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“Ask a Priest: What If I Feel Exhausted Trying to Speak Up for Religion?”
Q: I’ve run into a bit of a wall with my faith. I can’t even in good conscience wear my cross around my neck anymore. My specific problem is not doubt of God’s existence, but rather it’s a sense of exhaustion. So many times I’ve spoken up for faith, not just Christianity but all faiths. Time and again I’ve been called to say something in defense of the concept of religion and religious people in general. More and more I feel outnumbered. More and more it seems like my eventual children will grow up in a world where churches and temples are naught but museums. I now am struggling to even still call myself religious because it seems like nothing I say can change anyone’s mind. I need counsel, a reason to keep this belief in my heart when all I can feel is loneliness and pain. Thank you for your time in reading this. -A.C.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: It is understandable if you feel a bit beaten down by the world. The West has been drifting into secularism for centuries, and that trend is unlikely to do a U-turn anytime soon. This is a moment to recall those words of Jesus, “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world” (John 16:33).
This is also a moment when Christian witness is even more important. This is the moment when the world needs to see believers, maybe more than ever.
You mention that nothing you say can change anyone’s mind. Perhaps it’s not your words but rather your actions that will make a deeper impact. Pope Paul VI noted, “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses” (see his 1975 exhortation “Evangelii Nuntiandi,” No. 41).
So what can you do here and now? Perhaps three suggestions are worth considering.
First, it is good to remember that the Christian faith is about a relationship with Jesus. He is our savior and our redeemer. He suffered and died for us. He didn’t give up on us when things got tough for him. One way we show our gratitude is precisely by our faith in him when things get tough for us.
Even if no one else around us believes in him, we can. Like good soldiers in wartime, we stick with our brothers in arms, no matter what. Your sticking with Jesus in this secularized era brings joy to his heart. That has value in and of itself. And though you might not realize it, you are giving other people something to think about. Often, folks steeped in secularism have a hard time understanding why they aren’t happy.
Second, since we are human beings, and relational, we need the support of others. The whole idea of the Church is that we are a family united in faith. The Church is an ekklēsía (in Greek), a gathering of people. It would help a lot if you could find even a small network of faithful Catholics to bond with.
You might complement such a network with contacts online. Having at least two or three friends who can encourage you, and you them, would be a big help. You won’t feel so alone. You might look for such folks by getting involved in volunteer work or parish work. Good Catholics are out there. You just need to look for them.
Third, once you get a network of Catholic friends, it might help to look for ways you all can grow in your spiritual lives, either through Bible studies or periodic retreats (including RC Spirituality online retreats, and through some kind of apostolate, such as street missions or pro-life work. You personally might benefit from this retreat guide, “A Cure for Discouragement.”
The key point here is to be pro-active. The more we share the faith, the stronger our faith becomes. And the deeper we go in our knowledge of the faith and the richer our prayer life, the more the Holy Spirit can work through us.
You might consider looking into an ecclesial movement of some kind, such as Focolare or Regnum Christi, or a third-order branch of the Carmelites or Benedictines or some other religious group.
Above all, though, keep your personal relationship with Jesus at the center of everything you do. Savor your prayer life and sacramental life. And stay close to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
I hope this helps. Count on being included in one of my Mass intentions, OK?