I have a confession. For about four to five years of my life, I was an agnostic. I was so troubled by what I saw in the seminary in the 1980s that I could no longer believe that there was a personal God. I could not believe that He had any concern nor hold on what was happening in the world or even in His own Church. Consequently, I found that nature abhors a vacuum. Something or someone would have to fill that hole in my soul, and someone was going to have to be the judge of morality and the direction of my life. The first problem I tried to fill with pleasure, money, power, and honor. It was an exercise in futility that left me often exhausted and frustrated. The second problem was quite the narcotic: I could decide for myself what was good and evil. Amazingly, such power led to me living a less than chaste life. I was not horrible because the foundation my parents built led me to have a work ethic, to try to be honest, and to avoid substance abuse. I was reduced to a moral pagan. Truth be told, I felt I was living a more moral life than what I had seen in the seminary.
I do not tell you this, kind reader, so that you may think one way or the other about me, only to assure you I know this sin from its maddening and intoxicating inside.
Our society is largely agnostic and atheistic. Our civil religion tips its hat in God's general direction occasionally but largely resents any influence religion, particularly Judeo-Christianity, has in the public purview. God has been chased from the public square, from our schools, and from our day to day lives. There are forms of politics such as socialism and Marxism that are expressly atheistic. They must be for the state takes the place of all authority and is the giver of all rights. We can't have a deity interfering with that!
There are many within the Church, even among her leaders, who are agnostic or atheistic, either practically or by confession. I would posit that it is impossible for some within the Church who have engaged in nefarious and predatory behavior to do such and believe anything of Jesus Christ or a personal God. Certainly, the pervasive watering down of catechesis would point to a de facto agnosticism among so many academics. You see, nature does abhor a vacuum, and if we divorce the idea of a personal and transcendent God from religion, all we have left is a social justice non-for-profit with arcane rituals and occasion statuary.
In Eden, the devil grounds his temptation in a belief that God does not want what is good for us. In this, he can tempt us to become our own gods, knowing for ourselves what is good and evil. He can sow vast amounts of seeds of doubt by just showing us the evil others do; especially the evil done by those who claim to represent God. The last 100+ years have been a field day for the devil to sow such seed!
To combat such a virulent temptation, we must cultivate the theological virtue of faith. This is more than making professions of faith or intellectually adopting points of the teachings of the Church. It is adopting these teachings in our lives and allowing them to draw us closer to God. We will have to do this during a storm! We will have to do this even when we see immense scandal in our Church and frightening godlessness in society. This allows us to give proper Christian witness to those scandalized or seeking. It allows others to see Christ through us.
One of the main reasons I returned to the Catholic faith and back into the seminary and priesthood, despite many misgivings, was that complaining about the poor witness and scandalous behavior of some within the Church did not absolve me of following the vocational path God had beckoned me to. I had a responsibility to live the type of life Christ calls us to live, authentically and powerfully. While I completely understand the reasons why people wander away or outright flee from the Church, I also understand that trying to fill the God-shaped hole in us with the things of this world is a frustrating dead-end; the narcotic of being one's own god leaves you empty and anchorless. Our society is exhibit A in this fool's errand. There is no denying that anger, frustration, and feeling adrift are hallmarks of our society and in so many of our churches.
St. Augustine, in his Confessions, reminds us,
"Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee."
Let us not let the temptations of the devil leave our hearts wandering and baseless. Let us refute the devil and hold fast to the faith and relationship Christ has in store for us.