This week we asked our authors to look at The Year in Review: Barna’s Top 10 findings in 2015 and give us their thoughts, advice or action plan in light of the findings. The Barna Group researches the role of faith in America. We invite you to review the study, read our author’s take, and comment with your own thoughts about how to share the Good News in our Diocese.
By: Rev. Donald J. Planty, Jr., Guest Contributor
First, the bad news: the number of “nones”–people who consider themselves atheists, agnostics, or of no particular religion–is growing fast, especially among young adults. It’s not coincidental that rates of relationship problems and of depression are soaring. Many people have nothing sure to count on, to believe in.
In response to those who believe nothing, we believers offer something; in answer to those who have none, we have some Good News: that Jesus is God made man and that He offers to every person His more abundant life of merciful love, forgiveness, healing, peace, joy and salvation: He satisfies the deepest desires of the heart of every person who encounters Him, who believes in Him, who has a relationship with Him.
Our experience of the faith–and the experience of those we reach out to and bring to the Church–should be an experience of encountering the person of Jesus and His transforming love. It should be warmly relational, not coldly institutional. It should be an enjoyable friendship, not a grudging obligation. That is what people in general, and what the young people of this generation in particular, long for.
An intimate, personal encounter with Jesus happens especially in the following ways:
Encounter Jesus through prayer with his Word. Communal worship must be balanced by personal mental prayer: prayer from the heart in one’s own words. The meditation of God’s Word (the lectio divina) enables us to speak to Jesus and, especially, to listen to Him. It facilitates a loving conversation between best friends. Our parishes and other communities of faith should be places where people learn mental prayer through lectio divina.
Encounter Jesus through beauty. Many people don’t believe in objective truth, but are moved by coming into contact with what is beautiful. The unequaled beauty of the Church’s sacred liturgy and art draws people to their source, to the ultimate beauty of Jesus. Not only that, but beauty encountered in arts which are not explicitly “churchy”–secular music, films, etc.–can serve as an inspiration, as a seed, for the encounter with the beauty of the Gospel. Our parishes and other communities of faith should be places where beauty finds a home.
Encounter Jesus through service to others. Again, people today don’t want to hear about truth–but they do want to experience goodness in others. When we serve our community of faith as well as the needy and the “nones”–the material poor and the spiritually poor–we show them the face of Jesus and we encounter Jesus in them: we all grow in his love. Our parishes and other communities of faith should be places where people are encouraged to, and given opportunities to, serve one another.
Encounter Jesus through learning about Him. Although people today are not drawn to the idea of truth, we must still offer them the truth that sets them free. Learning about Jesus, about our faith, is never a mere intellectual exercise: to know Him better is to love Him more; to understand who Jesus is and who we are–created by and for Him–and to know his plan for us, teaches us how to live and brings us peace and joy. Our parishes and other communities of faith should be places where dynamic formation in the faith regularly takes place.
Encounter Jesus through small communities of faith. Large parishes, colleges, and other Church institutions or gatherings can feel impersonal, and individuals–especially new arrivals–can feel unconnected. Smaller group fellowships with an intentional purpose and rule help individuals form intimate friendships in Jesus. Our parishes and other communities of faith should be places where small communities of faith are facilitated and supported.
We who have found merciful love, happiness, peace and salvation in a relationship with Jesus must seek to grow in that relationship and to share it with the “nones.” May encounters with Jesus in the prayerful meditation of his Word, in the glory of his beauty, in his loving service, in his inspiring truth, and in friendships with his followers make us joyful disciples and missionaries, and draw many to Him.
Fr. Planty is the pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, in Arlington. Visit their website to find out more about about their parish offerings.