Losing the Faith

Estimates vary, but as much as 25 percent of the American populace is Catholic — though that number is falling. Islam is on the rise in Europe and America, if its members simply continue reproducing (which they are not doing in some countries). Europeans and Americans continue their population decline.

We see many conversions to the Faith, but also mass defections. Many Evangelical sects are making vast inroads in Latin America. Christians disappear in Muslim countries. Here at home, the attrition of Catholics from orthodoxy is astonishing. The last two popes have talked of living in a relativistic and positivist culture. Many of the legislative and judicial decisions that have rejected basic Catholic teachings came from Catholics, or with their support. The major facilitators of such decisions claim that they are “Catholic.” The bishops rarely say much in particular about this phenomenon, which cannot but confuse the public that sees the division.

We know people who have “lost the faith.” That is a curious expression. Faith is a grace. We do not simply deduce it from certain premises. It is a gift — but gifts come to us freely. We do not “earn” them. Thus it is easy to undervalue what we have received. Often something that is free is not cherished, which is just the opposite of what a gift is intended to accomplish.

 

Some people, to be sure, have to study, pray, and work to become Catholics. A gift of faith also needs to be understood. Faith is directed to reason, and reason must rise to receive it. Losing the faith is more like throwing a gift away than it is like losing an argument or a billfold. For the most part, losing the faith, formally or informally, is the result of wanting, choosing to do something that is against the faith.

Once we have decided that we want to do or think whatever it is, we have to concoct reasons why our choice is all right. No one can lose or give up Catholicism without a “reason.” This giving-up means that we have specifically to reject the reasons why it is not all right to do so. We can only reject if we propose an alternate “theory” of reality to the position the Church holds.

Socrates proposed that ignorance was the cause of disorder or sin in the soul. No doubt, we find an element of ignorance in any sin or error. But something more is always to be found. Faith is the result primarily of God seeking us. We sometimes fail to realize that our lives are not one-sided affairs. We think we are the only ones doing the seeking, that God just sits there doing His own thing while we rush about. This fact that we are first sought is what the parable of the Lost Sheep was about, and why we cannot be settled in our aberrations.

Modern notions of freedom are based on the relativist proposition that nothing is true. This position is convenient. It justifies our unwillingness to take anything but ourselves into consideration. If I “feel” like doing this or that, well, it is all right. Of course, no one generalizes this position in such a fashion that what someone else does to us is quite all right. We have to protect ourselves from someone else’s freedom.

The notion that we are the cause of our own good, so that no one else can tell us anything about the important things, has a shadow of a truth, as all error does. We are indeed the architects of what we shall be, of how we present ourselves to God and the world. The primary source of energy in the world is the soul of the individual human person. His life is an arena in which he decides how he, who already exists, will define himself to be. He will define himself in his actions and his thoughts.

The loss of faith is also a choice. It is not just the taking back of a gift; it is a rejection of it. The rejection may not be in explicit words, though often it is in words that seek to “justify” the loss in terms of another good or idea. In the end, the loss of faith does not mean that God ceases to seek us. It means that we cease to seek Him in the manner that He has guided us: the way of our redemption that is the following of Christ.

Fr. James V. Schall

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The Rev. James V. Schall, SJ, (1928-2019) taught government at the University of San Francisco and Georgetown University until his retirement in 2012. Besides being a regular Crisis columnist since 1983, Fr. Schall wrote nearly 50 books and countless articles for magazines and newspapers.

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