“Ask a Priest: What If My Friend’s Kin Think I’m a Godless Sinner?”

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Q: So, I was raised partially in a Methodist church. I didn’t learn much, and the whole process seemed meaningless. My family stopped going while I was in the seventh grade. For a time, I quietly would pray to a god or the universe or something that I had not pinned down, and I would pray for forgiveness and I would give thanks. But later in life, while living with my brother, I would read and watch Dawkins and digest volumes by Hitchens and whatnot. I would say that I was atheist, think agnostic, but still find the urge to pray. Then for a while I didn’t do anything. Months ago I started praying again. My loneliness was getting to me, and I prayed for a woman to love me and to share my life with. The very next day, a new co-worker arrived at the office, and instantly we clicked. She is very devout and has solid convictions. I admire that greatly. But as I described to her the prayers I use and how I am not quite ready to say out loud that the nameless entity I pray to is in fact God, her family told her to get away from me. They said that I was a godless sinner and that God would not touch me. This anger and vitriol saddened me greatly. This woman is great. But for her family to be so full of hate and so quick to deem me a sinner, it’s really discouraged me from identifying with any of them. I have nothing but love for all the world, but what can I do? Her family seems to have a stranglehold over her decisions. Thank you so much for your time and advice. – J.C.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: I am sorry to hear about the reaction that you triggered in your friend’s family. This isn’t the message that Christianity wants to convey. The Christian faith centers on a merciful, loving God who only wants the best for each of us.

From what you describe, you already possess a strong religious sense, which in itself is a gift of God.

Your very search for truth, for meaning, and your propensity to pray and offer up prayers of thanksgiving are all elements of real religion. What you are seeking, even if you don’t recognize it yet, is God himself.

Why does he seem so elusive? Someone asked Pope St. John Paul II the same question. His answer: We sometimes miss the signs of God’s presence precisely because he is so close to us.

God shows his closeness to you through your own veiled desire for him. He might also be showing his closeness now through this young woman, notwithstanding her vitriolic family.

One wonders, though, if her family really hates you. Rather, they might recognize how important it is for a couple (who could be moving toward marriage) to share a common worldview, to share common core values. Perhaps they are concerned that, at least at this point, your own faith is in a very different place than the young woman’s. If that is the case, your showing some sincere openness and authentic interest in learning more could change things considerably.

So how else might you move forward? Perhaps a few suggestions will help.

First, it would be good to continue to pray as you can. Just try to think that what you are seeking is a personal God. God is one but — this is the core mystery of Christianity — God is a Trinity of three divine Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Here, “persons” has a special theological meaning: subsistent relations.

I inject some theology here in order to connect the notion of God with his Son, Jesus Christ. Which leads to a second suggestion: Try reading a bit of the Gospels each day. Get to know the person of Jesus. He is the fullness of what God wanted to reveal to us. Jesus is at the heart of the Catholic faith.

If you are interested in learning more about the Catholic faith, you might want to look at the Youth Catechism, or YouCat.

A handy online resource that covers basic questions about the faith is the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

You might also want to browse some of the Retreat Guides offered on our website.

Beyond this, God intends for us not only to worship him but to be united with one another as brothers and sisters. This is why having a sense of community is important for the transmission and living of religious faith.

This leads to the next suggestion: You might want to find someone with whom you can share your spiritual journey.

The obvious candidate is this young woman, unless she has ended her relationship with you.

If she isn’t a possibility, you might consider getting involved with some kind of volunteer work — visiting shut-ins or helping the poor. This might put you in contact with people of faith.

You could even look into an RCIA program at a local Catholic parish. This program is designed to teach people about the beliefs and practices of the Catholic Church. It is meant for people who are considering entering the Church, but you need not feel as though you have to make any firm commitments yet.

Whatever you do, don’t get discouraged by the reaction of that family. You want to keep your focus on what you are seeking. Have confidence that Our Lord is waiting for you to discover him.

I hope some of this helps. Count on my prayers.

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