Keeping the Faith

Jesus“Ann” shared with me a concern regarding her young adult children. Although raised in a committed Catholic home, they have recently been left feeling “cold” with the hypocrisy they see in the parish they attend. The son works in a club and regularly observes a lay church leader acting un-Christian-like in the bar—hitting on women, using profanity, and then sitting in the front pew at Church on Sunday and lecturing HIM on why he didn’t see him at Mass more often.  The daughter also mentioned feeling painfully scrutinized at every move. She told her mother that “religious people are the most judgmental people I’ve ever encountered.”  Another college student felt frustrated at being preached at and condemned for some minor offense, by a person who didn’t know all the (justifying) circumstances surrounding it. This was done all in the name of ‘faith’ of course.  And it really turned the young adults off, as one could understand.

“Ann”’s children’s dilemma and frustration is a common one, and it is not new. The truth is, ever since the Pharisees in Jesus’ time there have been hypocritical religious people. This is not a ‘faith-problem’. It’s a ‘people-problem’, an implementation of faith issue. We all struggle with it, to some extent, because we are all sinners.

And a judgmental attitude, even among those who are not hypocrites, is still also prevalent today, as it has existed for centuries. Those who have found great solace and strength in their religious faith can still be tempted to intolerance of others. It’s difficult for all people when they feel unfairly judged.   However, the late teens and early twenties crowd seem particularly adept at recognizing hypocrisy and sensitive to harsh judgment. This can easily turn them away from the perpetrators, and sometimes even the Faith.

What is the remedy?

First, we must recognize the importance of being specifically encouraging and interested in this group of people. The age from 18 to 24 is when young people are evaluating their early family experiences, primarily defining who they are going to be as adults, and choosing to embrace or reject the values with which they were raised. It’s a critical time for encouragement in the Faith.

Second, we can take positive steps that will help ease the frustration and aid in faith-life growth. Simply talking to our young adult children is a good start. When they point out hypocrisy, recognize their astute perception. Jesus Himself admonished the action of hypocrites. (See Matthew 23). Then discuss how we all fall short of an ideal at some time, but that we are to stay in the race, which is a marathon, after all, and not a sprint.  Forgiveness is a key concept here, but only after a validation of the feelings of justified frustration. (Jesus Himself experienced justified anger. See John 2: 12-13.) We can remind them that our purpose of worshipping God each Sunday is not to impress or please others, but to be God-oriented. The sacraments provide all we need. We focus on our own path to holiness and must not be concerned with what others think of us or how they are living or not living up to virtue themselves. Like an athlete with his eye on the goal line, we need to “just keep going” despite annoyances and distractions, and problems with others struggling, like us, in their faith.

An article entitled “The Young Catholic Church: Roots and Wings” by Robert McCarthy in Church Magazine indicates that the number one influence on the faith of young people is the faith life of their parents. That’s good and bad news. The good part is that if we “just” live our faith well ourselves, our children have an excellent chance of retaining it despite any “people problems” they encounter later on.  The bad part of this piece of news is that living our faith well is easier said than done.  It takes daily effort and constant vigilance to make sure our youngsters learn the creeds and tenets of our Faith, are exposed to the traditions and sacraments regularly, and live in a home where faith-life is vibrant, joyful and ever-present. Many families around us, luckily, demonstrate that it is very possible!

An English writing professor once told our class, “When you write, SHOW, don’t TELL.” He meant this in the context of story-telling. We were not to write “The girl was happy”. We were to show her happiness by writing something like, “The girl smiled to herself and hummed as she retrieved the mail”, thus indicating her happiness through her actions. 

Likewise, in our faith, it is important to show it not just talk about it. Certainly, we need teachers (particularly parents and grandparents) to instruct the faith to their progeny. However, especially in dealing with other people’s children, and sometimes in dealing even with our own, the best ‘sermon’ is a good example.

Even so, ‘calling people out’ is sometimes necessary….. We Catholics must remember first Matthew 7:1-3: Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.

But when correction must be done, Jesus instructs us how we are to do it:  (Matt.18:11-14) : “If your brother sins (against you), go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.

Respectfulness is a key, and there doesn’t seem to be any good reason to humiliate someone in a public setting. It’s humbling to remember that God is the only truly qualified Judge.

Mother Teresa once said, “If you judge people you have no time to love them.” “Joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.” And “Let us always meet each other with smile, for the smile is the beginning of love. “ This is all good food for thought ….and implementation.

We can’t prevent our young adult children from seeing hypocrisy in life. We can’t shield them from harsh judgment. And ultimately, they have to digest everything they have been given in youth and make their Catholic faith their own. As they are doing this, however, we can certainly aid them by offering love, encouragement and by living a good example. And we are doing a special kindness when we offer other people’s children these things as well. A smile sent their way, an encouraging word, demonstrating interest in their lives and pursuits, will all go a long way in helping young adults become mature Catholics and a make it easier for them to make the choice to stay faithful.

If you liked this article, click on “Recommend” to share with your Facebook network and invite them to visit the ICL.  And please share your thoughts on this article by submitting your comments below. – The Editors 

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  1. Theresa-I just renewed my membership in the Theresa Thomas fan club! This is a warm and relevant article we can all learn from. Not only have you given great insight into helping our young adults keep and grow in their Catholic faith, you have helped us all understand the important role we play in showing good example to others.

    Thank you for this gift.

    In Christ-


  2. Pride is the greatest enemy of man’s soul, the most significant obstacle to spiritual advancement, and the substance of all sinful rebellion. It was subtley yet violently introduced in the garden, leading to the fall of man and true separation from God; and in pride’s rebellious aftermath we are left with the inheritance of original sin. Baptism has removed the effects of original sin, but the human person will always be contending with his fallen nature thus battling concupiscence, and oftentimes we struggle against the sins others commit against us. Exposure to hypocrisy manifest in christians is a masquerading sin hidden behind the veneer of spirituality. The illusion man projects at times of his own self-defined holiness is merely another manner in which the demon of pride struts his stuff as a quasi saint. The gift of discernment exposes the appearance of contrived charity, and what we discover can be the painful and stinging effects of unjust judgement and criticism on the part of our faith practicing brethren, but more importantly the subtle distraction which can become all consuming, is the preoccupation with other’s sin and the obvious hypocrisy. I believe by virtue of noticing another’s hypocrisy we set the stage for ourselves mentally, to make excuses for our own iniquities. Furthermore, do we not become a hypocrite ourselves by pointing out another’s hypocrisy? For due to man’s propensity toward sin, which is only combatted by the free gift of grace, are we all not hypocrites at times? Lack of humility which is the only antidote to pride is what ultimately establishes hypocrisy in any sinner, and unless we have already become perfect in this mortal life; we are all guilty of this particular sin. The only remedy is to pray for the hypocrite, and to allow the sting of unmerited criticism on the part of a brother to sanctify ourselves spiritually. The primary reason we are sensitive to judgement is because we are overly preoccupied with self. If I know who I am in Him, the opinion of others becomes irrelevant, and the weapons of judgement and hypocrisy used by the devil to take the focus off of Him become disempowered. If I am engaged in daily self-examination of conscience, and frequenting the confessional, my objective tends toward the ongoing excavation of my own personal sin. Cooperating with God’s grace and growing spiritually is a full-time job. May I always have mercy for the sinner for His Mercy for me has been endless. Temptation toward intolerance of others for any reason is merely a machination of satan to encourage the soul to violate the call to virtue and deny charity her rightful demonstration in our bodily temple. We are given an intellect and the ability to reason cogently in order to form healthy and safeguarding judgements; and we are permitted to inspect the ‘fruit,’ so to speak, to employ God given discernement in order to learn, but we can never condemn the ‘fruit’ entirely. That is God’s prerogative. The Lord will enlighten our eye to the good, the bad, and the ugly; for it is a Divine commission and call to prayer. Pray for the sinner and praise God for His mercy. And always remember, ” Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”

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