This week National Public Radio ran a series of features in their Morning Edition program called “Losing Our Religion.” The series was prompted by recent surveys and censuses that indicate that more Americans than ever before are religiously “unaffiliated.” Sociologists are referring to this group as “nones” because that is what they tend to mark on surveys when asked their religious affiliation. The surveys indicate that not only are young people today less religious than their elders (that has always been true), many more of them are less religious than there age group was in the past. The series on NPR is worth listening to (go to NPR.org and search “Losing Our Religion.”) Throughout the week they played interviews with young people of various religious background who do not consider themselves believes now, non-believers who struggle with their non-belief, believers who simply reject religious practice as necessary, sociologists, and religious professionals. Nothing in the series was particularly shocking to me – the truth of the reports is born out in my experience as a university minister. What it did highlight for me was the challenge we (a Newman Community) faces to keep our faith and our religion relevant in a world where truth and real-ness are much needed. Many young people leave the Church because they see too many contradictions and inconsistencies – between belief and practice, between Sunday mornings and the rest of the week, between religious teaching and their own experiences, between ancient texts and modern realities, but most of all between Jesus’ commandment of love and inability of those who profess faith in Jesus to actually live that love.
One of my on-going challenges is to listen to the experiences of our young people and to understand that they have something to teach those of us with a few years under our belts. We must maintain the delicate balance between holding to what we know to be true as a matter of faith and making that faith continuously alive and relevant in the modern world. This was the challenge of the Second Vatican Council 50 years ago and remains our challenge today as we observe the memory of that Council. I would remind all of us at Newman that this challenge is not just for the clergy and the staff. One of the true glories of this community is our diversity of ages. We must all, at whatever stage of life, demonstrate to our young brothers and sisters that our faith is real and important. That it makes a difference in our lives and in the world. At the same time, we must listen to their concerns and experiences and help them locate those experiences in the context of their faith. This is the work of the Church and it is a remarkable time to be a believer and we all have our work cut out for us.