I’m what people would call a cradle Catholic. I was baptized as an infant, and attended Catholic school first grade through graduate school. I go to Mass regularly and am raising my children Catholic.
As an adult, like many other Catholics I know, I’ve had my beliefs challenged and discredited. I’ve gone through periods where I doubted God, and others where I decided to be angry with Him. But each time, I’ve come back to my faith stronger than before.
I once had a friend, who I would have to describe as an atheist, ask me point blank why I went to church and believed in Jesus Christ, especially as a Catholic. This was at a time when many priests were being outed as pedophiles.
I couldn’t answer the question immediately. Afterall, I just believe. But that wasn’t going to do it for him.
He was wondering particularly if my belief was more cultural than religious. (Was I just Catholic because my parents were?) He himself saw Catholicism as a collection of “fairy tales.” He was a science mind, someone who thinks modern science has answered the question of “Does God exist?” He found me to be an intelligent, thoughtful person, and could not understand my insistence on believing in make-believe.
I admitted that in my case there was likely some cultural pull involved – as I grew up, I thought most people were Catholic. Religion was an important part of my family life. And my religious instruction was definitely more comprehensive than that most people have received.
But the question made me realize two things. First, many people don’t have a true understanding or use of the word “faith.” Second, most people base their belief or disbelief in God on human factors.
The answer to my friend’s question IS “faith.”
I think of what Jesus said to St. Thomas. “You believe because you have seen. Blessed are those who have not seen but still believe.”
I do not pretend to understand everything nor do I think there are other people who understand the entire universe. I believe a force greater than people, God, exists. I believe what people see as inconsistencies and breaks in the Jesus/religion story are things people may not comprehend. I see arrogance in how humans, with all of their faults, can believe they are all knowing of the universe.
“I don’t know” is a hard thing for us these days. We’re so accustomed to being duped, conned or taken, that we have trouble trusting almost anyone or anything. We think there’s an explanation for everything. We’re nobody’s fool. Not even God’s.
Yet if we look and listen more carefully, we see things happen that we don’t understand. We miraculously emerge from accidents unscathed. We escape disaster by minutes and seconds. Diseases with no cures heal themselves. Miracles happen everyday. We’ve seen prayer truly save. If you have not had an experience that is inexplicable, you are probably not alive.
Like many others, I find the world, the universe, to be beautiful and amazing. I cannot believe its wonders are “accidents” of evolution. Considering all humans can do, I can’t believe people are just what happens when cells adapt and keep dividing. I think the real answers to these kinds of questions are beyond us. I respect, understand and actually believe in science, yet I have faith that God is still involved, slowly revealing a puzzle, untangling a knot, before our very eyes.
Many who will tell you they don’t believe in God, actually don’t believe in religion. There’s a difference. Because we are all human, including clergy, we mess things up. We act like people, not God. So if people tell you they don’t believe in God because of the Catholic abuse scandal, or the Crusades or the Inquisition, or the Borgias, that’s kind of a cop out. God didn’t abuse, kill, or manipulate anyone. Humans did. Don’t pray anymore because your pastor or congregation is corrupt? Also not God’s fault.
You cannot blame the bad actions of others for a personal lack of faith in God. You also can’t blame God if you don’t believe in Him. That’s all on you. Do you know all there is to know about the universe? No one does, and likely won’t anytime soon (sorry scientific know-it-alls). So how does God get ruled out?
Having “faith” allows people to let go — to relieve ourselves of the stress of feeling we need to know and understand everything.
It’s hard. Doubt works it’s way among even the most faithful among us. We would not be human beings if we did not doubt. If we were not flawed. It’s unsettling to not have an answer. But it’s also freeing.
Faith is not something to laugh at or ridicule. Faithful people are not stupid. Faith is the ability to see mystery in life, and to accept the fact that we may never know everything. For those of us who have it, “faith” is a gift that makes humans of all kinds easier to live with, even if we don’t understand them.
Ok, bring on the comments. I’m sure to hear about this one. Be gentle.