Christians and change
By Michael Mason C.Ss.R.
Two things fired my interest in academic work while I was a Redemptorist seminarian:
- trying to teach religious education to Year 10 girls at a nearby Catholic college;
- attending a gathering of dynamic, faith-filled leaders in the YCW (Young Catholic Worker movement).
Although they listened politely, the kind of theology I had found exciting was obviously pretty dull stuff to those teenage girls, and miles away from the ‘real world’ they lived in. But on the other hand, somehow the Gospel had reached the YCW young people and filled them with zeal and joy.
As a Redemptorist whose primary goal in life was then, and still is, bringing the Gospel to people who have not heard it, I found myself fascinated by a question: What kind of changes were happening in the world that seemed to be making the traditional ways of sharing the Gospel ineffective? And what new ways of proclaiming the Word would be effective in this new world?
I thought the best way to answer this question would be to study the sociology of religion which tries to understand how people come to faith and live the Christian life in a changing world. So I went and studied the sociology of religion for six years in the US. It did seem to shed some light on the modern world, especially on the process called secularisation, or how religion is becoming less influential in modern society and culture. And from that we can get some idea of how we need to adapt the ministry of evangelisation so that it will be effective in that world.
For some years I taught units on this topic at the Yarra Theological Union, attended by our Redemptorist students, along with many lay people, especially teachers specialising in Religious Education.
Nowadays, I do research – sociological surveys of religion and spirituality among young people. I find this the most absorbing and interesting work I have ever done, and feel it contributes most to my aim in life as a Redemptorist.
• Fr. Mason is Senior Research Fellow, Institute for the Advancement of Research, Australian Catholic University, Melbourne.