Faith Formation Matters in a Secularized Society

Fairly recently I read an article about a subtle kind of Christian discrimination taking place in the realm of social media. A college student recounted how the users of the app Yik Yak often find it acceptable to “shame people of faith” by leaving anonymous posts that criticize the Christian worldview. Meanwhile Christian users of the app just keep their personal beliefs quiet and say nothing because they don’t want to disturb the peace.

Now it’s one thing for Christians to get bombarded by criticism in a secular culture, but what bothers me more is the lack of conviction Christians have to represent the faith when it is misrepresented. This is not an issue of defending the faith, but of evangelizing which is intrinsic to Catholicism.

Our culture needs the gospel now more than ever, and Catholics are the ones who need to spread it. Catholics can’t let their religion remain just a personal matter. For this very reason, Catholicism is the antithesis to modernist philosophies that set out to silence religion: The Church has to spread its message to the ends of the earth or else it wouldn’t be Catholic.

Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house (Matthew 5:15).

As Pope Paul VI said, “Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize …” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 14)josh-applegate-122367

Sometimes we’re a little bashful about evangelizing because we are not convinced people really need the gospel. But in fact we all need it immensely, because there is such a lack of direction and purpose in people’s lives today. In an internet survey asking “What is the purpose of life?” only twenty-five percent of people answered that they certainly know. This would be understandable if only twenty-five percent of those surveyed claimed to be religious, rather than 60 percent! What this shows is that either religion generally doesn’t help people find purpose in life, or those who claim a religion are missing the whole point of religion.

Clearly, many people in societies across the world claim a religion while not having religious faith. This wouldn’t be so bad if religious faith weren’t so vital to a healthy society. Without it, there isn’t much more than the law system to deter citizens from living immoral lives. Thus, it’s no surprise that the world’s least religious country is also among the most authoritarian. Also, without the religious faith of the people the arts greatly suffer as their lifestyles become increasingly materialistic and less perceptive of transcendental things. Furthermore, without religious faith a society often tends to develop a culture of relativism that obscures the truth in the interest of tolerance toward all beliefs—and this tolerance ironically leads to intolerance as we saw in the social media anecdote mentioned above.

As Catholic Christians, we have seen these effects on the society we live in. Rather than sit back idly and observe the damage of this crisis of faith, why don’t we re-examine our own spiritual life and see if there’s anything we can change inside ourselves first?

Sanctify yourself and you will sanctify society.

—St. Francis of Assisi

Personal Faith Matters

Faith is a discipline. It needs to be mastered just like any other. When you start learning what it means to believe, you begin to see everything you do, everything around you, with the eyes of faith. We must learn how to integrate faith into our lives, and that takes practice and formation.

Faith is how we see. It isn’t just a state of mind that we employ when it seems necessary. When you look at life with the eyes of faith, your faith begins to encompass every aspect of your life. It becomes the prism of light that colors everything you see. When I don’t see with the eyes of faith, whatever religious practices I may observe either become a secluded form of escapism or an unintegrated part of my life. Without eyes of faith—in other words—I run the risk of having blind faith or being hypocritical, or both. As C.S. Lewis said:

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else. 

Faith is courageous trust. A person of faith has to trust that there is something more. He isn’t afraid to challenge and even change himself for the sake of that trust, because he believes that change will offer him some kind of new beginning—and he believes life always offers this chance for a new beginning. He believes there’s always something more to discover, something more to learn, something more to improve upon, something more to let go of.

Faith is more than the theology and beliefs of a religion. It is a life virtue. It expands our experience of the world, and enriches every other area of knowledge. We gain knowledge of the world through our travels and studies, but just as important is the wisdom and virtue we can’t quantify or define, which we often acquire through practicing faith. Faith picks up where knowledge leaves off.

As usual, Scripture sums it up best:

Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).

Faith Formation Matters

By so many people, faith is no longer seen as valuable. Even if we do see any form of faith as part of our life, seeing it as something that needs to be formed and developed is rarer still.

Perhaps this is because we don’t see all the ways it can benefit us. When you commit to increasing your faith, given enough time it will strengthen your character as it offers just what you need in whatever life throws at you. It can help you with everything from your struggle to get up on a groggy Monday morning to the pain of losing a loved one. Having faith that God will pull us through and give us strength is the solution to more things than we sometimes acknowledge.

What is also overlooked is faith’s ability to help in the practical areas of life. If we’re having trouble tackling a new project at work, believing that hard work and commitment will eventually reveal solutions unseen at the moment can help pull us through. If you don’t know how you’re going to get past that next big financial hurdle, if you’re feeling like you’re just running in circles in life, or if you find yourself in any number of tight binds in life, have faith. Believe in yourself and have faith in God’s grace and sustenance. It will help in every situation.

What’s Holding Us Back?

So only one question really remains. If it can help us in all of these ways, why aren’t we spending more time honing our faith? Why aren’t we aiming to strengthen it in everyday circumstances?

You are reading this because you already see the same need we do, the need to help people find God in their lives—while also increasing your own faith in him. We know that no matter how diligently we pursue the things of this world, there will still be a missing element: a relationship with God. Coincidentally, this missing element just happens to be the very thing we were created to have.

The Bible is the ultimate source when it comes to reminding us of that purpose: to be in a relationship with God. We go to it for wisdom, for inspiration, and for answers to prayers. But there is another powerful dimension of the Bible that is often overlooked … and that is the story of salvation woven throughout Scripture, the story of God’s love for us; and not just for all of us in general, but for you in particular. God wants to show you why he put you here, to reveal to you your mission. The Bible is one of his most direct ways of doing this, but we need to know the story. We have to understand where we fit in.

A Word About What We Do

Here at The Great Adventure Blog, we cover everything Catholic from Mary to the Mass, from chastity to Church history. Our blog gives you a better chance to discover Ascension Press, to really see who we are and what we do. But most importantly, it will give you the tools you need to strengthen your faith in these spiritually-deprived times.

Our blog is the web-based home of The Great Adventure Bible study by Jeff Cavins, one of the most popular Bible studies in the world. Hundreds of thousands of people in various countries have gone through Jeff’s groundbreaking study, which offers a big-picture approach to the narrative thread in the Bible. The Great Adventure tells the story of God’s love for us, the story of salvation, so you can find your part in it. The blog on our website, biblestudyforcatholics.com, invites its readers to immerse themselves in that story and find their part in it in the process.

To add even further faith-enriching content in addition to the blog articles, Jeff also offers a weekly video series called Encountering the Word where he shares his reflections on the upcoming Sunday Mass readings. Subscribers receive Jeff’s reflections along with a weekly recap of faith-enriching articles. Thousands of people have found the blog to be an invaluable resource in their everyday efforts to evangelize and strengthen their own faith.

If you have not already, consider subscribing today by simply entering your email in the box on the right side panel of the blog. By deeply rooting ourselves in our knowledge of Catholicism, and by regularly honing the virtue of faith in our lives we can give Christians everywhere more reasons to proudly represent their own faith as we lead by example.

Unsplash photo by Josh Applegate.

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David Kilby

David Kilby is the online content coordinator for Ascension Press and editor of The Great Adventure Blog. He has written for various local and diocesan newspapers. He has a degree in humanities and Catholic culture from Franciscan University of Steubenville, and writes at his website ramblingspirit.com.