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“Ask a Priest: What If Secular Education Weakened My Faith?”
Q: I feel that my education has ruined my faith life, and I seek guidance for how to unlearn the skepticism that I have been taught and find meaningful prayer. My childhood was spent largely away from the church, but thankfully my mother married a faith-filled man who became my father and brought us all to Catholicism. I attended public schools and my curriculum at college was science-focused. My college education was filled with professors and lecturers who explained away God and religion as myth and superstition, and life and miracles as commonplace explainable phenomena. I attend church in honor of my family’s wishes, and envy the peace and encouragement that my loved ones have found in the practice of their faith. I go to Mass and follow the prayers, but I feel like I am merely pretending to fit in with the crowd. I try to pray to Jesus, but I get no impression that I am heard. The skepticism that I have learned from my schooling causes me to evaluate the faith through some very “cold” filters. I move no closer to the Lord. I need some advice about what I can do to deepen my faith and make it real. – L.P.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: Your very desire for a deeper, warmer faith is itself a sign of God’s grace working in you.
As for your college experience: Unfortunately, the secular worldview of modernity has crept in everywhere. It’s ironic that the Church, which cultivated the growth of the modern sciences (the Vatican has an observatory, for instance), is now a target of many scientists and intellectuals.
So, let’s say at the start that science and faith are perfectly compatible, for God created both. Each has to respect the competency of the other. Science can’t absolutely “prove” God’s existence any more than it can disprove it. It’s a question simply beyond the bounds of science.
It’s good that you recognize that exposure to secular thinking is a part of your problem. The answer is to open yourself to hearing what the Church has to say.
There are lots of good authors who can help you.
In the field of science you might look at the writings of Father Robert Spitzer, SJ (and his Magis Center website); Father Stanley Jaki, OSB; and Stacy Trasancos (example: Particles of Faith). A highly readable work is How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization.
To delve into the thought of one of the greatest theologians, St. Thomas Aquinas, you might consider signing up for a free course offered by the Thomistic Institute.
At a personal level it would be good to dedicate time daily to prayer and a bit of Scripture reading. This short video can help you learn to pray more deeply and personally: “The Four C’s of Christian Meditation.”
Moreover, it might be helpful to get involved in a Church project of some kind. It’s easier to live the faith within a faith-filled community. Helpful, too, would be to find a regular confessor who could guide you.
Count on my prayers.
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