As you well know, one of the trends in organized religion these days (and in Christianity in particular) is for children to not embrace the faith of their parents. In some parts of the world this is not nearly as serious a problem as it is here. But in the United States, Canada, and much of Europe, a good percentage of the younger generation is rejecting the religious beliefs and practices of the countless generations that have gone before them.
Of course, it’s not always a “formal” type of rejection. Sometimes it’s more of a “drifting away”. The reality seems to be that more and more people just don’t see the importance of ascribing to formal ways of believing, thinking, and worshipping. And I know this causes many of you a certain amount of sadness and grief and heartache. I get it. We want our kids to believe what we believe, and pray how we pray. And when they don’t – it hurts.
I hear this from people all the time. Sometimes it’s from parents lamenting the fact that their sons and daughters no longer go to Church or don’t see anything worthwhile in attaching themselves to any particular community of faith.
But sometimes I hear it straight from the people themselves – from men and women who openly admit that they simply no longer “buy into” what religion is “selling”. And it’s not always simply because they no longer believe in God. No, more often than not they express their feelings this way . . .
“I really don’t get the point. I can be just as good a person on my own. I don’t need other people telling me what I’m supposed to believe. Whether I join a church or not – I can still be the exact same person. In fact, I might actually be a better person by being spiritual in my own way, without all the other stuff that gets in the way.”
Those are really hard words to hear. It’s not easy when someone we love doesn’t also love something we find unbelievably important. Church “matters” to us, but it might not “matter” to them. And that can be hard to understand, right?
Is it really so hard to understand? I’m not sure. Part of me thinks it makes perfect sense. You see, people who no longer embrace the faith they were raised in might be describing it in a certain way, might express it in terms of “spirituality” and such, but that might just be masking the underlining reason, the real reason. And the real reason might be this:
Maybe they simply don’t see Christians living any differently than anyone else.
Sometimes we think “faith” is simply about getting on board with certain statements – such as we find in the creed. But is that all it is? Or maybe we think “faith” is just being on the “correct” side of certain political issues. But is that all it is? Maybe we think “faith” is all about saying certain prayers or making sure we are in our usual pew week after week. But again is that all it is?
Isn’t faith more? Can’t it be more? And mustn’t it be more?
So often we try to convince others of the importance of our Catholic faith by appealing to the authority of the Church. We try to tell our children that their souls are in jeopardy or God will be disappointed in them (or maybe even angry), or that there will be a complete breakdown in society without it, or that they can’t expect God to help them if they reject the Church.
Now, – I’m not going to flesh out the merits (or lack thereof) of each of those points. Let’s just suffice it to say – those sorts of arguments will almost never work. The generation coming after us will never accept a “you have to believe because . . .” kind of mentality. In fact, what we’re more likely to get is an eye-roll and a shake of the head.
But what they will respond to is if they see something different in those who say they believe as opposed to those who don’t. In other words, what might attract them to Christianity is not simply teachings, but actions – the concrete ways men and women of faith give and love and forgive. If they don’t see that, they are never going to want to get into the ark we call Church.
Christianity has to mean something. Christianity has to cost something. Christianity has to make a real, lasting, visible difference in the choices we make – not just shape how we feel about “hot” topics, not just shape who we vote for, not just shape what we do each and every Sunday morning. It has to be more than that.
We see that on display in our Second Reading from St. Paul’s letter to Philemon. As we heard, St. Paul is appealing to a Christian whose slave has run away and who even has recently been baptized himself. St. Paul is getting ready to send the slave, Onesimus, back to his master. Normally, this could have terrible consequences for Onesimus. It might even cost him his life. But St. Paul appeals to a deeper reality. He reminds Philemon that the relationship between the two (Philemon and Onesimus) is forever altered by what they believe, what they have embraced, what (and who) they have been baptized into.
In other words, St. Paul is telling him that being a Christian means something, means that people can’t simply go back to the old ways of doing things, the old ways of thinking, the old ways of seeing.
“Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me
cannot be my disciple.”
May we show the world and those we love that the things we say we believe are also the things we live out each and every day.