On the way to Faith
mickie176 asked this question on 8/7/2000:
I am writing you, because at 24 years old (and having attended Catholic grammar school for 9 years), I find myself feeling frighteningly disconnected to my beliefs and to my religion. I believe in God, but I feel like a hypocrite when pray to St. Jude or St. Anthony. I feel lost at mass (as though Iím merely going through the motions). I have a desire to learn/re-learn the roots of my faith.
I have a question regarding the Old Testament. As a Roman Catholic, I was taught that God gave Moses the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai. It is my understanding that Judaism teaches that G_d gave Moses the Ten Commandments, as well as the Torah (including 613 additional commandments) on Mt. Sinai. Do Catholics know about the additional 613 commandments (mitzvahs)? If we know about them, do we choose to ignore them? Please help me to understand.
Thanking you in advance,
Dear sister in Christ, dear Michelle:
The joy of the Lord be in your heart.
Thanks for your post.
You sound like a bride that has married a man she doesnít know at all. So she goes through the motions but there is no life, no love. You should try to find out what is the motive. There are many reasons. The most common one I have encountered are the following:
The person has become an adult and the faith remained that of the child. Itís like wearing your dress for first communion at 24 years. You are very uncomfortable.
There has been an unfortunate experience with a person that represents in some way God or the Church. You have seen their sins and the scandal asphyxiated the faith. I remember a girl in the class I taught who came to confession after years and years. What had happened? Well the family one Sunday morning drove to church and they crashed into an other vehicle. From the other car emerged a priest who insulted the girlís father in the most horrible manner. Bye, bye confession. It can happen that those who were educated by nuns experienced some injustice. Bye, bye faith in the teaching received. I remember a girl that wanted counseling. The first thing she said: "Father, I hate God!" I asked her: "You have terrible problems with your father?" "How do you know? He drinks and beats us all." Bye, bye faith in God the Father almighty.
More motives: The teenage years include together with the rebellion against the parents a rebellion against God especially when the religious teaching was very stern and there was more talk about sin than about Godís love. Faith got lost somewhere there.
Going to college you meet a wonderful and intelligent and atheist professor who is powerful in his way of teaching. You get dizzy because his arguments seem impossible to rebut. Admiration destroys faith. I remember a story of a professor who said in the first class: "I will prove to you that God does not exist. And if someone still believes at the end of the semester he should that he is a moron." In the last row one of the students stood up. "What do you want?" asked the professor. "You should know that I will be this moron".
One of the most common reason for not having faith is sin. Yes, you read correctly. Especially if it is a recurrent weakness, a vice. You lose faith because you canít get out of it. Nothing helps. I remember one gentleman whose family was very catholic who said to me: "I think Christ hasnít even existed". Well during the conversation he confessed that he was committing adultery. He heard Godís invitation to repent. Two days later he came to the parish to confession. He had finished the liaison. When he said good-bye I asked him: "Do you still believe that Christ didnít exist?" He laughed and said: "Oh no, I believe firmly in Christ". See!
What is your problem?
mickie176 asked this follow-up question on 8/7/2000:
Thank you very much for taking the time to so thoroughly address my situation. I have given this a lot of thought recently, and I think that my wavering faith has been a slow process that began around the time of my fatherís death from cancer two years ago. The impetus was probably that my family turned to my parish priest for my fatherís last rites, and our phone call was not returned for three days (on the day that my father passed).
We went to speak to my priest about how we felt somewhat abandoned and lost. My mother began to cry and my priest merely looked at us and asked us about my fatherís age and illness. He offered neither apologies nor comfort. While my mother continued to embrace her church, I refused to attend masses at that parish, and went to a different church a few times. I noticed that I was merely "going through the motions" and I stopped attending mass. Since then, I have continued to pray at home, saying novenas to St. Anthony and St. Jude.
Recently, a Jewish friend of mine has become more religious. In listening to him talk about his connection with God and a new feeling of being truly alive, I have realized that I am feeling very disconnected. I have begun to feel like a hypocrite by praying to the saints. I feel somewhat lost.
I thought that this would be a good place to start, in addition to re-reading the Bible, to find a connection again. My thinking was that if I could remember the dogma of Catholicism, why we should believe in what we do, and the reasoning behind certain practices, then perhaps I would be able to see and feel God and Jesus in my church and in my life.
Once again, thank you,
The peace of the Lord be in your heart.
Thank you for being patient with my ruminations. And in the name of that parish priest I beg you to forgive us, your priests. I have worked more than 30 years in a parish and I canít forget many of my failures. I must have scandalized many Christians and I only hope and pray that they havenít separated from the Church.
I remember one incident. Every Friday I used to visit the sick and bring them Holy Communion. One day I was tired and cut short my round. Next Friday I knocked on the door of a parish member. They told me that he had died in the hospital two days ago. I hope he has forgiven me. Oh Lord, your post recalls for me my sins I hadnít thought about some time. May He have mercy on me!
Look, I have had many times the experience to be called from a wedding or some other happy event to confront for instance the raw ache and pain of the parents sitting before the body of their drowned child. More then once in these moments I felt like numb. I didnít know what to say. I prayed with them, I tried to say something personal. I have to confess that I hurried away adducing the pretext of some urgent matter.
The death of your father has left a great wound. I donít know what is worse, a sudden death of someone you love or a protracted sickness that prolongs the agony. It hurts to see somebody of our loved ones wane slowly and not be able to help.
Now I want to suggest something that might not be evident at first. But I think itís real. You think about it and you will find there is something about it. What Iím trying to tell you is that your have not only a quarrel with the parish priest. You have resentment against God who took your father away. Iím sure you have prayed very much for your father and God didnít hear you. This bitterness has been compounded by the behavior of the parish priest. Possibly itís not conscious. But itís there. Why? You refuse to go to mass. You continue praying to St. Jude or St. Anthony and feel like itís not right. Itís incongruous.
You have two choices. One option: you believe that God loves you and everything He decides or provides is the best for all His children involved. Yes, two years ago was the best moment for your father and for the rest of the family. I have a suspicion that your earthly father did practically everything you asked for. Your were probably the apple of his eye. Thatís why you canít understand that your heavenly Father has not done what you asked him. All this may not be a conscious development. Itís more an emotional process. Can it be that you donít forgive easily? This assembles a composite of pain, frustration, the feeling of not being loved and a measure of pride. The potent mixture of resentment.
The other alternative consists in obliterating all traces of faith or, as rebellious children are wont to do the contrary of what the parents like, you take up an other faith in order to punish Him. So there!
But God has been patient with you. He has let you leave. Perhaps you needed these two years in order to grow up spiritually. Keep thinking. Perhaps your life was taking the wrong direction and your fatherís death has corrected it in time?
Iím sure that all this time you felt this terrible emptiness that is the fate of all those who reject love. Thatís why you envy your Jewish friend because heís connecting again with his roots and feels how life is coming back.
God loves you. He gave up His only Son because He loves you. He has taken your Dad away out of love for you, your father, your mother and all involved.
I think you know itís time to come back to your heavenly Father. How? First you will have to forgive Him what He has done to you. Yes, you forgive God for the pain, the emptiness, the anger and the spiritual loneliness. You tell Him that you canít accept it even after two years but that you begin to believe again in His love. Your Dad is praying for you before God.
You well know that inner attitudes have to be expressed in gestures to acquire real, tangible consistence.
I would like to suggest two ways of doing it.
First you go to confession and Mass and tell everybody about it. You will feel the happiness of the lost child that comes back home. Telling about it will help you cure your arrogance before God. I chose this word with care. If you are sincere you will agree that it fits.
Second: you buy a little present and take it to the parish priest. If God gives you the guts than you ask him to forgive you because you have judged him in your heart. If he asks why, donít answer. Repeat that you want only to ask him to forgive you. Otherwise it would be reconciliation with retaliation included, wouldnít it? And it wouldnít heal you!
I promise that the Lord will do something great in your heart and around you. You will see.
So just do it.
God bless your
In Corde Jesu
PS. Only afterwards can we talk about faith. If you canít do it that will mean that God hasnít heard my prayer. Iíll have to pray some more.
PPS. A favor: if you write back make it a new post because scrolling freezes my screen. Some day the Lord who will change your heart will give me a new computer too.
PPPS. Want a discount? Go to confession with the parish priest.
PPPPS. I had the impression that St. Anthony and St. Jude were whispering in my ear. They are praying hard together with your father.
mickie176 asked this question on 8/12/2000:
Thank you for your advice and counsel regarding my faith, or lack thereof. I have not seen the priest that I dealt with at the time of my fatherís death. I do intend to. After much thought, I have resolved not to hold a grudge. I realize that he is only human. In communicating with you, I have been reminded that he is not the only priest in the world and that his behavior is the exception, not the rule.
I have taken your advice, and gone to confession. You are correct. I am in quite a straight, and it is not going to be easy to get out of it. I can recall a feeling of relief and renewal that I used to get after confession. It is breaking my heart, but I must say that after confession today, I feel discouraged. I went to confession anticipating that same sense of comfort and renewal, but I did not find it. I explained my situation to the priest. He told me to continue to pray to Jesus. I explained why that seems incongruous, but I agreed that I would do it. I asked what else I could do to regain my faith in Jesus and the Holy Spirit. He said that he would pray for me. Aside from telling the other priest that I am sorry, I donít know what to do next.
I have read the scripture passages that you indicated. Thank you so much for your thoughtful and complete answers. They did help to resolve those questions. I am hopeful that clearing up my confusion regarding the scriptures will help me. In reading the passages, I was reminded of a question regarding the Holy Trinity. I have been taught to believe that God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are one God. Why then, in Luke 18.19, does Jesus say, "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone". Another example, why did Jesus cry out, "My God, my God, why did you abandon me?" (Mark 15.34)
How do we, as Catholics, resolve these types of inconsistencies? Perhaps you can help.
Thanking you once again,
When I read your post I felt what you havenít. I think you are frozen and you are just beginning to defrost. Donít worry. Many times we have acquired habits that are wrong. But we like these routines; so our feelings are "frozen up" in them. So what do we do? We expose us to the warmth of divine forgiveness. You will see that slowly the ice begins to drip. It still feels very cold but we are exposed to the warmness and it requires some time until we can feel it.
Perhaps you understand me better if I give you an example. Let us say a boy and a girl, both have faith, fall in love. They become careless and have sexual relations because the love each other. They know itís wrong and they decide to be chaste. They go to confession. They donít "feel" remorse. It was so beautiful and they "felt" so happy. But there is a higher love, the love of God. Thatís why they repent and going against their intense feelings and powerful desires they ask forgiveness and change.
Forgive me if I insist somewhat: We donít go to confession in order to feel something. We go to confession because we love God. If there is some emotional reward, ok. If there isnít itís ok too. Itís like a rope that has been tied up into many knots. You have to untie one by one. It takes time. Be patient.
You havenít written that you have forgiven God for taking away your father. Well yesterday, I think, you have received Holy Communion. You must have told Him something. Anyway visit the priest you have been talking about. By simple deciding it you canít eliminate a feeling. You have to go and ask to be forgiven for judging him. Remember you donít answer if he wants to know why. No retaliation. You repeat that you want to ask him to forgive for have judged him. Nothing more and nothing less. Donít forget to give him a little present.
Now let me ask you something else. You felt that it was incongruous only to pray to Jesus. You wanted to do something spectacular in order to deserve the change in faith attitude you want to achieve. God will give it to you free. Enjoy his generosity and bask in His mercy.
Why do you think that resolving inconsistencies of Scripture will enhance your faith? The solution is elsewhere. Once having recovered your faith you wonít find any inconsistencies because you know they donít exist. The problem is the right understanding.
Let me give you an example
A man complained that he was in a bad shape. "When I touch my head, it hurts. When I touch my chest, it hurts. When I touch my arms and legs they hurt!" The doctor couldnít find anything. Everything was in good shape. Finally he checked the fingers. They were broken.
When faith wavers everything begins to shake and we want some outer assurance and security. Sure there are ways to show that it is rational to have faith. But nobody can convince you to have faith. This is an inner security given by God. The Gospel of yesterdayís readings brought it up: "Nobody can come to Me if My Father doesnít draw him".
Donít worry; you have taken the first step. He will lead you to a higher level of faith because it wonít depend anymore on "feelings" but on love.
God bless you
In Corde Jesu
PS. I will send you later a commentary about Luke 18.
mickie176 asked this question on 10/28/2000:
Please forgive me for taking so long to respond. Dental school has begun again, and it is intense. Your "hunches" are truly amazing. The very day that I received your post, I was having a difficult time focusing on my schoolwork. I was thinking about how sad and lost I was feelingóbasically, wallowing in confusion, guilt, and self-pity. Your post came just when I needed it most. Thank you, G_d.
Obviously, I have not gotten out of the straight. Nor have I gone to see the priest. I do absolutely resent him for the abrasive way that he treated my family. However, I do not hold the Church accountable for that. I do not really think that my questioning of Jesus is related to this priest. I also think that seeing him again would be an uncomfortable situation.
Over the course of the past year, when I had the time (not often, mind you), I was reading books and trying to learn more about the reasons why Catholics believe what they do. How do we resolve the discrepancies in the Bible? It seems that questions beget more questions.
I hope that G_d will show me the way and draw my path for me. Maybe I am relinquishing responsibility. Maybe I am trying to believe that G_d will take care of me. I do not know. I believe that I have G_d in my heart. I also have a sort of "man without a country" feeling there. I like rituals. They help me to feel "connected". I miss doing those things that at one time fulfilled me.
I read your response to Arcura. Now I see where you are coming from. I know why you told me that I would not find my faith by resolving discrepancies in the scriptures. I need to find faith first. It is difficult. I do not understand the Trinity. Iím sorry. I know it must be difficult to hear that. I know, because I have sought counsel with several priests, and they have shuddered upon hearing those words. They said that they would pray for me, but could offer no answer or consolation. Maybe there is nothing to say. Maybe it is just something that through G_dís grace, I will come to understand, accept and believe.
I do not feel abandoned by G_d. I do feel that I have somewhat abandoned Him. Should I come to quiet my doubt, find peace again, and realize that Jesus is G_dís son and my savior, will He ever be able to forgive me for doubting Him. While my heart says He will... I worry. But, in the midst of much inner turmoil, an "out of the blue" e-mail from a priest in the southern hemisphere is a comforting reminder that G_d will never turn His back on me. Thank you. It is trueóGod does marvelous things. Why donít I let Him?
The joy of the Lord be in your heart.
If someone who has "hunches" itís the Spirit of the Lord who moves the earth and the stars and the planets and this old man.
If it is necessary I will comment your post later on in detail.
Regarding arcura I have "metido la pata", I have contributed to the suffering of a brother in Christ. Well I have tried to explain at length but the damage is done. I hope he will forgive me. Well, Iím rambling on about my problems.
I wanted to answer you at once about the pending visit. Sure it will be uncomfortable. Itís not easy for our vanity to recognize before an other person that we have thought and wished evil.
Itís enough that you tell him that you have judged him in your heart. Remember, if he wants to know about the what, the why donít answer. Be adamant and tell him that you want him only to forgive you and the rest you will tell to your Father Confessor. Give him a little present and ask his blessing and run away.
Trust me. Perhaps you wonít feel anything but I can assure you that the unfreezing will go on. You have been created to love and not to hate.
Sunday is a good day to make amends.
Just do it!
God bless you
PS. It seems you have stopped going to Mass and Confession. Or am I wrong about that? I would really love to be in error on this!
PSS. Faith is a gift of God. Read John 6 44 "No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. 45 "It is written in the prophets, ĎAND THEY SHALL ALL BE TAUGHT OF GOD.í Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me. 46 "Not that any man has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father." He wants you to come to Him!
The joy of the Lord be in your heart.
Iím asking the Lord if He is hearing my prayer. But He will not let me down. But He respects your free will.
Tomorrow the Church is beginning a new year of salvation awaiting the birth of the Son of God.
Angelus Silesius wrote something like this:
"Even if Christ had been born a thousand times in Bethlehem and is not born in your heart, he has been born in vain".
Perhaps Iím out of order, flying into space of unwarranted speculation.
But isnít there an other additional problem you have to resolve in order to receive from the Lord the strength to do anything necessary to do His will and be happy?
I venture a story. I only want you to understand that the Lord is kind. He loves to forgive. The story if from a book a read centuries ago "The World, the flesh and Father Smith".
Father Smith was called to a brothel where an old mariner was dying. The old man confessed all his sins. But there was a problem. He said that he could not repent to have loved the prostitutes. The priest exhorted, cajoled and reprimanded him: "Man, without repentance there is no forgiveness". The culprit answered: "But, Father, how can I repent of having met all those wonderful, nice girls who treated me with kindness?" He adamant. He just couldnít feel sorry about it. At last the priest asked him: "Now, hear me! Do you repent of not being able to repent?" "Oh yes". And the priest gave him the absolution.
You see, Ďtis not about feeling but about doing Godís bidding and invitation.
The Lord is waiting and His angels too. They want to have great feasting in heaven (Luke 15).
God bless you
mickie176 asked this question on 12/2/2000:
I am very excited to have heard from you this evening! I was planning on writing to you shortly, but truthfully, I was afraid to. Iím not exactly sure whatís going on with me right now. I didnít want to "jump the gun", so to speak. However, since you have written me... perhaps I should take it as a gift, a sign from G_d that things are getting better and He has heard both of our prayers? Hereís the story. Iím interested to know what you think.
You already know the majority of the dilemma that I have faced over the past 2 years. My lack of faith and belief in Jesus had even led me to thoughts of conversion to Judaism. For the past 6 months I have attempted to resolve these issues by going to the Bible, and looking for undeniable proof that Jesus is the Son of God and the Messiah. I must say... while there are arguments to support Jesus as G_d, there are equally strong arguments to say that He is not. It seems that it all comes down to: "Do you believe that Jesus is who He said that He is?" Faith.
Months ago, you told me that looking for proof would not restore my faith. You said that my faith is what would let me see that there are no discrepancies between the Old and New Testaments. Itís not that I didnít believe you, but I felt that this was my only other option. Thoughts about the Bible and Judaism vs. Christianity consumed me... almost every waking moment. Even my schoolwork was suffering. I couldnít concentrate on anything else. The lost feeling that I have had may very well be the greatest pain that I have ever known. Perhaps equal to the pain that I experienced when I lost my father. I felt as though I had lost my best friend, father, and sole support system all at once. I had nowhere to turn, and no one could give me the answers.
Over the last month, school has gotten extremely intense. It is the end of the semester and the amount of exams that I have had is almost incomprehensible. I eventually had to force myself to stop reading about, researching, and thinking about my religious issues and make myself study, or I would surely fail out of my second year dental school. Last Wednesday,(November 22nd)late at night, the strongest urge came over me to go the grotto (a sort of outdoor church where there are the Stations of the Cross, crucifixes, statues of the saints, etc. It is outside of a Church and open all night. I used to go there a long time ago, to light a candle and pray. I used to feel very peaceful and connected there. So I went to the grotto, but I couldnít get out of the car.
The next day, I was getting dressed, and felt that I wanted to wear my cross necklace. I havenít worn it in over a year. A few days later, I went back to the grotto, lit a candle, and prayed to Jesus. My heart felt full again. I remember feeling that way long ago. I asked Him to forgive me. All of a sudden, I feel as though a tremendous weight has been lifted from me. It seems that once I stopped obsessing and thinking about it so much, Jesus came back to me. Just like you said. He will return through faith, not reading and questioning. But, I still worry.
I feel that Jesus has forgiven me. I am a little bit afraid (?) to return to church. It has been a very long time. I know that ultimately, I need to go to confession again. It will be hard to confess the feelings that I have had. It will be hard to say it out loud. It will also be hard to hear the priest gasp. I will do it. I just donít know if I can do it right now. I know what you are thinking.
I also must admit... Yes, I believe in Jesus and the Trinity. No, I donít fully understand the trinity. Also, even though I believe in Jesus, I am still curious to read on how Catholics resolve the issues that Judaism has with Christianity. I would like to have enough knowledge to explain to anyone who asks, how the Trinity is still one G_d, why we believe in and pray to/through the Saints, why Jesus is the Messiah even though He hasnít done all that Jews say the Messiah should do, and so on and so forth. When I have the time, I plan to continue to learn. Perhaps I will look into attending a Catholic retreat for a weekend or something. Also... Iím not sure that I understand all Catholic tradition (the Assumption of Mary and other big issues), but...
I AM BETTER. MUCH, MUCH BETTER. I think.
I canít thank you enough for your prayers. I intend to keep in contact with you, especially regarding various questions that I have. I hope you donít mind. I know how knowledgeable you are, and I know that you know where I am coming from with my questions. I thank G_d for helping me to feel better. I also know that I still have a long way to go, donít I? Father, I am curious to know what you think. Do you think I am better? Is it by the grace of G_d, Jesusí love, and many many prayers that I have come back to Jesus?
Also, can you please help me to understand the Trinity? How can I say it so that it makes sense that 3 entities (that are referred to independently in the Bible) is really ONE GOD (which Jesus also states in the Bible)?
Thank you again,
PS: Thank you for the story that you sent. I understand.
The joy of the Lord is in your heart. Before taking off to the Sunday celebrations I want to thank God and tell you an other story.
But I canít help myself. I think the experience you described stems from an inner decision you took at last to visit that priest in question. Or at least you are considering the real possibility.
Regarding your problems of accepting Catholic tenets I have an other question: Are you very close to the Jewish friend who believes again? Seeing someone you like very much having a faith experience yourself would like to have is very enticing. Doing what he does you thought perhaps having found a way to "feel" God again precisely living the same experience, that is, converting. Join that with a permanent bombardment of Jewish and other arguments against the New Covenant you have a mix of wishes, rationales and feelings, a perfect brew of confusion.
But it would help you very much to visit the priest. Why donít you go to confession to him? Perish the thought? Look, I venture to suggest that you are a very sensitive person whose feelings guide much the actions and the outlook of your life. The Greek mythology compares the feelings with some very strong horses that move the carriage of life. But the horses are blind. If you donít guide them with a firm hand they lead you where you really donít want to go. Well, you have let them get out of your hand. Taking courage and going to confession to the priest in question would be a very firm hand. The interval until you are really confessing your sins would be excruciating. So itís best to do it quickly, at once! You would be in charge again. I used to go to confession to an old priest who reprimanded me very harshly every time I told him my sins. I thought I needed it. Otherwise God wouldnít have made me meet that priest. Iím sorry that he died. My actual confessors are too kind. Growing up is a pain in the neck. At 66 Iím still growing and it hurts. But the Lord be blessed. Dayenķ!
You canít reach faith through rationalizing. Let me tell you about preamble of faith. You can prove that Jesus Christ was not crazy. You can prove that He was coherent in his teaching and life. But to believe in Him as the Son of God incarnated is like courting someone offering strong arguments for joining lives because there is money, compatibility and convenience. But it's not about love. Can you imagine a marriage like that? The same happens with faith. Arguments are preamble. Believing is loving Him because He loved you first. It's a gift. You have to ask for it.
But I think you are looking for arguments in order to convince your friend or at least to show him that it is reasonable to be a Christian. That is not faith. I remember a torrid debate about something like the subject matter of yours. The two sides had strong arguments. And there was no budging. All at once the Christian said: "And if it is true? Despite all your arguments you are telling God that He should proceed differently and not like He has done. It was the same from the beginning. Jesus tried to show them that He and the Father are one. But their last argument was killing him. And God used that killing to save the world. You are not guilty because you didn't know what you have done. But He rose from the dead! You don't accept that. And if it is true?"
You see I can believe only in the Resurrection when I rise to a new life and my sins are forgiven. And I can't love God if I hate his children.
At last the story
Saint Augustine was walking on the beach trying to fathom the mystery of the Holy Trinity. He observed a child that had made a hole in the sand and was busy with a little can filling it with water from the sea. "What are you doing?" asked the saint. The child answered: "I'm putting the sea into this hole". "Child, that is impossible!" The legend tells that the child answered: "More impossible to understand the Holy Trinity!"
PS: What is your vocation? Married life? Consecration to Him in body and soul? You should ask for guidance. If your vocation is married life why don't you begin to pray every day that God might show you the father of your children?