By KAREN OSBORNE, Commentary | Published July 17, 2008
Only a few of the friends I grew up with were raised Catholic. The rest came from Protestant denominations and a few were Jewish. Some weren’t raised in a faith at all.
Lunchtime conversations could get pretty crazy when we were feeling a little theological. We wanted to know everything. My Jewish friends would ask about how the Trinity could still be one God. My Protestant friends would ask why Catholics believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist when their denominations saw it more as a memorial. My atheist friends would ask me how I could believe at all. I’d also ask them questions.
That’s “haute conversation” at age 15.
Sometimes, I felt small when I couldn’t explain the twisty concepts of my faith well enough for my non-Christian friends to understand. Sometimes I felt like I had to defend what I believed—hope in Christ—against a societal cynicism that seemed much “cooler.”
In our multicultural country, it’s natural for teens to have friends of all faiths and callings. Previous generations, though, may not have had direct experience with other cultures. They often grew up in homogeneous societies where everyone came from a similar racial makeup, economic class and belief system.
Ask any Catholic who grew up in the 1940s or 1950s and they’ll often say that they were insulated against the outside world by where and how they lived.
In one way, that kind of society was a good thing, as people had a foundation of sorts from which to start, and strong beliefs to support them. In another way, though, it wasn’t: Sameness made it easy to demonize “the other,” people who looked or lived differently. It curtailed civil rights and caused cultural misunderstandings, racism and even violence against innocents.
What Catholic teens are doing in our society today by chatting about their faith is a dual victory against that insular ideal: first, destroying the idea of “the other” by making new friends from different cultures and faiths, and, second, by becoming more sure of who they are as Catholics and as human beings.
“Apologetics” is the term for what I was basically doing with my friends: telling them about what I believe and making sure they had the correct information about Catholicism. But, quite honestly, I’d prefer a different term—I’m embarrassed by it. And I think it scares a lot of teens away.
In Greek, “apologia” means “defense.” In English, though, if I “apologize,” it means I am seeking forgiveness for a wrong I have committed upon someone else.
Since when do we have to be embarrassed by our belief? It’s something to be proud of!
Society says it’s “uncool” to be religious. I say this: Don’t apologize for who you are, for the fact that you believe in God. Be proud of what you believe.
When you have those crazy conversations about religion with your friends, don’t shy away. Speak from your heart and open your mind to listen to what others have to say about their faiths.
Catholics can destroy the unneeded insulation surrounding them and be themselves in a world that doesn’t always believe as we do. In fact, that’s exactly what Christians everywhere are called to do.
Starting at the lunch table, we can paint a more accurate picture of what a Christian is and learn more about the hundreds of faiths that make this world tick. We can reduce racism, turn misunderstanding to understanding and help frightened people learn there are friends to be made everywhere.
Stand tall. You were raised to do it.