Reflections on faith, or the lack thereof

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Allow me to bare my soul to you. I was a raging atheist in high school. All my friends were atheist, agnostic or, just to spice things up, Buddhist. As a former homeschooled cradle Catholic, this particular character arc seemed inevitable. Religion had been thus far an isolating, shameful activity, so of course teenage rebellion drove me away from the Faith. I was an angry, emotional atheist.

Just before I left the Faith, I mentioned my situation to my girlfriend at the time and she, an active participant in her Methodist church, said maybe the real reason I wanted to leave was because I lacked community, not because I didn’t believe in God.

Fast forward three years and I finally understood these words. I came into UD still an atheist, but a less angry one. Senior year I had befriended a member of the LDS church and got to see how a devout family that fully participated in their church’s community operated. I, ironically, went to more of their meetings than I did Sunday Masses. They softened me up to the idea of becoming religious and, frankly, I did consider joining their church.

Coming to UD, I was prepared to be a rebel who could respect the Catholic Faith but would disagree with you on every point of theology. That changed a week in when I attended a rosary group out of curiosity. The night began in the Theresa common room with twenty or so guys praying the rosary together. I had never felt such community before — my only reaction was to start softly crying. We prayed five rosaries that night, the last two by the statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the thunder and the rain. The next Saturday I went to confession for the first time in three years and soon began leading the rosary group that reconverted me.

I will never forget the look of absolute joy on my mother’s face when I told her in a Dairy Queen one week later that I had reconverted, just as I will never forget the absolute despair I saw in her  eyes when I told her I was an atheist. Her first words were: “You’ve been in my prayers every night since you told me you lost your faith. I hoped this would happen at UD, but I didn’t think it would happen this fast.”

Maybe it happened too fast. Although I had reconverted emotionally, the intellectual backing was not there. Early sophomore year, I started waning again when the initial fervor of faith died out and I realized maybe I don’t actually believe all this. I still participated in the Faith — although I no longer led the rosary group, I had begun lectoring. Lectoring at daily Mass when you’re not sure if you actually believe the words you are speaking is a strange experience. The cognitive dissonance was palpable.

Furthermore, the classes I took seemed to only confirm my doubts. Classes like Philosophy of Being and Modernity and Postmodernity gave strength to my position and introduced me to thinkers that thought like me. What can I say? Kant and Foucault have some good points.

Here I am now. I’ve spent this semester grappling with these questions, trying to figure out exactly what I believe and why. I’m leaning Catholic — I’m a Catholic at heart, but maybe my head isn’t. However, the journey has been rather lonely.

There aren’t many opportunities within UD for people to work through their struggles with the most fundamental questions. Sure, there are places one can go if they struggle with particular sins or with living a Catholic life, but not many where one can go to work through whether or not they are Catholic.

Oftentimes when I try to explain my predicament, I get told I’m a nihilist. One day I was rushing to lector at Mass and my friend called out, “You’re awfully religious for a nihilist!”

I am not a nihilist. Nor am I an atheist. I’m not even agnostic. But I’m also not Catholic. These labels imply that one has made a definitive decision on the nature of things. I am working through these questions. Everything is in a state of flux.

I cannot live my life like this. There are some who can go through life without thinking about these fundamental problems — a cosmic shrug — but I am not one of them. At the end of my life, I want to have a hill I can die upon, and right now my mission is to find that hill.

Is this a moral failing on my part? I do not struggle with faith of my own accord. If the choice was up to me, I would grab onto Catholicism and never let go, but whenever I grab on, my grip always slips. 

Is it a moral failing to want to ensure that you fully believe what you profess to believe? Our Lord did not condemn Doubting Thomas for wanting to be sure of the Resurrection before he professed it, He merely said blessed are those who believe without such certainty.

Maybe I’m not the holiest man because of this, but if I have these doubts, I would rather work through them than swallow them wholesale and profess the Faith while they eat away at me from the inside.

These are complex thoughts and complex emotions. Maybe I’m the only one who grapples with these problems, but I’m willing to bet I’m not. If you struggle with your faith, come find me and we’ll talk it out. It’s a long road, but maybe one day we’ll be Catholics, grounded in our faith emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. Maybe one day, but not yet.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you, Michael Roberts, for this awesome article. Wrestle, wrestle with these things! This struggle is part of your journey in holiness. Just know, all the grace for faith is there for you to accept and know what is true. God gives freely these things if we are quiet enough to be still and listen. Go to Adoration, ask him, “Lord, is this Your Body? I desire nothing more than to know this.” For on this truth do all things, philosophies, religions, poems, nations, cultures, either rise or fall.

  2. Beautiful article! I understand how you feel, I’ve been struggling with these emotions about my faith as well. It’s nice to see these thoughts articulated so well. 🙂

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