Father Rich Dyer spoke at Arlington’s Theology on Tap this week–the topic was “fear.” I almost never attend TOT these days, but being The World’s Biggest Coward, I thought this talk might be worth listening to.
At the end someone asked the question: “What do you think is the biggest fear among Catholic young adults these days?”
I thought, “If he says ‘commitment’ I’m going to punch the wall.” Granted, there’s some truth to the statement, “Today’s young people are just too afraid to commit,” but I’ve heard it so much that it just rings hollow. Besides which, I think the “fear to commit” is only the surface of some much deeper sociological, psychological, spiritual problems. So it becomes the easy, cop-out answer of an older generation that needs to have something to cluck its tongue at.
But I digress. Father didn’t answer the question right away. He paused and looked at the floor for a long minute. A really long minute. The guy in the booth next to me started to squirm a little and someone coughed. At last Father looked up and said, “I feel a little out of the loop these days, but I guess I’d have to say Catholic young adults are most afraid of being themselves.”
By that, he went on to explain, he meant too many YAs are afraid to be obviously Catholic. He gave the example of saying grace before meals in public. How many people refuse to cross themselves before and after grace, for fear of standing out?
Okay, so maybe many of us are okay with blessing ourselves in public. Some of us go so far as to wander the city streets with our rosaries on the walk home after work.
But how many of us (and I plead guilty) hide behind the old, “Preach the gospel at all times, if necessary use words” excuse for not standing up for what we believe in when we’re faced with tough questions from our peers, maybe in social settings, in the work place, wherever? I fall into this trap all the time: I’ll be a nice person, they’ll know I’m a good Christian girl, and somehow or other they’ll all be won over to Jesus by the juxtaposition of those two things.
How often do I end up half apologizing for my weird belief system when people ask me to explain it? Or talking about the harder-to-swallow truths of our faith with just enough of a lilt to my voice that my hearers can pick up, “Don’t worry, I get how crazy this is”? Or falling into the corrosive “Well, this is what I believe, but you can believe what you want” mindset that ends in a relativistic approach to life?
I didn’t realize quite how wishy-washy I could be about this until I participated in a writing workshop this past spring. Not only was I the only conservative Catholic in the group, but we were all participating in a pretty intimate thing together: the writing of short stories. And I found myself embarrassed to let my Catholicism shine through in my writing. Would it turn people off? Wouldn’t they have trouble relating to my writing, unless I made myself out to be yet another angsty, questioning Catholic who isn’t quite on board with the whole deal?
It was easy enough to be Catholic boldly as a Catholic homeschooled kid, as a student at a Catholic college, and even now as a Catholic young adult surrounded by like-minded peers. But to be Catholic in all settings, and to be so with pride is hard. Even scary.
And the hardest part is being Catholic with pride, and still loving and welcoming everyone we encounter on a daily basis, and letting them know they’re loved and welcomed. We can’t hunker down and shut the world out because “it’s evil.” That’s just another form of living fear.