Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Making the Connection between Prayer, Faith, and Forgiveness in Roman Catholic Families

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Making the Connection between Prayer, Faith, and Forgiveness in Roman Catholic Families

Article excerpt

This study examines meanings and processes associated with religious practices of prayer, building faith, and forgiving through in-depth, qualitative interviews with six highly religious Roman Catholic families with children. Families were interviewed using a narrative approach that asked participants to share experiences and challenges related to faith and family life. Three primary themes in the interviews included: (a) prayer helps piece the puzzle together, (b) faith builds a foundation, and (c) forgiveness allows unity to flourish. Key Words: Religion, Catholic, Prayer, Faith, Forgiveness, and Family

The role of religion in American society and family life has become an area of significant interest for researchers (Dollahite, Marks, & Goodman, 2004). In America, 95% of all parents and married couples report an affiliation with a religious organization (Mahoney, Pargament, Tarakeshwar, & Swank, 2001), 90% want their children exposed to religious training (Gallup & Castelli, 1989), and a reported 60% of people surveyed expressed the importance of religion in their lives (McCullough, Hoyt, Larson, Koenig, & Thoresen, 2000). Further, a significant minority of Americans report that, for them, religion is life's most important influence (Miller & Thoresen, 2003). For faith-centered individuals and families such as these, including devout Catholic families, we cannot satisfactorily understand their lives without understanding their faith.

Catholicism in Context

In their efforts to understand the relationship between faith and families, social science researchers have focused attention on examining various world religions (i.e., Agius & Chircop, 1998; Marks, 2004). Of the world religions, Christianity is the most widespread, being professed by roughly 1.5 billion people across the three major traditions of Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, and Eastern Orthodoxy (Smith, 1994). Christianity is a "historical religion" focused primarily on the life and times of a Jewish carpenter named Jesus Christ. The life of Jesus is captured through the various gospels contained within the New Testament of the Bible, which provide a guide to the ideals and principles that form the core of Christianity's teachings. These teachings center on the belief that God chose to send his only begotten son Jesus to save humankind (John 3:16). Through this belief, Christianity seeks to provide and promote forgiveness, love, and hope in this world and--ultimately--in a better world to come (Palmer & Keller, 1993).

The Roman Catholic Church, which is a division of Christianity, has its primary influence in Rome and in areas of Europe, and Central and South America. As suggested by Smith (1994), the Roman Catholic Church is formed on two important concepts including the authority of the church teachings and the "sacramental agents." In dealing with the church as a teacher, the Pope is seen as the high priest with power invested in him through God. The Roman Catholic Church asserts the idea that Christ established the church on Earth to have final authority in matters of religious and moral doctrine. Indeed, the idea of "papal infallibility" is grounded in the church's teaching that God has given the Pope special gifts in which God protects him against any error in making decisions that will influence and shape the church as a whole (Smith). The past half century, however, has produced a greater tension between the Vatican and the American Catholic Church (Steinfels, 2005), as well as Catholic universities, and for an increasing number of lay Catholics (Fields, 2001).

In connection with our familial focus in this paper, a Catholic sacrament, which plays a vital role in the church and forms the foundation of families, is holy matrimony or marriage. According to Pilla (1999), the church teaches that the family originates in marriage. In addition, Roman Catholics hold the belief that the sacrament of marriage is "a living and effective sign of God's love in the world;" a belief that was reaffirmed by a message released by Catholic bishops entitled, Follow the Way of Love (Pilla). …

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