Lately the question of faith – especially the loss thereof – has been on my mind. I recently received news that another fellow Catholic I was acquainted with has “lost his faith”. While I do not know the details (I was told by a third party that spoke with them), this fellow is just another on the list of what I have come recently to call “Catholic online paladins”. Now, I don’t use this as a derogatory name; it is just something that came to me and seemed appropriate. These were people (curiously, all males) who knew the Faith inside and out, who were ready to come to the defence of the Church, of her doctrines, of her disciplines and her rites, especially on the internet. My memory sometimes flashes back to being on the receiving end of one of these fellows’ crosshairs when I once dared to cite a “modernist” (who had actually said something true and profound).
They were, by all outward appearances, steadfast in faith; they could give an account of their belief. Not a few were pious young men. They prayed their rosary daily, went on retreats, had a sacramental life, etc.; some went so far as to even attend seminary for a time.
Yet, for all this, they fell away. Why? Now, I am not judging anyone in any way. Lord only knows the circumstances of their lives, and it is to Him they will need to give an account one day; as for shortcomings, the ones I am interested in judging are merely my own. No; I do not wish to judge. I wish to understand. I wish to understand especially because my conversion/re-version is quite distinct from most people I have spoken with. For some the Catholic faith was the logical next step in their understanding of Christianity, coming from a Protestant background. For others, it seemed to provide the most rational world view, or gave them justification for their personal prejudices. Others were simply raised Catholic and that’s what they were taught to believe. And others still simply followed someone back to the Church and came to believe because it made sense.
All these fascinate me because it was not so for me. I did not come back because I had studied the Catholic faith, nor because it was philosophically attractive, neither did I follow anyone back. For me, it was a “road to Damascus” moment. In one instant I did not believe; the next, I did. Just before, I was reaching out into the void, which was all I thought there was; right after, I experienced in a most profound and life changing way His grace in me, and the certainty that whoever had just reached out to me was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God who so loved the world that He gave up His only Son. To this day, I have understood St. Paul’s words to the Galatians – “[…] the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered himself for me” in a very personal way. While I did not automatically become a saint and overcome all my vices (indeed, I am still trying to overcome them these many years since), I knew my life needed to change.
For me, conversion was this, and for a long time, before I actually started meeting other Catholics and asking them about their walk in life, I believed that all had had a similar experience at one point or another in their life. As I studied up on the Faith, on the Church’s doctrines and practices, I accepted them because the Church taught them and because they made sense, but they were not the bedrock of my belief; indeed, they still aren’t. That pivotal moment is. That encounter I had all those years ago is where I turn to when all the rest no longer makes sense, when I am inclined to just throw in the towel. To me, what the Church teaches is true, not because it “makes sense” or is the most logical religion out there, but because what I experienced when I fell from my proverbial horse is true. So now perhaps you can understand why the motive for belief of others fascinate me.
Personal circumstances not withstanding, I have to ask – did these paladins only have an intellectual faith? How did they fall victim to their own doubts if they seemed to always have an answer? Did their faith ever descend from their mind into their heart? Was their living out their faith only “I do this because it is what is expected” or was it because they had actually experienced the inbreaking of grace, because they had felt His presence in some ineffable way?
And who am I that I should have been given such a grace, I who still squander the gift that was given that night? How do I pass on this gift to my children, when nothing I can do can give them my experience, which was given to me freely, generously and undeservingly? Will the faith that I am trying to pass on to them ever touch their innermost being? Will it penetrate their heart, or will it remain in the realm of the “theoretical”, a faith that is accepted simply because it was passed on, without ever giving them a glimpse of the divine?
I ask myself these and similar questions almost every day. I have no answers for them; indeed, I doubt I ever will have any in this life. I only pray that, should I be found worthy to be invited to the marriage feast, that He may one day reveal these things to me.