“Ask a Priest: What If Secular Education Weakened My Faith?”

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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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One Comment
  1. Think of growing in faith as growing in the reading, writing, and arithmetic academics . . . K- Grade 12, and post high school. A first grader might feel inadequate in reading if listening to older 8th grade brother or sister read. BUT… it would be inaccurate to say the first grader was not able to read.

    So, that you DO ATTEND to Sunday Mass (and if you can daily Mass) DO NOT compare the age and stage you are at in terms of faith… with those others sitting around you. You don’t know where any of those in the pew are in terms of faith (faith can’t be talked of) As Father said, just the fact you are PRAYING WITH ALL speaks FAITH in the power of the One, Holy, Apostolic, Church of Jesus Christ.

    And do not be so unsure your prayers go unheard…. if you are praying for MORE FAITH, for example; don’t be surprised if suddenly you are presented with difficulties to overcome. IF you are handling it, don’t take it for granted… NEXT TIME at Mass say THANK YOU. (and in all the ‘little things’ FAITH is increased)

    Growing closer to GOD . . . is a slow ‘transformation’ from flesh to His glorified spirit (full heaven) Any relationship, even of earthly type TAKES TIME. I speak from experience… JUST GO TO MASS as ought, pray along with others and GOD hears all prayers. Just that you are there speaks FAITH IN GOD. Then, go out to love and serve the world. (as the prayer is stated at end of Mass) You might not think anything happened . . . but JUST FOR BEING THERE, you were blessed to be ONE WITH GOD and just as struggling brothers and sisters in the Lord. When I attended Mass as a 7 year old, 10, 12, or high school student . . . I JUST WENT… I didn’t give thought that … OOOH that one there is so much better. (actually, this in itself is ‘the conditioning’ of THE MATERIAL WORLD… graded always on best, better, good in school, and not what the child knew at start of the grade one was in… and what one could understand at end of school year) … just for being in class everyday… one is learning; and NOT FOR YE-AAAARS later does what one learned become an AHA moment. Just by DOING (the math, the reading, the writing) And JUST BY ATTENDING TO MASS… the GRACE (sanctifying aka purifying self from THE WORLD) is coming upon souls.

    Sacraments are God’s grace and mankind’s cooperation with it. Don’t take an eat and then do some selfish
    action (with all free will deliberate thought) DO YOUR BEST to LIVE that PRESENCE… and HE GROWS.
    if any slips come… say the sorry’s 7 x 70x (yes, Father’s advice is good, consider a spiritual director to help
    you to grow in knowledge, understanding, counsel, and wisdom of God) An official church spiritual director
    or a VERY STRONG OF FAITH Catholic friend… who does live their faith. (but not to scrupulosity)

    As one ages… there will come AHA!!! aka ‘connecting the dots’ to those biblical passages and LIFE ITSELF. STICK WITH IT… PERSEVERE. This is TO TRUST IN GOD.

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