Monday, April 30, 2007

Hangin' with believers

Anon asked, “Why is it that so many people struggle with belief in the real presence? For others, it seems to come as natural as breathing? Why do some people struggle with chastity and others seem to live it without experiencing much temptation? Is it our personal backgrounds, how we grew up, that causes these vast differences in people? Any comments/thoughts welcome.”

Short answer: I don’t know.

Long answer:

Anon, these are really good questions. I have been asking very similar questions for a long time, and will probably ask them for a very long time. My questions have been: why is it that some people are devout Catholics and other don’t believe in anything? Why is it that we have these incredible discussions on this site about God, and most people will never enter into such discussions? Why is it that I’m a priest and some of my buddies from school don’t even go to Church?

Maybe they’re not the same questions as the ones you’ve asked, but they are posed in the same spirit…why is that some people have more when it come to faith and morals than others? The best way for me to explain it – as I think I’ve done on here before – is to say that everything in terms of faith and morals is grace…everything is a gift from God, and that we are free to use the gift or not. To me, it’s the whole question of free will. At the heart of it all, I truly believe that God offers every man, woman, and child the gift of faith in one way or another during his or her lifetime. For us, the gift of faith is given at Baptism; if we (with the help of others) use it, then it leads to receiving the gifts of the other sacraments, especially the Eucharist.

We are truly free to accept what God offers us or to reject it. God’s grace is at work with our free response: “the divine initiative in the work of grace precedes, prepares, and elicits the free response of man. Grace responds to the deepest yearnings of human freedom, calls freedom to cooperate with it, and perfects freedom” (CCC, # 2022). What this means is that God helps each person to freely choose to share in his life in various ways – to love our neighbor, to believe in his Real Presence in the Eucharist, to live chastity, etc. He makes the offer, and we are free to accept it or not. At the core of it, it really is a free choice that we make.

Now, there are many factors that enter into each choice, as you suggest. Some would be: family backgrounds, personal gifts, formators (religious, teachers, etc.), friends, experiences, etc. These will greatly contribute to our free choice, one way or the other. I look at my own response to the Real Presence years ago. It was rather quick and easy, once I knew the Truth. This was mainly because the Truth was presented to me by a priest who really believed it with every fiber of his being. But, I had also been given a great foundation to believe in such a thing by my parents and teachers (who taught me about the Real Presence years before it, but it never registered with me). So, for me, my free and clear choice to believe was because others, in some way, had chosen to believe. A big part, then, of my belief was believing in others who believed. This has been true of Christians for 2000 years, and is one of the underlying realities of Christianity (i.e., I wasn’t at the Resurrection, but I believe in the testimony and witness of faith of those who were).

If we’re saying that our free choice to believe in God and live it out in different ways is due, in large part, because of the free choice of others to believe, so the opposite is true. I would argue that many struggle to believe in the Eucharist because they don’t see too many people around them believing in it. I’ve had Protestants tell me flat-out that they don’t believe in the Real Presence because they don’t see faith in the Eucharist among Catholics! Young people, by and large, struggle with living chastity because they don’t hear or see much of the virtue of chastity around them.

So, the choices that others have made for or against God directly affect our own choices. I would say that when we see examples of people who believe and live a virtuous life, we see evidence of God’s grace helping us to choose the same. Anon, if you or anyone is struggling in the areas of faith and morals, I would suggest looking at your support group of friends. Do they believe? Do they live what they believe? If not, try hanging with people who do believe and do live. You’ll be surprised how much easier it is to believe, and how much more freedom you experience in choosing Christ. Ultimately, freedom is choosing what’s good; if we surround ourselves with people who regularly choose what is good (Christ), then it will greatly help us to choose Christ.

14 Comments:

At 12:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How bad of an attitude is this, if it's bad at all? I didn't have examples or teachers. I've given up trying to believe, but if God wants to help me along, He knows where to find me.

 
At 2:19 PM, Blogger Kiwi Nomad 2006 said...

I am trying to pray a bit. But when things are hard I revert to an old wound. When I was orphaned at 15 I did scream out to God for help. In hindsight, there were some good faith-filled people around who did help me a lot. But at the time I felt desperate and it did not seem like God helped me at all. It is hard for me to get over / past that.

 
At 2:22 PM, Anonymous Kat said...

Anon;

Yes he does, and he will send someone along to tap you on the sholder and show you the way to him.

 
At 2:38 PM, Anonymous mindy said...

If not for my grandparents, I would have had instability in my life. I am grateful that my family needed their help- it gave me opportunity to witness to great faith. I was very close with my grandparents. They were like night & day. My grandmother never finished school and grew-up in an hard-working but uneducated family. My grandfather was brilliant and studied physics before entering seminary. My grandmother wasn't taught phrase and verse, while my grandfather translated it in several languages. Each would tell you they were drawn together by the strength of the other's faiths (although my grandad was really handsome- I'm sure that caught grandma's eye). I often spent the night at their home- an old house that creaked and groaned. There were several crucifixes in every room, holy water fonts in each bedroom and the stations of the cross in the hallway, but the thing that always caught my attention was the large (very large) wall crucifix at the lower landing. It was painted with great detail, and no matter where I stood, it looked like Jesus was looking right at me. At night, I was sure those old house sounds were really Jesus, certain that he jumped off that cross and was running around their house. Nothing could get me out of bed at night- need for water, nightmare, bathroom break- nothing! I was sure I'd run into Jesus in the hall (I had fears about his being bloody and torn). After many sleepovers, I told Grandma my theory. I said, "Don't be scared, but I think Jesus is in your house at night." She didn't laugh, wasn't perplexed, and certainly wasn't scared! Very calmly she said, "I hope so. I pray for Him to come to us." Well that did it!!! If GRANDMA prayed for Jesus to come to us, he was running around her house a night! I started to cry and explained why I was scared and told her I was "too little" to help Him. She soothed my fears, explaining how his body would really look. She told me that I should always remember, Jesus comes to us to help us, not for us to help Him. I wasn't well educated in my Catholic faith in my formulative years (my immediate family practiced a variety of different religions), but I always identified myself as Catholic. I learned to believe b/c I saw how strongly they believed. Their actions and reactions always were testament to the strength of their beliefs.

To the anon above- if one didn't have any concrete examples of faith in their life, I don't know how they would come to believe. I'm sure people do, but if I didn't have any examples I could clearly identify- it'd be hard. God is always with you- maybe you just need somone to help you know it.

 
At 2:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm the first anon who wants to say first that I didn't mean to be so flippant. But also, I now, well into adulthood, have a handful of examples and I believe in their faith, even if I lack my own. They take my breath away with their faith, and some of them have had tremendous hardship and tragedy in their lives. Maybe having them means I have a fingernail in the door.

 
At 4:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think everyone has some time in their life when somone else's faith carries them. It is amazing to me the load that some, especially our priests, are able to carry. They would probably tell you that it's the power of the Holy Spirit at work. Our community of faith should be acknowledged and appreciated often.

 
At 5:00 PM, Anonymous Zophiel said...

I've been pondering this post the entire afternoon, and reading these comments, and the thing that has struck me is this idea that some people "just have it", while others must struggle. I know why it seems that way, but as someone who believes herself to be in the latter "camp," let me assure you that it didn't "just come", or "just happen."

Everyone's faith has a story behind it. For those who truly do have that faith (and aren't just, er, pretending as I once did), it's not something blind, it's something that has grown and evolved and strggled mightily to get to wherever they are. What people see, then, is the most recent result. If I may use a musical metaphor:

When you go to the opera, you see Renee Fleming or Bryn Terfel up there on stage, and they make it look so very easy. Beautiful music flows out of them without any seeming effort, as though they're hardly even trying, and you say "Boy, that looks easy! I bet I could do that!"

So you go home, and pull out some Mozart, and open your mouth and out comes. . .well, let's just say Sanjaya's sounded better. And you learn very quickly that it's not as easy as you thought--because all you've seen is the result of not only months and months of endless, relentless, exhausting rehearsals, but also years and years of voice lessons, music school, and other experiences. But all of them started somewhere. All of them had days--weeks--months--more? --when they sounded like toads, and despaired of ever creating beauty with their voice.

But, they kept at it, and gradually, the good days started to show up, and then grow in number. Eventually, out of the toadish morass bloomed beauty.

Faith, like singing, or running a marathon, is not usually something that "just happens." It is a long, difficult, but so very rewarding effort. The good news is, unlike singing, Faith is not a "talent." Some poor souls there are who, no matter how hard or long they try, can not carry a tune in a bucket. (For this reason men invented instruments ~_^!) The mere desire for Faith, however, is evidence of it's presence--even so small an amount as a mustard seed.

This is a thing I know from experience. Once upon a time, I was a sorta-believer. I believed, I guess, but it meant nothing to me (which suggests that I didn't believe--not really). But, a moment came when I found I wanted it to matter, I wanted to really believe. It didn't come right away, not at all. It was. . . years before that yearning bore any apparent fruit. But when the fruit finally did come in, it was far sweeter than I'd ever imagined.

FG's advice is sound. Like a singer who makes friends of singers to serve as support in her efforts, or the marathon runner who assembles a training group, so too other people of faith serve as an inspiration and support.

For this reason, we Catholics are fortunate to have the entire communion of saints to help us along. They can serve as an inspiration and support when even we have no friends here on earth to help us in this regard. It was reading the lives of the saints and the book The Imitation of Christ that moved Ignatius of Loyola from Ladies Man Extrodinaire to Saint-in-Training. It was reading about Catherine of Alexandria that first sparked my own spiritual life. I know another man who converted to Catholicism after being inspired by the stories of several saints.

Finally, in the end, do not despair, do not loose hope. If you plant your teeny-tiny seed of Faith in fertile ground, are persistent at keeping out weeds, and are allowing of falling rain, you will be surprised at the tree that results. I know I was.

 
At 5:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"But, a moment came when I found I wanted it to matter, I wanted to really believe"

You could be writing about me. I really wanted to believe as I've seen others do and didn't understand why I couldn't make the sacraments and Mass have this great importance in my life. I'd fullfill my "obligations", but hollowly(word??). Life started to get hard, and I needed to draw from some strength I hoped was inside me. I prayed for help. I started listening for the answer, and, quickly, I got it. A priest said to listen to the Gospel, and if I wasn't desperate for help, I probably wouldn't have heard. It changed my faith. I need help listening to the gospel, so I read passage discussion points, read others' bible discussions and I listen intently to the homilies. I started reading about the saints and going to Adoration. Really recently, I was in a daily Mass, something I would previously thought was for somone else, and when the host was consecrated, I thought- I'm amazed that I get this. I really do understand why we were given this and realized how important it is to me now. I decided to put aside my concerns for how others may perceive and talk about me (remember the SNL skit @ the weird church lady?) and participate in something really spectacular that our church offers. It's been a trip to hear comments of others who have also participated.

 
At 6:23 PM, Blogger fran said...

Zophiel-

So glad you spent the afternoon pondering today's post and subsequent comments!

Your reflection is a wonderful blend of wit, thoughtfulness, insight and first-hand experience. No doubt, you touched many readers here today.

 
At 9:51 PM, Anonymous Kelly said...

Mindy,

I really enjoyed your stories about your grandparents. My mother and stepfather taught us the faith. However, the most powerful teacher of faith in my life was my maternal grandfather.

He was orphaned at a young age and grew up in a Catholic orphanage. His life and his love had the greatest impact on me. He worked 2 full time jobs and worked a third job for the church. This was all sacrifice to support his family and send four children to Catholic school.

He was a wealth of knowledge, but his life of faith&sacrifice had the greatest impact on me! I often think of him and just know that he is part of the community of saints in heaven.

 
At 8:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am the blogger who wrote the original question. I agree with Father Greg's comments and a lot of the bloggers' comments too. Kind of ironic that it seemed I was asking due to struggles with the faith. Faith does grow over time and with others' encouragement. With great humility my belief in the Eucharist blows me away. God's gift of chastity blows me away. All the glory to Him since it is all grace - a huge gift.

Yet many of my friends completely don't get it. They think it is just me doing the Catholic thing. They like to debate theology with me or invite me to their churches (which are supposedly so much more lively). I am in a lonely place NOT because of my faith. I am in a lonely place while waiting for God to help me find Catholic fellowship. So I thought it was interesting that FG brough up the importance of fellowship. I love my non Catholic friends & my cafeteria Catholic friends but would love to hang with Catholics who really believe.........

 
At 8:13 PM, Anonymous Kat said...

Anon;

Well, if you are 22-35 we at SAA have a Young Adult group that is starting to get off the ground. Our next event is May 19 at 6:30 in the multipurpose room. It is a talk about the Aids situation in Africa followed by a homemade dinner of Lasagna, Salad, cookies, and garlic bread.

 
At 8:15 PM, Anonymous Kat said...

and I forgot, there is a blogger party may 5th after the 5pm mass. We would love to have you. The RSVP post is a few posts down.

 
At 8:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whatever your age- there are many willing to encourage your search for fellowship. Talk to Father Greg if you want to meet people- he'll point you in a direction.

 

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