Our Faith Is Not Genetic

Last month I wrote about the power of family— in particular, parents—in keeping their children Catholic.  It’s sobering, then, to learn that the Catholic Church in the U.S. is losing members faster than it is gaining them, and that, for today’s teens, religious identity is no longer reliably inherited. In other words, Millenials aren’t likely to stay Catholic simply because their parents and grandparents were Catholic.

What does it take to keep our young people in the faith? According to a 2012 Canadian study, young adults who choose to remain Christian have four main characteristics:

  1. They have experienced God’s presence and have witnessed answered prayers.
  2. They can ask and openly discuss their real spiritual questions in their Christian community.
  3. They understand the Gospel at a deep level.
  4. And they have seen communities of faith and older adults living their faith.

Numbers 1 and 4 have to do with experiencing God, both personally and in community. Numbers 2 and 3 involve grappling with spiritual truth. Young people who have the opportunity to know and personally experience God and are encouraged to explore that knowledge and experience are more likely to choose for themselves to remain faithful to Christ and His Church.

Is that the environment we are fostering at St. Michael Catholic Church? In our homes and our schools?

Unfortunately, Catholics have a reputation—earned in many cases—for not spending much time delving into sacred Scripture and for not sharing firsthand experiences of the very real and personal God we hear about in the Bible and the Catechism. And while our Masses may be well attended, a faith that is manifested for an hour on Sunday is not the same faith that made evangelists, world travelers, and martyrs out of a dozen unknown Galileans. Their faith changed lives—their own, first and foremost. If church doesn’t change us, we’re not doing it right!

Eventually everyone makes a choice for or against Christ. So maybe it’s a good thing that we can no longer rely on birth and blood to pass our Catholicism on to the next generation.  If we acknowledge that even cradle Catholics need conversion; if we share our faith not just with those outside the Church, but with each other; if we pray for, and come to expect, God to act in our lives in personal and tangible ways, through answered prayers, spiritual gifts, vocations, and more—we will “become a people living for Christ” in every generation.

Blogger’s Note: This article appears in the Sunday, Nov. 15, parish bulletin.

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