religious and college discernment.