Handing on the Faith?!?

As an expectant father, this phrase has been on my mind for quite sometime.  It has so many facets that are necessary to discover and hand on, yet at some level, it is the simplest thing to do.  In either case, it requires one to be intentional about the faith and tradition that they are handing on.  On one level you are handing down the rituals, beliefs and customs of a people and you are handing down how you and your family has lived out (or not) those same rituals, beliefs and customs.  All of this seems great and many young adults want to be able to hand down their faith to the next generation, but we find the task a little overwhelming.  Especially when there has been a disconnect in catechesis and experience to the essentials of the faith and the cultural peculiarities of the faith.  So with many young adults, the question that remains is “What is the faith that I am handing down?”

The questions of faith that formed and transformed the generation before me are not the same questions that young adults struggle with today. This is not to say that the questions of the previous generation are answered and are no longer a struggle. Nor is it to say that somehow this faith that is handed down is entirely different from that of previous generations. We do say that the society that we as young adults find ourselves in the search for meaning and engaging our faith continues to change drastically from that of our parents and grandparents.  It is not that we do not value equality in women and men, while not perfect and still striving for a better realization of it, however, we assume it. It is not that we do not value the work of our previous generation; we want to contribute to it. It is not that we are looking to go back to “the way it was,” we are looking for way to continue to tap into that mystery of life that is still calling people to experience-God.

There are two books, written by some very thoughtful and well respected thinkers of our time, which have caused me to ponder this question of “What is this faith that I am handing on?”  As a young adult and a professional who is responsible for assisting institutions carrying out the mission and Catholic identity, this question is both personal and professional.  The first book is written by Thomas Groome entitled “What Makes Us Catholic? Eight Gifts for Life.”  I am struck by his contributions to an understanding of the essential nature of what it means to be Catholic.  Groome starts with Catholic anthropology, then moves to our sacramental world view,  the common good, scripture and tradition, Jesus images of the Christian faith, justice, the horizon of catholicity, and finally, Christian spirituality. This book is packed with such rich elements of our faith and tradition and it a great foundational start.

The second book is by Peter Steinfels “A People a Drift: The Crisis in the Roman Catholic Church in America.”  While I’m not talking about the whole of this book in regards to the above question and there are many other chapters that will shed light on our questions of handing on the faith, I am referring to what is mentioned in Chapter 6 “Passing on the Faith.”  Here Steinfels pinpoints one of the most pressing issues on the Church, loosing the faith. This is not the same as “losing the faith once implied a crisis of belief or conversion to some other, conflicting outlook.” (p 203)  The losing of faith that is implied here is “not that the faith will be consciously abandoned but that it will simply be lost in the more literal sense.” (p203). He cites surveys of young adults who say they are “Catholic” but do not find themselves connected to a Catholic community or an understanding of Catholic theology. This struggle of religious individualism, that is part of the American culture, and knowledge of the scriptural and theological underpinning of our faith has somehow got lost in translation.  Religious individualism undermines the Catholic identity of community and the loss of scripture and tradition does not give roots to the tree.  This individualism also erodes at the way Catholicism has passed on the faith for centuries, through the institution; our parishes, religious communities, schools, etc. The passing on of our faith is a serious and sometimes overwhelming task, however we must first discover the faith that we intend to pass on.

In recent days, the Pew Forum survey statistics on Religion in America shows an increase of those American’s who do not consider themselves affiliated with any particular religious community. The growth in secularism gives me more pause with regards to the way in which I would also approach how I hand on the faith to future generations.

Over the course of the next few weeks it is my hope that we can engage one another in asking ourselves the question “What is the faith that I am handing down?” And by asking this question we, as a community of faith, can discover the riches of our faith. And then be able to proudly confess together as one voice “this is our faith, this is the faith of the Church, and we are proud to profess it in Christ Jesus.”

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