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Abbot Peter Novecosky, OSB


Abbot Peter Novokosky

Healthy family life

In his recent apostolic exhortation on family life, The Joy of Love, Pope Francis hit a sympathetic chord when he emphasized the importance of simple words and deeds in everyday life. Simple gestures such as a kind look or a morning kiss and family prayer can strengthen couples in living out their vocation to marriage, he says. These lead to a happier family.

Some of his advice seems to coincide with the findings of a recent survey by the Pew Research Center released April 12. The study, titled U.S. Religious Landscape Study, compared highly religious American adults with those less religious.

Highly religious adults are defined in the study as the 30 per cent of U.S. adults who say they pray daily and attend religious services at least once a week. The less religious are the remaining 70 per cent of the population.

On the happiness scale, Americans who say they attend religious services weekly and pray daily also report being happier than those who are less religiously committed. Four in 10 highly religious adults say they are generally “very happy,” compared with 29 per cent of those who are less religious.

Highly religious Americans also visit their extended families more often. Nearly half (47 per cent) say they do this at least once or twice a month, while only 30 per cent of less religious adults get together with extended family as often. Americans who are not highly religious are twice as likely as those who are highly religious to say they seldom or never attend gatherings with extended family.

A third area of comparison involves volunteering and giving to the poor. Volunteerism and donations to the poor are especially common practices for those who are highly religious, the study found. Among people who pray daily and attend services weekly, 45 per cent say they volunteered in the past week. This compares with 28 per cent of Americans who are not highly religious. The gap is even bigger when it comes to helping the poor: 65 per cent of the highly religious say they donated money, time or goods to help the poor in the past week, compared with 41 per cent of all other U.S. adults.

The PEW study also pointed out ways in which highly religious and less religious adults are not different.

Being religious does not make it any more likely that people will keep their cool in stressful situations. There is also little difference in the connection between between religiosity and health. The report shows that the two study groups are not very different in overall satisfaction with the state of their health or in their frequency of exercising and overeating.

Another area that shows no difference is care for the environment. The study found no differences between the highly religious and others when it comes to recycling habits. Nearly half of those in each group say they recycle “whenever possible,” while only four per cent in both groups say they “never” recycle.

Catholic News Service did an analysis of Catholic responses in the survey compared to all other Christian responses. The Pew survey gave the respondents 16 particular behaviours to choose from to describe what they considered essential to their Christian identity.

In descending order of importance, here is what Catholic respondents declared to be essential: believing in God; being grateful for what you have; being honest at all times; forgiving those who have wronged you; praying regularly; committing to spend time with your family; working to help the poor and needy; attending religious services; not losing your temper; reading the Bible or other religious materials; and — with a tie between them — helping in the congregation and dressing modestly.

Bringing up the rear were working to protect the environment; buying from companies that pay a fair wage; living a simple lifestyle; and resting on the Sabbath. There were not great differences between Catholics and other Christians on the order of the list from top to bottom.

Families may do well to look at both the papal text and the Pew study to evaluate how to enrich their own family life.