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. Read Fr. Planty’s response here and Deacon Silva’s here.
By: Laura Loker, Guest Contributor
If you were asked today what makes up your identity, what would you say?
A recent study of the American public asked a similar question: To what degree does your family make up your personal identity? Your country? Your religious faith?
Overall, the responses aren’t wholly surprising: 62% said their families make up “a lot” of their personal identity. Some 52% said the same about being an American; and fewer (38%) said so about their religious faith.
From my perspective as a millennial, however, noteworthy is the breakdown by generation. Millennials were less likely to associate with all three of those categories. Only 52% of millennials responded that their family makes up a lot of their personal identities; 34%, being an American; and 28%, their faith. Gen Xers, Boomers and Elders were more likely than millennials to associate with these groups (with the likelihood increasing, in fact, with age).
Why the difference?
One answer may be that we millennials, the youngest generation surveyed, simply haven’t lived long enough to have developed our personal identities yet — and that, as we age, we’ll form more meaningful connections with the aforementioned groups.
But another may be that as American culture has grown more individualistic, so has personal identity. Autonomy is king. Willingly belonging to a group — letting someone or something else have a say in who you are, what you believe and how you spend your time — is naive at its most benign, oppressive at its worst.
Whatever the reasons, we know this isn’t what God desires. We know as Catholics that our identity was written into our very being when God created us in His image. Similarly, at our Baptism, we became part of the mystical Body of Christ.
So how do we model this in a world that so frequently dissociates itself from organized religion?
How do we — millennials in particular — incorporate our Catholic faith into our identity, meaningfully and visibly?
Find your homebase in the universal Church.
While it’s a blessing that we’re able to attend the same celebration of the Eucharist at any Catholic church, we can’t be anchorless Catholics. The Church in Her wisdom gives us a system governed by geography — our identity can take root in our parish.
Register in your parish. Donate to your parish. Read the bulletin. Get to know your fellow parishioners; after all, making your parish part of your identity says: “I’m willing to make you part of me.”
Whether it’s lectoring at your parish or sorting donations at a local charity, service both fulfills Jesus’ call to love our neighbor and transforms our hearts.
By its nature, it’s also visible. As such it can also be a doorway for those to whom you witness; volunteering at a homeless shelter is undeniably meaningful and, for some, less intimidating than stepping inside a church. They’ll see your faith in action.
Pray for others and ask for prayers.
Prayer is truly a social medium. Not only do we unite as a community in prayer every time we participate in Mass, we also grow closer to one another as we pray for each other. Adopt a daily rosary or some other form of prayer to offer specifically for others’ intentions, and ask your friends to pray for you.
And remember: those in Heaven and Purgatory also belong to the Church. Not only should we ask for the intercession of the saints, we should also pray for the souls awaiting Heaven.
Study and practice your faith.
If we profess belonging to the Catholic Church, we represent it to others. We should strive to speak about it articulately, understand Church teaching on culturally relevant issues and receive the sacraments faithfully.
There’s a lot to learn and it’s overwhelming, but small steps make progress over time. Read for 15 minutes a day, and you’ll surprise yourself by how much spiritual reading or Church history you get through in a year. Visit the National Shrine and other holy sites. Listen to Lighthouse Media CDs during your commute. A little planning goes a long way toward your knowledge of and love for your faith — and your ability to demonstrate it to others.
Learn more about the world around you.
If it helps to develop your understanding of what we do believe, it’s also helpful to understand what we do not believe. And if we’re called to go out and make disciples of all nations, we’d better know what our non-Catholic peers are thinking and struggling with.
One practical way to do this is to keep up with news and commentary, even from sources that we don’t typically agree with, in order to keep one finger on the pulse on what our non-Catholic friends, neighbors or coworkers may be reading about relevant issues. Another is simply to have intentional conversations with those individuals, aiming always for mercy and understanding over judgment.
Whatever the cause of the lower numbers, we’re called to model our faith and our identity in Christ — and to be Christ to others.
He must increase; I must decrease (John 3:30).
Laura Loker and her husband Kevin are co-founders of Go Forth: Field Notes for the Modern Catholic, a daily newsletter that highlights news and commentary relevant to the Catholic faith. They are parishioners of St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, in Arlington.