Finding My Voice: A Young Woman's Perspective
From Chapter One…
Faith presents a big question mark for many young adults. Religion does not always fit comfortably within our culture. Attitudes about faith range from highly skeptical to mildly curious to fully committed. Some of the most important catchwords for this generation include openness, acceptance, tolerance and diversity. Young adults growing up in a secular society are taught to be respectful of those who hold different religious perspectives, so as not to offend or exclude another person based on their belief system.
However, recently I had an encounter with my downstairs neighbor, Sean, at our mailboxes. We began talking about the Christmas wreath on the front door of our apartment building which was hung by the girl who lives across the hall. I made a casual comment about how nice it was to see people spreading holiday cheer, when Sean sarcastically remarked, “She must be one of those happy-go-lucky Christian-types.” His comment seemed somewhat odd, as there was nothing overtly religious about the wreath. Noticing my puzzled look, he quickly apologized and said, “Oh, are you Christian?”
I replied, “Yes, as a matter of fact, I am. Are you?”
And he said, “Oh, no, I’m not Christian. I’m Catholic.”
I always laugh half-heartedly when I tell that story. I wonder if Sean’s comment is representative of some young adults (Catholic and Protestant) who know little about their faith and its relation to the larger Christian world. Perhaps Sean’s reluctance to identify himself as “Christian” was a reference to those Christians who are not ashamed to wear their faith on their sleeve—or in the case of our neighbor—to display it on their front door. Or maybe his response was a way to disassociate himself from Christians who engage in aggressive proselytizing, or the self-righteous voices and behaviors of some politically driven Christians who tend to turn off even the most tolerant people.
What does it mean to be Catholic? It is an important question for young adults immersed in a pluralistic culture. For some, being Catholic might include going to Mass on Sunday, celebrating the sacraments, serving the poor, or adhering to a set of moral principles. This question is especially important for a generation that is not steeped in Catholic culture like our parents and grandparents were. Catholic identity can be fluid and tenuous, even for those of us who grew up going to Mass every week. My grandparents lived in a world in which every kid on the block was Catholic and all attended the same neighborhood parish and Catholic school. Younger Catholics are more likely to have neighbors, friends, classmates and coworkers who are Methodists, Jews, Muslims and atheists. The boundaries and markers of Catholicism are wide and varied given the time and circumstances in which we live.
Today’s young adults are the first generation to grow up entirely in the post–Second Vatican Council period. Some of us were raised by parents and grandparents who yearn for the great church traditions of Catholicism—fasting from meat on Friday, women with heads covered in church, praying novenas and singing Latin hymns. On the other hand, many attended schools and parishes that enthusiastically embraced the expanded role of the laity, guitar Masses and canned food drives. I imagine that most of us find ourselves somewhere in between, with an assortment of spiritual, social and cultural traditions.
Thursday, December, 4, 2008