"Do not be afraid"

by Walker Price

North Texas Catholic

6/1/2022

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Benyamin Bohlouli (unsplash.com)


When we speak of crises within the Church, one of the most oft mentioned is the exodus of young people from the faith.

By now, I would expect that most of you have seen at least one of the dreary statistics regarding this phenomenon. Even concerning religious belief in general, one study conducted by the PRRI (Public Religion Research Institute) states that young adults today are four times as likely to have no religious affiliation in comparison with the same age bracket (18-29) in the generation previous.[1]

Considering just how generally hostile modern secular culture has become towards Christianity in all of its forms, especially when altars, candles, incense, and rosaries are involved, it becomes easier to see why this is happening. After all, it’s just simple physics: objects experience the most influence from whatever force is present in the greatest magnitude closest to them. So it is with planets, so it is with people. The life of the average modern young adult can no longer be considered analogous to those periods when the Church and her rhythms and traditions would have largely metered-out the pace of his days. In place of such a society, there has emerged what amounts to a loose conglomeration of cultural artifacts and institutions, which only dimly remember or reflect their ancient roots in Christianity.

In a soul-dampening milieu such as this, it can be difficult indeed for young Catholics to keep the flame burning. Although I make no pretentions of having a “one-size-fits-all” solution to this crisis of faith among those of my own generation, experience has taught me one thing that I feel is critical for my peers to take to heart, especially in these times: do not be afraid of your faith.

What do I mean by not being afraid of your faith? When I say “fear,” I am trying to communicate an emotion that, in truth, lies somewhere in between fear and embarrassment. Recognizing that the way you see the world as a practicing Catholic is, in some very profound ways, fundamentally different from the majority of those who surround you, can produce a feeling of almost crippling vulnerability. The current culture pushes us to ask ourselves: If the topic of spirituality, faith, or religion is broached in what began as a perfectly routine conversation, how should I respond? Should I remain as passive an observer as possible, or should I offer my own perspective with the full knowledge that, in doing so, I might invite the private or not-so-private scorn of my newfound friends for showing myself to be a dusty relic?

As a proud product of the Catholic school system, from elementary through high school, attending a public university was a jarring experience. I suddenly could not escape the feeling that I was a walking anachronism, and I experienced a sensation of spiritual and moral isolation that I had never known before, having been immersed in Catholic culture my whole life until that point.

There were times when I had to defend myself and my beliefs. I do not say this in hopes of arousing admiration; these moments were truly frightening. As an already anxious person by disposition, having a classmate ask what’s all over your forehead on Ash Wednesday, for example, triggers a cascade of racing thoughts that threatens to stifle any and all movement of the mouth. When your most deeply held convictions are called into question by your peers or, even more intimidatingly, by one of your superiors, I think that the most natural reaction is fear. What if I trip over my words? What if my arguments aren’t any good? What if I make a fool of myself?

This is where trust comes into play. Specifically, trust in the Holy Spirit. You might not be (in fact you most likely are not) a professional apologist. You most likely cannot recall the entirety of the Catechism and recite it from memory (although I applaud you if you can). However, each and every one of us can call on God the Holy Spirit to give us the right words to say when we find ourselves and our faith being challenged. And this should help erase our fear. We also need not worry about having beautifully stated theological arguments ready at a moment’s notice for encounters on the streets, so to speak. To say that we are Christians is enough. But don’t just take my word for it; listen to the first pope. As the First Letter of Peter states:

Do not be afraid or terrified with fear of them,

But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts.

Always be ready to give an explanation to

Anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope…

(1 Peter 3:14-15)[2]

So, if I had to say one sentence to the faithful of my generation, it would be this: take responsibility for your faith, and trust in the Holy Spirit. Make a serious effort to educate yourself further as to why the Catholic Church teaches what it does and worships the way that it does. There are plenty of resources available to you. And always remember: purely to confess Christ is the most profound witness of all. Once you have done this, allow God to handle the rest.

 

[1] Brandon Vogt. “New Stats on Why Young People Leave the Church”, Retrieved from: https://brandonvogt.com/new-stats-young-people-leave-church/

 

teenage boy

When we speak of crises within the Church, one of the most oft mentioned is the exodus of young people from the faith.

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