Observing a Year of Faith

By | November 9, 2011

“It will be a moment of grace and commitment to an ever fuller conversion to God, to reinforce our faith in him and to proclaim him with joy to the people of our time,” he said in a homily announcing the Year of Faith.

One week after the year-long observance aimed at deepening the faith of Catholics was announced, a survey commissioned by the National Catholic Reporter, an independent Catholic newspaper based in Kansas City, Mo., offered a glimpse into what some Catholics think about the church today.

The survey, “Catholics in America,” was the fifth such survey commissioned by NCR since 1987.

Catholic identity was one of the survey’s themes and it showed that while many Americans identify themselves as Catholic, they are not equally committed to all of the church’s teachings.

For example, 60 percent of respondents who view themselves as “highly committed” Catholics say that one can be a good Catholic without obeying the church’s teaching on artificial contraception. Forty-eight percent also said they can be good Catholics without going to weekly Mass.

In another area, the survey found a significant decline in the percentage of Catholics who support the obligation to donate time and money to help the poor and their parish.

The survey found that many Catholics aren’t sure what the church teaches on foundational issues. For example, only half of adult Catholics surveyed knew the church’s teaching regarding the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.

Since the survey’s release, secular news outlets have picked up on the results and noted the gap between church teachings and church practices. But the survey and its results, while helpful in providing a sketch of Catholic identity, are not the definitive picture of how Catholics live out their faith.

First, it is merely a sampling of fewer than 1,500 Catholics with a sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. In addition, as NCR points out, “other factors such as question wording and the ordering of the questionnaire can introduce error or bias into public opinion polls.”

At the same time, the survey offers church leaders useful information to study and consider. With the Year of Faith on the horizon, it could be time to review some of the issues related to Catholic teachings to find out how parishes can better address them in religious education and Catholic school programs.

Even before the survey’s release, Pope Benedict noted that studying the Catechism of the Catholic Church, gaining a better understanding of the Nicene Creed and conducting acts of charity would be ways to faithfully observe the Year of Faith.

With a population of some 68 million registered Catholics in the United States, the church always has room for more instruction and evangelization of its members. The Year of Faith puts a nice framework on making this happen.

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