Saturday, October 27, 2012

Turning the Tide


Today, I had an interesting conversation with a high school theology teacher.  We talked about teens’ tendency to distance themselves from the Church and how difficult it is to sell them on the idea of organized religion.  Our conversation gravitated towards the viral YouTube video posted last year “Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus.”  With almost 23 million views, it is easy to conclude that this video resonates with younger generations.  In Lisa Hendey’s session at the University of Dallas Ministry Conference titled “Saints for Slackers, Seekers and Sinners,” she gave some interesting statistics about the state of religion and Catholic Church in our country.  Only 23% of Catholics go to Mass every week.  One-third of adults who are raised Catholic no longer describe themselves as Catholic.  According to the Pew Research center, 33% of American adults under 30 describe themselves as having no religious affiliation what so ever.  Of these religiously unaffiliated adults, 68% say they believe in God and 37% consider themselves “spiritual.”  An overwhelming majority say they are not seeking to be affiliated with a religion because “religious organizations are too concerned with money and power, too focused on rules and too involved in politics.”  I don’t know about you, but I find these statistics to be sad and overwhelming.

I’m not a cradle Catholic and I don’t have the experience of growing up in the Catholic Church.  I grew up in a church where a relationship with Jesus was at the heart of everything that was taught and preached.  This environment encouraged me to seek out this relationship and eventually led me to fall head-over-heals in love with the Lord.  My relationship with the Lord filled the God sized hole in my soul and the inner desire for something greater than this world was wholly met in my personal encounters with Jesus.  When I went searching for Jesus outside of the church where I was raised, I landed in the Catholic Church and discovered His presence in the Eucharist.  For me, the Eucharist was the cheese to my macaroni.  Finally, I found Jesus truly present to me in a physical way and he was inviting me to receive his body into mine.  He and I were finally one in body and soul.  This experience is the greatest of my human existence. 

As I have embraced the Catholic faith and community, I realize that I am not normal.  I do not have a normal path into the Church and that provides me with a unique perspective.  I find comfort in the Catholic Church’s history, longevity and endurance.  The Catholic Church is the church founded on the rock of Peter.  This is the church that has endured for 2000 years.  This is the church that has and continues to be the largest distributor of charity in the world.  From the Catholic Church, we have the bible and well-developed Christian theology along with other countless treasures.  And, obviously, the Church’s greatest treasure is Jesus present in the Eucharist.  Therefore, it is hard for me to understand why people choose to step away from it.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I know the people who run the church are not perfect.  In fact, some have erred GREATLY in their personal and professional lives and have hurt others in ways I can’t imagine.  And although that is really terrible and hard to forgive, it doesn't take away from the Lord’s presence in the Church- His presence in the Eucharist.  How can one walk away from the Lord Himself?

I am reading a book called The Holy Longing by Ronald Rohlheiser (1999 by Double Day and Company, Inc.).  He makes a great point about choice.  He says every choice is a renunciation (p. 9).  When we choose something, we are turning our backs on all the other possibilities.  At times, that is why it is so hard for us to choose.  I see this in the teenagers I teach.  And truth be told, I even see it in myself.  I don’t like to make commitments, especially social commitments until the last moment because when I commit, then I am closing the door on all the choices I haven’t even seen yet.  I think this is true for a lot of people my age and younger.  We don’t want to choose because we don’t want to be tied down just in case something better comes along.  I sometimes wonder if our modern culture has perpetuated this behavior.  Because of the progress of technology in the past two centuries, we are connected in ways we haven’t been connected and the choices before us seem endless.  Has this mindset been a factor for the 33% of adults under 30 who do not affiliate with a religion?  Are the endless choices more attractive than choosing a life with Christ and sharing this life with a community?  Do they even know what they are losing by not choosing this life?

The key factor in my own experience with the Catholic faith is the personal relationship I have with Jesus.  I don’t think it would be fulfilling or even possible for me to practice the faith if I did not have this relationship.  I wonder if that is what people who walk away from the Church lack.  Maybe they never developed this relationship.  Maybe they always just “went through the motions” and never made a connection.  I can see how that could make faith meaningless.  What is the point of receiving Jesus in the Eucharist if you are not engaging him in a relationship?  If the Eucharist doesn't mean anything to you, then receiving it can seem rather pointless (although he is still present and bathing you in grace regardless of your lack of faith).   How sad that 77% of Catholics do not have a strong enough relationship with Jesus that they do not hunger for the Eucharist on a weekly basis.

So, what do we do about this?  Where do we begin?  We can view these statistics as a great tragedy or a great opportunity.  In general, I think people are looking for something greater than this world.  They believe in a loving God who offers peace and hope.  But they just don’t know where He is.  There are too many choices, and therefore, renunciations.  And it is hard to see the beauty of the Catholic faith through the lens of this modern culture.  It is a tragedy that so many are looking, but it is also an opportunity.  By living a joy-filled life in the faith, we become instruments of the Holy Spirit.  Christ can reach through our lives to touch other hearts.  The harvest is great and Christ is calling us to be his laborers in the field.  All we have to do is respond to the love He pours into our lives.

In my own ministry with youth, I emphasize two things- they are loved by God just the way they are and that God desires a personal relationship with them- so much so that he sacrificed his life for it- so much so that he continues to make that sacrifice at every Mass so that he can be physically present to them.  If a young person doesn't connect with these two basic truths, then they are more likely to become the 77% of Catholics who don’t go to church, or worse yet, the 33% of adults who do not affiliate with any religion.  Love and relationship with Christ are essential to passing on the faith and helping others find purpose, true joy and happiness.  So, let’s spread the fire by loving as Christ loves and living this joy-filled life in authentic and purposeful ways.

6 comments:

М said...

Comments were not working on your Catholic mom post, so I'm going to ask here, if that's okay..

But I'll keep it short.. I retyped the whole original response about six times and I figure I'll learn from that and keep it short and sweet.

So, how exactly would (did) you go about "developing" a personal relationship?

М said...

For background, I was born into a (practicing) Catholic family, went to a Catholic school, and sort of fell away when I joined to military at nearly 18. Didn't really start up again til a couple years ago, now that we have three kids I'm responsible to raising in the faith. I really do think part of what made falling away and staying away easy was the lack of personal relationship. It'd always just been my parents setting the expectation to go to church and that was gone..

Also, this very issue occurred to me back when I first started attending mass regularly again, and I've inquired around, to priests, the internet (catholic answers), a spiritual director, etc., and I've essentially been told that I should continue going through the notions and praying and all will eventually post itself out. I'd be okay with this approach if it weren't for various Protestant friends and family who speak of these personal relationships that seem to be missing in the lives of a lot of Catholics. One thing they seem to do better with ;] And honestly, I'd attributed it to talking themselves up/exaggerating slightly, but then I read your post! And you seem safe to ask, as you're Catholic, ha ;] So asking I am..

М said...

Bah, phone-typing.

going through the motions*
eventually sort* itself out

Lori Miller said...

Whoa! I wonder how long blogger will let me make this comment:)

First of all, I am really excited to see you on this journey. It sounds as if Christ is at work in your life in a real and profound way. Conversion is an experience that takes place over a life time. Although I engage Christ in a personal relationship, that doesn't mean I don't have my moments of distrust and doubt about his influence in my life. Also, my experience is not the same experience everyone has. There are MANY ways to engage Christ in a personal relationship and what works for me may not work for my friend two pews over. We are all unique creations and Christ meets us where we are and desires for us to meet him- despite of our fears, doubts and reservations.

So, now that you have my disclaimer, here are a few things that work for me. I think all conversion experiences begin when we recognize our great need for God. We realize that there is something greater at work in this world and in our own lives. Deep within our souls is an unquenchable desire for the divine. We are not made for this world- we were made for and by love itself. We are made to love and to participate in the great exchange of love one can only find in a relationship with God through Christ and with the Holy Spirit. When that desire wells up with in us, we are at unease. We are restless. We seek fill the God-sized hole in our lives. Christ hopes we fill it with Him.

Lori Miller said...

yes, blogger has a limit... here is more:

Engaging Christ in a personal relationship isn't as hard as we sometimes make it out to be. For me, all it takes openness. My close friends in whom I confide and pray with say that I am a very open to the holy spirit. Now that sounds a like it would be hard but really it is not. I am open to the idea that not every thought that enters my head is my own. I have a vivid imagination and I am creative and I think the Lord uses these characteristics to speak to me. I am not afraid to let go of control and admit that God is influencing my thoughts, words and actions- probably even as I type this.

I have a few practices that I use to feed my spirituality and relationship with Christ. First, I love to worship with praise and worship music. God speaks to me through these songs and I also use them to pray to him. Praise and worship music is a great source of conversation and communion with Christ. When we worship, we don't add anything to God's greatness. But rather, we recognize our own need to be near God and feel his love and peace in our own lives. Secondly, I can not speak high enough about the practice of Lectio Divina which is praying with the scriptures. It is a great way to hear God speaking to you through his word. Studying scripture is a great way to get to know who God is. The more we understand and know God, the deeper we can dive into relationship with him. Thirdly, when I pray, I talk to God as if he were a friend. Sure all the formal devotions are great and fulfilling, but just talking to God is essential. When we are vulnerable to God and tell him what is really in our hearts, then we dive deeper and experience his love and mercy in new ways. I tell the youth all the time that God is like your best friend. He desires to spend as much time talking with you as your best friend does. Oh, (almost forgot)and a fourth way is through service. When we surrender to the will of God and serve him as he is calling us to serve, our relationship with him grows even more. I serve as a youth minister and Mom. Some serve the poor. Some serve the sick. Some serve those on the internet. It just depends upon how God wants to utilize your talents for His greater glory.


Lori Miller said...

And the final bit:

I think another key component to engaging God in a relationship is humility. Humility is tied to our recognition of how much we need God in our lives. It is much easier to converse with God when I set aside my ego and desires and seek out Him. So, I guess what I am trying to say is that I don't necessarily hear God in an audible way, but I hear him in my heart. I hear him in the people around me. I hear him speak to me through his written word. I see him in the faces of the people I serve.

As I stated in this column, I grew up with Jesus as a personal friend. I strayed from Him a few times in my life, but my relationship with him has always been familiar. Coming to a relationship with him as an adult is not something I have experience with, so maybe I can't relate to you as well as I hope to.

You mentioned that your protestant friends are telling you about this personal relationship. If you are not getting this experience in your parish, there is nothing wrong with going to a praise and worship service at a protestant church. Just beware of what they preach. Their theology isn't sound and they do not have the Eucharist. But there is nothing wrong with worshiping and praying with them. However, keep going to Mass. Keep getting fed by proclamation of the Word and the Eucharist. As your relationship with Christ grows, the Eucharist will become more and more central to your spirituality and life overall.

I don't know if any of this helps you, but I am more than willing to converse with you more about it. Feel free to email me at loribethmiller@gmail.com. Have a blessed evening!!!