This is part two of the CatholicMom.com discussion of Forming Intentional Disciples.
Here’s this week’s prompt:
In her first chapter of Forming Intentional Disciples, Sherry Weddell describes with detailed statistics the crisis of Catholics leaving the Church. She shares the evidence that most departures happen in young adulthood, and that most who leave never come back. She concludes:
If this trend does not change, in ten years it will cease to matter that we have a priest shortage. The Builders will be largely gone, the Boomers retiring, and our institutions – parishes and schools – will be emptying at an incredible rate.
After demonstrating that this trend is just as worrying among Hispanic Catholics, she delves into the reason for the emptying of the pews across all ages and ethnics groups. The primary cause of departures relates to an unexpected finding, discovered in surveys researching the beliefs of Catholics:
. . . one of the most fundamental challenges facing our Church is this: The majority of adult Catholics are not even certain that a personal relationship with God is possible.
She shares a conversation with an archdiocesan vocations director that underscores the statistical reality:
I asked him, “What percentage of the men you work with – men discerning a possible call to the priesthood – are already disciples?”
His answer was immediate: “None.”
“Why do you think that is?”
He was very clear: “They don’t know how. No one has ever talked to them about it.”
This week’s Questions for Discussion:
Have you always been Catholic? How did the instruction and mentoring you received help you – or prevent you –from having a personal relationship with God?
If you were raised in a Catholic home, are your family members all still Catholic? What events among your friends and family seem to explain why some are Catholic, and others are not?
(I’m going to skip the questions about the retention rate at our parish since I don’t know the answers.)
Yes, I’ve always been Catholic. My parents really laid the foundation for me, helping me to know God as a person who loves me and to trust God. And I’m sure my Catholic school was instrumental, though I have no clear touchstones to point to. And oh I am so grateful to the University of Dallas for introducing me to the Catholic intellectual tradition, the wonderful way in which the life of the mind is not at odds with faith but part and parcel of the same. And then my husband was a huge mentor in my life… way back before we even were dating he ran a Bible study at our parish and helped me so much in direct and indirect ways. And the internet, Catholic blogs and websites was an education in itself. All these helped in ways little and great.
I suppose the question was how and not who. But to properly do it justice would take a novel. And really I’m not always sure there’s a clear “how” just an awareness that things pushed and pulled and gradually I began to see and hear more clearly. I did drift. I never doubted that God was a person with whom I had a relationship. I never doubted that he loved me. I just didn’t know how to live that relationship. I didn’t know how to pray, how to put down roots and grow in my faith. And it’s not like I’ve reached a point where I’m satisfied that my roots are deep enough, that my faith is strong enough, that my relationship is all that it’s meant to be. What holds me back? Fear? Why do I sometimes fail to trust in God?
For all that I had many great influences in my early life, I must confess that in some ways I was also a casualty of the current way of handing on the faith which treats it as a subject to be learned in school rather than a relationship to be lived. There were many bumpy places in my journey to an adult, mature faith that could have been avoided if there had been more of an emphasis on formation. Especially on formation after confirmation. I have spent some times wandering in the wasteland and I often wonder about what might have been. Could that have been avoided?
As for question two, I really don’t feel comfortable writing about other people’s faith lives. Especially not to speculate about the experiences of my siblings. Those are their stories not mine. Hard enough to write about mine. But at least it is mine to share. I have speculation, guesses, but not real answers that are the fruit of conversation. And while writing about them might clarify some things, it just doesn’t feel like the right thing to do.
So this week my answers are pretty skimpy. I’m pretty distracted so I’ll leave it at that.