I’ve had a lot of chances recently to reflect on how blessed I’ve been in my faith walk. I grew up in a home with a father who respected (though didn’t always practice) the faith of his origins and a mother who covered herself daily with faith like one does a favorite sweater on a chilly day. It was always within reach, routinely relied upon and rarely questioned.
Eventually, I had to find my own way, and though I wandered around a while, in time I was surprised to find myself wandering back “home” to the Faith in which I’d begun my life. As an adult, my Catholic faith is a treasure like nothing else — something that feeds me, keeps me grounded, holds me up when I’m about to tip over. It keeps me moving forward on a daily basis and fills me, through grace, with joy and hope.
Back in April 1996, my husband became Catholic the same night our first son was baptized, and slowly has taken on this Catholic faith as his own, appreciating more and more each year all that it has to offer him, not to mention our entire family. Our kids go to Catholic schools and we move within a vibrant faith community in which we are free to explore and live out our faith consistently, freely, and as fully as we choose.
Furthermore, beyond our parish family, I’m in two mom-faith groups, belong to a Catholic writers’ e-community, am a writer for Catholic press, and have both a spiritual director with whom I visit monthly and a “spiritual mother” with whom I consult on matters both earthly and faith-oriented. Finally, I am both a listener of and host for our local Catholic radio station. Indeed, I have so many wonderful ways to keep this vibrant faith fed and flowing.
Unfortunately, however, it’s not all good news. What’s led me recently to this keen awareness of being so blessed is having been faced with the reality that not everyone is so fortunate.
The other day my friend Jennifer from Conversion Diary wrote a post headed, “What is the religious climate in your country?” It was a call, really, to beyond the United States, no matter their religion or creed, to share how things are religiously in their respective countries.
Though I’ve known many European countries have been turning away from God, it’s one thing to hear it and another to read words from those who are living it. Aside from where they are from, Jennifer asked her readers things like: What is church attendance like in your area?… At a typical social event, how appropriate would it be if a person were to explicitly acknowledge in casual conversation that he or she is a believing Christian?… What belief system do the politicians in your area claim to practice?… How many families do you know who have more than two children?
One writer from Belgium, who posted her answers on her blog, This journey that’s called life, said bringing up the subject of religion in casual conversation in her country would be “odd and slightly inappropriate. Church and religion are considered to be personal. It’s like suddenly starting to talk about your last bowel movement. Inappropriate, awkward and just ’not done.’” Another responder from Luxembourg said “people would label you immediately as sectarian, intolerant, unmodern and seriously weird.”
The Belgium writer also mentioned that if someone were hurting, you would never say that you’d pray for them, even if that’s what you’d mean. Instead you’d say, “I’ll light a candle for you” or “I’ll think about you.” In addition, politicians there refrain from talking about their religious affiliation; doing so would not be to their benefit.
Others from Europe had similar things to share. One writer from Wales admitted to feeling lonely as a Christian, and described a bleak picture of parents dropping off their kids for Sunday school like one would drop a child off at daycare; solely to create a free hour for the parents. One writer from Denmark said large families are rare, and if you do have one, you’re probably Muslim. Many of the Europeans said church attendance is dropping, religion is waning, and that faith there is not an alive, active pursuit of the young, but something only older generations seem to appreciate. They spoke of many materialists, people living solely for the material world.
Granted, there were many others who said things to the contrary. In East Africa, faith seems to be growing and larger families are common. Similar responses came from other non-European countries. Nevertheless, hearing about God being shrugged off as inconsequential was very disheartening.
For a day or so, I just sat with this, saddened by the deadness of God over in Europe, and how those who do have faith must squelch it in order to survive. How sad this would be!
To me, life feels meaningless unless God enters the conversation. I have been at many functions at which, until faith has been brought up in some form or another, the discussions have seemed shallow, hollow and a waste of time. For me, life revolves around a vibrant faith, even on the days when I don’t feel so vibrant myself. In fact, that is the very means through which I am able to pull through the more lackluster days — through being reminded of my uniqueness, and how much God loves me, and of the plans He has for me that have yet to unfold. This is what makes life worth living!
Stark as the overall picture is in some parts of the world, and despite feeling saddened that not everyone is able to speak freely of their faith, I am firmer in my faith than ever before. These signs of faith fading out in some corners do not deter me, do not provide to me evidence of God being dead. In fact, I am more convinced than ever that God is very much alive alive, invested in our world and interested in our individual lives.
And I’m more thankful than ever that He has put me in this place, given me this particular life, surrounded me with this network, all of which allow me to say, without reservation, “I believe, and my life is all the richer, all the deeper, all the more meaningful because of it!”
Thank you, God, that I can freely praise you! “Amen!” “I believe!”
Q4U: When have you been forced to pretend your faith is something less than it is?