I came across this article by Rod Dreher, a former Catholic who has regrettably become Orthodox. Nevertheless, it is an interesting discussion about a man who’s yearning for Faith but recognizes he has not yet received the gift. I was compelled to make my own comment there, but then thought to share it here. Please feel free to share your own thoughts and story. Here is my somewhat abridged version. I’m sure most of us could write a very long, and likely never-ending book of our journeys.
I was raised as a Catholic, Faith came naturally, and I accepted what I learned as true. Then later I liked the sins I dabbled in and convinced myself that I could decide what to believe, coaxed along by the often bewildering changes in the Church. Later I got a college education and convinced myself I was an atheist. I was not a Christianity hater, and I always knew that the Church was important to many, many people who had the Faith I no longer did, or thought I did. I didn’t mock the beliefs or those who held them, and my hero of the 20th century was then and still is Pope John Paul II for what he did in transforming the communist world. And saying something nasty about the Virgin Mother in front of me could still result in a fight. Go figure. Yet, from 15 until nearly 40, I convinced myself that I had lost my Faith and was an atheist.
One day when I was about 35 while walking in the woods, I came upon a crocus that had just come up. I bent down and held the small flower between my fingers and I saw that this perfection was not an accident. I became a struggling atheist. I had backed myself intellectually into a corner, because I had acknowledged a Creator. I mulled that periodically, but didn’t act on it, other than to banish that to a closed part of my intellect. Gradually afterwards, I did notice that I was becoming interested in matters of Faith, but as an outsider.
One night full with dinner about 5 years later, I sat down to watch the news; I wasn’t wishing for God, or thinking of God, and I wasn’t in dire straits, or in grievous pain. Yet, in an instant, a presence filled the room and held my attention. I didn’t see anything, or hear anything, but it was there. I sat up on the edge of my seat and just said, “Oh, you’re real.” I knew this was God. It was as if a thin veil was quickly pulled from over my eyes and I could now see clearly what had been an opaqueness of sorts.
He got my attention and, since then, I have known that Faith is a pure gift that I was subtly drawn to receive over several years. Then I asked about Jesus and came back to Catholicism, after asking for wisdom and understanding, and I learned very quickly He is truly the Son. I’ve never gone back and that moment was 10 years ago next month. I have also been given the gift to know He is with us completely in the Blessed Sacrament. I have struggled with those creeping doubts most of us have every now and then, wavering, but the moment when I knew He is real comes back to me and I know I can never go back to where I had been. I may grumble and complain, but I cannot be lukewarm, and I hope and believe I will never go cold again.
Faith is not something that can be willed, but God has a way of drawing us along to the point where we can be open to receive the gift. Moreover, our response is not the same from one person to another and God will catch each individual’s attention differently. I suppose one can ask for the gift of Faith and God could give it. But, even if one knows they do not have Faith despite wanting it, I think that someone who spends a year drawn to matters of Faith, spends time in prayer, is pondering Faith matters and yearning, is actually being nudged along by God. Even if that person doesn’t get the gift then, I expect, and they should too, that it will come, when that person least expects it. Rather than be discouraged by the perceived lack of Faith, that person ought to recognize it as the stirring By God within his or her soul.
I keep thinking of that little flower I found. I didn’t jump up and say I have Faith; I was struck because it shook my atheism. But it was the beginning, I see now, of God drawing me along to a point where I was finally ready and open to know the gift, and to receive it, and that was five years later.
Out of my own experience, I have also come to understand that everyone is not in the same place as me as far as their Faith is concerned, and I try to be patient when they don’t share my zeal. When they ask me about Faith or challenge me without belittling the Faith, I smile inwardly because I think God is getting them ready to know and perhaps even to receive the greatest gift I was ever given.