• Readings for today's Mass

Stages of Faith experience

Summary of main ideas

A child's view of the world is very different from that of an adult. The 20th century gave us important studies in the area of human development. In one of these, James Fowler mapped the pattern of development which takes place in a persons faith experience. Looking at the six stages Fowler identifies can help us to retrace our own faith journey, and to understand better the sometimes-uncomfortable transitions we have made:

In Stage 1, the small child identifies unquestioningly with the outlook of its family; at Stage 2, the child – now aware of a broader group of "people like us" – identifies with the outlook expressed in that group's stories, rituals etc.; at Stage 3, the young adolescent becomes aware of the faith community as an institution, with an ordered way of life and conventions they can identify with; at Stage 4, young people in adolescence and early adulthood recognise that there are outlooks that reject what their faith has taken for granted, and they are challenged to make a personal commitment; at Stage 5, mature adults, now secure in their faith, are able to have a sense of fellowship with humanity at large, and to appreciate what is positive in other traditions; at Stage 6 (which Fowler says it attained by relatively few) an outlook is achieved which – seeing all things and people through the eyes of God – makes people agents of reconciliation and transformation.

As we review our own life journey through this sequence, it is important to recognize that the progression is not to be understood as an achievement scale. Personal experience and social changes are largely responsible for transition to new stages. The quality of an individual's personal faith depends upon their union with God and their response to God's life-giving call (God's secret) – whatever stage the person may have moved to.

It is clear that the changes taking place in today's world, and today's Church in this time of renewal, have a profound effect upon the journey of faith experience being made today – especially by our young people.