St Francis Q&A

Monday, April 30, 2007

Hangin' with believers

Anon asked, “Why is it that so many people struggle with belief in the real presence? For others, it seems to come as natural as breathing? Why do some people struggle with chastity and others seem to live it without experiencing much temptation? Is it our personal backgrounds, how we grew up, that causes these vast differences in people? Any comments/thoughts welcome.”

Short answer: I don’t know.

Long answer:

Anon, these are really good questions. I have been asking very similar questions for a long time, and will probably ask them for a very long time. My questions have been: why is it that some people are devout Catholics and other don’t believe in anything? Why is it that we have these incredible discussions on this site about God, and most people will never enter into such discussions? Why is it that I’m a priest and some of my buddies from school don’t even go to Church?

Maybe they’re not the same questions as the ones you’ve asked, but they are posed in the same spirit…why is that some people have more when it come to faith and morals than others? The best way for me to explain it – as I think I’ve done on here before – is to say that everything in terms of faith and morals is grace…everything is a gift from God, and that we are free to use the gift or not. To me, it’s the whole question of free will. At the heart of it all, I truly believe that God offers every man, woman, and child the gift of faith in one way or another during his or her lifetime. For us, the gift of faith is given at Baptism; if we (with the help of others) use it, then it leads to receiving the gifts of the other sacraments, especially the Eucharist.

We are truly free to accept what God offers us or to reject it. God’s grace is at work with our free response: “the divine initiative in the work of grace precedes, prepares, and elicits the free response of man. Grace responds to the deepest yearnings of human freedom, calls freedom to cooperate with it, and perfects freedom” (CCC, # 2022). What this means is that God helps each person to freely choose to share in his life in various ways – to love our neighbor, to believe in his Real Presence in the Eucharist, to live chastity, etc. He makes the offer, and we are free to accept it or not. At the core of it, it really is a free choice that we make.

Now, there are many factors that enter into each choice, as you suggest. Some would be: family backgrounds, personal gifts, formators (religious, teachers, etc.), friends, experiences, etc. These will greatly contribute to our free choice, one way or the other. I look at my own response to the Real Presence years ago. It was rather quick and easy, once I knew the Truth. This was mainly because the Truth was presented to me by a priest who really believed it with every fiber of his being. But, I had also been given a great foundation to believe in such a thing by my parents and teachers (who taught me about the Real Presence years before it, but it never registered with me). So, for me, my free and clear choice to believe was because others, in some way, had chosen to believe. A big part, then, of my belief was believing in others who believed. This has been true of Christians for 2000 years, and is one of the underlying realities of Christianity (i.e., I wasn’t at the Resurrection, but I believe in the testimony and witness of faith of those who were).

If we’re saying that our free choice to believe in God and live it out in different ways is due, in large part, because of the free choice of others to believe, so the opposite is true. I would argue that many struggle to believe in the Eucharist because they don’t see too many people around them believing in it. I’ve had Protestants tell me flat-out that they don’t believe in the Real Presence because they don’t see faith in the Eucharist among Catholics! Young people, by and large, struggle with living chastity because they don’t hear or see much of the virtue of chastity around them.

So, the choices that others have made for or against God directly affect our own choices. I would say that when we see examples of people who believe and live a virtuous life, we see evidence of God’s grace helping us to choose the same. Anon, if you or anyone is struggling in the areas of faith and morals, I would suggest looking at your support group of friends. Do they believe? Do they live what they believe? If not, try hanging with people who do believe and do live. You’ll be surprised how much easier it is to believe, and how much more freedom you experience in choosing Christ. Ultimately, freedom is choosing what’s good; if we surround ourselves with people who regularly choose what is good (Christ), then it will greatly help us to choose Christ.


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