On Being Authentically Catholic in Today’s World

Mission Dolores Altar (San Francisco) Photograph © by Andy Coan

Mission Dolores Altar (San Francisco)
Photograph © by Andy Coan

I had an interesting encounter during a talk I gave this week to MBA students at an Atlanta public university.  We were discussing Advanced Linkedin strategy and I commented several times on the need to connect with others on this helpful social media tool who share our backgrounds or interests.  I cited my own example of seeking people on LinkedIn who share my Catholic faith, an interest in autism (my oldest son has autism) or my school, University of Georgia.  At the end of the talk, a polite young man sheepishly raised his hand and said:  ” We have been taught to never share anything personal at work, certainly not anything about our faith.  You have mentioned a few times that you are Catholic.  Is it OK to share that in public?  Has it ever hurt you in business?”

I appreciated the young man’s honesty and I gave him a candid answer.  “It has honestly never hurt me.  I find people to be either curious or ignorant about the Catholic Church when they ask me questions, but I have not felt attacked.  In fact, it becomes a wonderful opportunity to educate and share the Good News.  I love my faith.  It is part of who I am.  I can’t deny part of myself and be someone different at work, with my family and at Mass on Sunday.  We worry too much about offending others when we should stick to our values and be authentic.  For the record, I also wish everyone Merry Christmas!”  After the talk, the young man and a dozen others quietly thanked me for being “bold” about my faith.  If there was ever a time I felt like a “joyful witness” for Christ and His Church, it was right then and there.  These people were seeking someone, anyone, to proclaim their faith in public and be unafraid.

But, this talk has made me think.  Why is it difficult to be the same person at work, home, church and with our friends? I have observed this problem for several years, but lately I have become more aware of the challenges people have with consistently being “real.” In a few recent discussions with friends, I received blank stares and perceived a lot of discomfort when I advocated for being the same person at all times and for being transparent about our lives with others. Why is authenticity, especially Catholic authenticity, so uncomfortable?

My instincts and own experience lead me to think the root cause of this occurred for many of us at a young age. The first time we felt pressure to “fit in” with a particular group in school, we began down the path of conformity that only accelerates as we grow older. In college, we may have heard from our professors (or our parents) that we need to keep work, faith and our personal lives separate. We may have feared being judged or criticized in those early jobs for sharing anything personal which only hardens into a compartmentalized mindset as we grow in our careers. I want to believe that deep down most of us desire to consistently be our real selves, but don’t know how to get there.

Logic should tell me that it is inevitably harmful to suppress my true self for a sustained period of time, yet many people perceive there is no other option. Do you love being a parent, but feel awkward about discussing your kids at work? Do you desire to spend more time with your family, but worry about speaking about this with your boss? Is your Catholic faith important to you, but perceived intolerance among friends and work colleagues keeps you from discussing it? Have you ever been faced with a difficult ethical or moral dilemma, but remained silent or chose the easy way out rather than advocate for doing the right thing?

Obstacles to Authenticity

Let’s address some of the obstacles that may prevent us from being authentic Catholics. I am making a base assumption that you agree with me on some level that authenticity is important and that many (though not all) people have a desire to be more open, transparent and authentic. Here are a few of the obstacles that prevent this from happening:

  • There could be a lack of self-awareness. Do we even know that there is a problem?
  • Fear of people not liking the real us. Fear of not fitting in. Fear of being judged. Fear of persecution for our religious beliefs. Fear of not moving up the career ladder if we don’t fit the right corporate mold.
  • Lack of confidence in our opinions. Lack of faith in our convictions. Lack of courage to defend the truth. Lack of knowledge about our faith.
  • Attachment to an income level and lifestyle that requires unhealthy compromises.
  • Conforming to society’s march towards political correctness, universal tolerance and acceptance of things which are in direct conflict with our faith, values and principles.
  • Relaxing our standards because it easier to go along with the crowd than take a stand.

This list may be as painful for you to acknowledge as it is for me or you may have a different list. The questions I have been asking are unsettling, but necessary if a more authentic life is to be pursued and embraced.  “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Embracing the REAL You

Have you ever replayed pivotal moments in your life over in your head and regretted your actions or words? Ever feel a twinge when your mouth said one thing and your heart/head felt another? Perhaps these feelings are your conscience trying to get your attention. It could be the Holy Spirit. Maybe, just maybe, it is time to consistently let our true selves be seen by others. But, is there an upside to having the courage to embrace who we really are?

The answer is a simple yes, because we are made for Heaven and not this place. We are here to help ourselves, our families and everyone else get to Heaven.

I am writing this article from the perspective of my Catholic faith, although I believe anyone can find value in what I am saying. As a Catholic reaching out to other Catholics, I challenge all of us (including myself) to show real courage and step up in our defense of Christ and His Church. The Church is under siege on multiple fronts and is often attacked for its unflinching defense of Christ’s teaching. We can no longer remain passive and be Catholic only at Mass on Sundays, but somebody different the rest of the week. Consider the words of Archbishop Charles Chaput in Render Unto Caesar: “Don’t lie. If we say we’re Catholic, we need to prove it. America’s public life needs people willing to stand alone, without apologies, for the truth of the Catholic faith and the common human values it defends. One person can make a difference – if that individual has a faith he or she is willing to suffer for” (pg 197). We can and should make a real difference through our prayers, our voices, our writing and at the ballot box.

After you read this reflection, please prayerfully consider if you need to be more authentically Catholic. I don’t know many of us who couldn’t stand some improvement! Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to guide our actions and give us courage. Let’s be joyful and set a good example for others by being unafraid to be our true selves. What is required of us is not easy, but our Lord will help us if we offer up our burdens and concerns to Him in prayer. He gave His life for us on the Cross. This sacrifice requires a faithful and courageous response from His followers.

With confidence and purpose, with our ultimate destination in mind, let’s all try to be a little more authentic today.

Editor’s Note:  Would you like to learn more about “regular Catholic heroes” and the joyful witness they give for Christ and the Catholic faith?  Randy Hain’s exciting sixth book, Joyful Witness: How to Be an Extraordinary Catholic (Servant Books) is now available through Amazon and all Catholic bookstores!

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