Friday, June 24, 2016

Nuns and Nones... sharing some reflections...

Week after week I share my thoughts with you on our Sunday readings, and occasionally on other topics relevant to those going through Adult Faith Formation or the RCIA process.  For those of you, as adults, turning toward our Catholic faith, I stand in awe of you.  You are my inspiration in this ministry... having the courage to take a path different from the rest of society and explore a relationship with God through our Catholic tradition.

My journey was quite different from yours.  Born of Irish and Italian roots from Brooklyn, I commonly say that I "didn't have a choice" when it came to becoming a Catholic.  And it's true that there are very strong cultural elements to our Catholic faith just as there are strong cultural elements to other religious traditions.  Still, by the time we reach adulthood, those of us who are 'cradle Catholics" sill need to make a choice to embrace our faith... on an adult level.

My choice to "embrace the faith" didn't come readily, but instead evolved from the many years of formation I received by attending Catholic schools.  Part of that formation came from my years at St. Francis High School in the Los Angeles foothills of La CaƱada.  Though I didn't recognize it at the time, the Capuchin Franciscan friars who ran the school and the many other faculty and staff provided a daily witness to the faith that resonated both inside and outside of the classroom... An example that still resonates with me today.

Following the alumni news, I came across this address (below) given by the school's current principal Thomas Moran... who years ago was the AP English teacher when I was a student, (and whom my three brothers had to suffer through his class).  As I read through his graduation address to the Class of 2016, it touched me in a way that made me want to share it with you.  His message is just as relevant to those of you looking to join the Church as it is to those of us who are graduates of Catholic education.  Please read and enjoy:

(ed:  from the St. Francis High School eKnight Newsletter - June 23, 2016)

Mr. Moran's Address to the Graduates
Nuns and Nones
Saturday, May 28th, 2016

You have no idea how it feels to give a brilliantly written and impeccably delivered graduation address. Unfortunately, neither do I. But here goes. . .

I am a Baby Boomer who attended Catholic school during the 1950's and 60's, an era known for stay-at-home moms, affordable homes, large families, and optimism. We questioned authority and our major technological innovation (other than the space race) was television. We were the first generation in the history of the world to be raised under the threat of nuclear war. There was only one thing that terrified us more-nuns.

In those days, Catholic school staffs included some lay teachers and priests, but it was mostly nuns. And they were scary. They dressed strangely, behaved oddly, were demanding, and rarely shared their personal feelings (except for disdain at those who did not memorize the catechism). Their classrooms made bomb shelters feel welcoming.

Today, the space race is over and television is barely considered a technology. And, while you also question authority, your generation has few similarities to mine. These days, many mothers work, houses are unaffordable, families are smaller, optimism is rare, and religious teachers are disappearing.

Since then, I have conquered my fear and become colleagues and friends with several nuns.

But, I have a new fear: N-O-N-E-S. These are people who, when classifying their faith, respond "none of the above."  Nones are defined as those who "self-identify as atheists or agnostics, rarely pray, and say that religion is not important in their lives." They are considered the fastest growing American religious demographic and include about 36% of the population born between 1990-1996. Their spiritual and social disengagement frightens me, because it's so contrary to St. Francis' philosophy.

Our friars, faculty and staff have worked tirelessly not only to prepare you for college, but for life beyond. Those of us from prior generations know that having a strong faith is critical to surviving difficulties and challenges. It is one blessing of a Catholic education. It is why we require religion classes, celebrate sacraments, expect Christian service, offer retreats, and systematically communicate Franciscan virtues.

The nuns of yesterday imbued my generation with faith. In America in 1965, there were over 180,000 of them; today there are approximately 50,000. They dedicated themselves to serve selflessly in Catholic schools, hospitals, and parishes with distinction. If more of those nuns were around today, I guarantee there would be fewer nones.

My message today is simple: your parents did not send you to St. Francis to become a none. If you have found value in service, are an instrument of peace, and developed a relationship with God, you do not qualify as a none. If you have embraced integrity, humility, brotherhood, and joy, don't even think about being a none.

We urge you to get into this habit: providing the best example of faith, love, and service for the next generation, bar none. On behalf of our Board of Directors, friars, faculty and staff, congratulations class of 2016.

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