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“Ask a Priest: What If Catholic Websites Are Shaking My Faith?”
Q: I’m a college student and have recently decided to take my Catholic faith more seriously. I’ve always thought that the most important things were believing in Jesus, praying, and doing our best to serve others. Lately I’ve been reading a lot of Catholic websites and have seen some things that have made me question my faith and sometimes go against my conscience. Some websites look for sin and the devil everywhere, instead of giving people the benefit of the doubt. For example, I’ve always enjoyed reading the Harry Potter books with my family, and my priest has given homilies about them, but I’ve read things saying the books are absolutely from Satan. I’m also seeing a lot of Catholic websites get defensive about the Church’s response to the pedophilia scandals with priests and blaming it on secular society. I don’t understand why they can’t just admit that it was handled poorly and innocent children (including some of my friends) got hurt. I try to look for good in the world, but seeing things like this has made me question everything and feel afraid to live my life because it seems like everything is a sin. I don’t understand why we have to make the world out to be so terrible and romanticize the past. Yes, people were more religious 50 years ago, but do they forget about the evils of segregation, the fact that women could hardly get an education or hold jobs, or the fact that part of the reason the youth revolted was because they were sent to kill innocents in an unjust war? I want to live my life to serve God and help others, but being exposed to this fundamentalism has really shaken me. How should I take all this? – K.H.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: You have discovered what a lot of people have discovered: the Internet is full of websites that can get you questioning everything under the sun. Unfortunately, many of the sites are wrong or misleading.
You would do well to take some of these websites with a grain of salt. Harry Potter isn’t spiritual reading, and yes, the books probably have some non-Christian ideas. On the other hand, a lot of faithful Catholics have read them without losing their faith. I’m not here to make any definitive judgment on the Potter series. Suffice it to say that the Church hasn’t condemned the books. So, people should use prudence to decide whether to read them or not.
Skepticism is also healthy toward the sites that seem to be in denial about the scandals within the Church. There were a lot of horrific things done, and it was unconscionable that certain people were left in ministry for so long. Far too many victims will carry the wounds of abuse all their lives. They need our prayers. Fortunately, many people in the Church have recognized the absolute need for reform and vigilance at all levels.
So, what should you do amid all the polemics and pain you see in the Church and in the world?
The short answer is: Keep your eyes on Jesus. He is the reason why the Church exists. The Church is his mystical body. As such, it is pure and holy and can help you become a saint, through its sacraments and teachings and other treasures.
You are right about not being nostalgic about the past. Last century saw its world wars and economic depressions and the spread of communism. We have our own trials today.
To put things in perspective, recall that the world has been a mess ever since the Fall. The good news is that the Church is here to help us deal with the world.
One way to deal with it is simple: Age quod agis. Do what you are doing. Or rather, do what you should be doing.
And what should you be doing? Praying. Frequenting the sacraments. Cultivating a devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Sharing your faith with people. Developing and using your talents for the glory of God and for the service of others.
One practical suggestion: Be careful about what you read and watch. Instead of the fundamentalist sites, try reading the works of Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI, C.S. Lewis (an Anglican who is solid), Peter Kreeft, Fulton Sheen, and John Paul II. Or any of the great works of the past: The Imitation of Christ, Introduction to the Devout Life, etc. And, of course, Scripture.
To help you go deeper in the spiritual life, consider some of the RC Spirituality resources, such as the retreat guides and the RC Daily Meditations. Other helpful resources could include The Better Part.
If you focus your attention and energies on positive things, you won’t have time to get depressed about the world. You’ll be too busy striving for holiness and helping to renew the Church.
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