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“Ask a Priest: What If I Find It Hard to Believe Anymore?”
Q: I am a university student who was brought up Catholic and was so strong in my faith, but now I honestly can’t find it in me to believe anymore. I just feel like I’m floating and on the fence. Recently I’ve started missing Mass because I just feel like I can’t face going through the motions when I don’t feel passionate about the faith anymore. I’m trying to figure it all out and feel like I need distance from religious things. But then not going to Mass makes me feel guilty. But then when I do go to Mass I can’t wait to leave. I feel like I am more of an agnostic at the moment but feel guilty for not strictly following the Catholic faith as I used to. It’s like a constant battle in my mind. -E.C.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: College can be a crisis moment when we drift from the moorings of our faith. You have passed the age when faith seemed simple. Such simplicity mirrors the trust we had as children in lots of things.
Now you are at an age when you are using your intellect more vigorously. You are questioning things you never questioned before. The simple faith you used to have might now seem simple-minded. It could be that God is inviting you to explore, to take more responsibility for your faith.
One other thing to consider is your moral life. Sometimes when we have faults in our moral life our faith-life also takes a dive. The diminished fervor you are experiencing might be connected to some moral falls — at least, it is a common pattern. Something to reflect on, anyway.
Perhaps a few observations might help you.
First, God gives us the gift of faith as well as the gift of intelligence, and he wants us to use both in order to mature in our understanding and living our Catholicism. Moving forward in our faith involves a two-step movement. Sometimes we move forward with the step of faith, sometimes with the step of reason.
Our Lord might want you to employ your reason more right now. That means delving deeper into what the Church teaches and why. Since God created both faith and reason, they don’t contradict each other. There is nothing unreasonable about the doctrines of the Church, understood properly. There might be mysterious factors — mystery will always be a part of God — but you won’t find anything that contradicts your reason. And as you go deeper intellectually into the faith, you might find your heart more engaged too.
Second, it helps to see your Catholic faith as a relationship, not just a set of doctrines and practices.
It is a relationship with Jesus, the man who loves you more than anyone and who suffered and died for your redemption. He only wants your holiness and happiness. He will never take anything from you; rather, he wants to elevate everything that you do and are.
Here it might help to spend time getting to know Jesus. Read some of the Gospels every day, and visit him in the Eucharist when you can. The more you make him a part of your life, the more you will want to stay close to him. If your relationship with him is OK, all the other relations in your life will fall into place. Apart from him, you will be restless. To help you with this, you may want to look at some easy-to-use resources: the Uncle Eddy posts (spiritual vitamins), the short videos (Retreat Guides) at rcspirituality.org, and any of a number of books such as The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer.
Third, try to see that living the faith means going beyond mere feelings. Feelings come and go, and as the years go on the consolations, the warm fuzzies, might not be that frequent. No matter. Faith needs to be coupled with love, and love is an act of the will — much deeper than mere feelings. A good resource to help you delve into the relationship between feelings, intellect, and faith is Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength.
Fourth, we as Catholics are meant to live our faith within a community. It would help, therefore, to have one or two friends who share the Catholic faith and who could help you get to Mass and the sacraments. Wouldn’t it be great to have one or two such friends who really care about your eternal salvation? You could encourage each other, challenge each other with questions and fraternal corrections, and generally support each other in the faith.
Aim to take particular advantage of the sacrament of confession. Approach the sacrament with confidence. Jesus is there, ready with his mercy and grace.
Stay close to the Blessed Virgin Mary too. She will intercede for you and help you realize how much her Son cares for you.
I hope some of this helps. Count on being included in one of my Mass intentions. God bless.