Finding God in religious and secular songs

Lindsay Steele
University of Northern Iowa student Jenna Becker speaks to Iowa Catholic Youth Conference participants last month at Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

By Lindsay Steele

The Catholic Messenger

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — More than 250 middle school students, parents and catechists from the Diocese of Davenport and Archdiocese of Dubuque experienced a day of faith, music and friendship at the Iowa Catholic Youth Conference (ICYC) at Mount Mercy University last month.

One of the most popular breakout sessions was “Your Music Belongs in Your Faith,” which University of Northern Iowa student Jenna Becker presented. She encouraged participants to think about the lyrics of their favorite songs, secular or religious. “Ask yourself, ‘What is Christ saying to me in this moment?’”


Catholics don’t need to avoid secular music and listen solely to Christian music. Look for ways the music you are attracted to can bring you closer to God, she advised. “We don’t need to get rid of the world; we just want to find the places where Christ can reside.”

During the session, she hoped to emphasize the beauty and importance of Church hymns and Christian music while also sharing how music can glorify God whether or not the artist intended to do so explicitly. For example, she loves the song “Mountain Music” by Alabama. Though the lyrics do not mention God, “The beauty I find in this song is an expression of a unique desire God has placed in me. It’s a song that makes me stand up, grab anyone and everyone around me and just dance! It’s talking about family values, spending time making music together and carrying on traditions from generations before you.”

Becker encouraged the students to discern whether the song they are listening to has elements of God’s truth, beauty and goodness. She highlighted Taylor Swift’s 2010 song “Enchanted,” and played a clip of the chorus:

This night is sparkling, don’t you let it go

I’m wonderstruck, blushing all the way home

I’ll spend forever wondering if you knew

I was enchanted to meet you

“When considering this story in the context of truth, beauty and goodness, we can discern if there is space for Christ in this song.” Becker explained that she found these qualities in the song, which focuses on a woman’s admiration for a man.

Swift’s recent hit, “Anti-Hero,” however, is problematic for young Catholic “Swifties” — as fans call themselves. In this song, Swift visualizes her murder by a family member and condemnation to hell.

“Maybe this is truly a fear Taylor Swift has,” Becker said. The song is not beautiful. “It’s quite sad actually. And this fear coupled with the topic of murder is certainly not good; in fact, Jesus weeps at this.”

Some songs may not bring listeners closer to God but that doesn’t put a particular style or artist off-limits, necessarily. “If you can’t find truth, beauty and goodness in a song, ask yourself why you feel drawn to it. If it’s the genre, try to find another song” that has a more positive message, she said. “We have to be cautious about what we’re allowing into our hearts.”

Becker also encouraged participants not to be “passive” singers and listeners during music worship at Mass. Think about the lyrics of the hymns and consider the meaning and context, she said.

Caroline Livorsi of St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City said Becker’s session was her favorite part of the conference. She appreciated Becker encouraging youths to embrace their unique music preferences. Sofia Contreras, also of St. Patrick Parish, said she liked the session because “it let us know you can find good things” in all kinds of music.

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