|Melissa D'Orazio, all rights reserved|
"Why, Lord, do you stand at a distance
and pay no heed to these troubled times?" (Psalm 10:B 1)
I ran into this verse at prayer recently and it brought me up short. It was the third day of Christmas. The day already had a bleakness about it, with drizzling rain and a heavy cloud cover that turned the short December day into twilight. I had spent hours fruitlessly watching a Netflix series that I didn't really like. Bits of wrapping paper still lay strewn about the family room. The tree needles were brittle. The post-Christmas letdown had arrived just on time, three days into the octave. No amount of telling myself that the Christmas feast was still in full swing could make it seem anything more than a liturgical fiction totally at odds with reality.
"First world problems," for sure. But they weighed me down.
"Why, Lord, do you stand at a distance?"
I have a good friend, a generation younger than me, who lost her Catholic faith and her belief in God during the dissolution of her marriage. She has not regained it. Since one of the primary topics we talked about when we got together was our Catholic faith, her newly professed atheism was quite a shock. It was hard to imagine Cynthia without her belief in God, but in her own eyes it was progress in a positive direction. She had called on God for help as her marriage was breaking up, and her prayers had fallen on deaf ears as she believed. She expressed a great relief when she concluded, after much struggle, that the truth was that God did not exist at all. Once she dropped her "erroneous belief," she found happiness in the realization that we make our own lives with no help from invisible beings or Being. She remarried and had two adorable sons to go with her two now-adolescent daughters. She says she has never been happier. She is not an evangelical atheist, but she does speak up when believers who survive disasters publicly thank God for their lives and express the thought that they "knew God was with them" and that their "faith had gotten them through" their ordeal. Did they think that those who didn't survive had died due to lack of faith? Was God not with them too? Didn't they see how hurtful their comments would be to the families and loved ones of those who had died?
"Why, Lord, do you ... pay no heed to these troubled times?"
A new Church year has just begun, and a new calendar year begins the first of January. My friend Cynthia is out there navigating the new calendar year without consciousness of or belief in God. Jesus Master, Way, Truth and Life, has vanished as Divine Redeemer from her life. She no longer asks the Lord why He stands at a distance. She represents a demographic that emerged from the September 2015 Pew Research Poll on American Catholics: "Among all U.S. adults who were raised Catholic, half (52%) have left the church at some point in their life."
Will she and the other 52% ever return? What can we do, as Paulines, to help?
1. Understand that the Cynthias are everywhere - in our families, in our workplaces, in our gyms and movie theaters, schools and sports programs, everywhere we go in daily life. They don't lead lives of desperation as we might be tempted to think. Many "ex-Catholics" are very happy in their lives and in their families. Along with understanding, we need to offer respect. Is it God who has failed them, they who have failed God, or have we fallen short in communicating Christ to this diverse culture? Modern culture is ripe for new St. Pauls who can explain, attract, model, and arouse hunger for Jesus. Have we communicated the good news in the manner that the modern world can receive?
"As we travel," Blessed Alberione wrote, "the Lord lights the way ahead of us. He turns on the lamps as we need them. He does not light them all at once at the start when they are not yet needed. He does not waste light, but bestows it at the proper time." (Carissimi in San Paolo, CISP, 192.)
2. Pray. Prayer precedes action and prepares us for action in the apostolate. "We must pray, pray, pray," says our Founder. "If our prayer is excellent, all the better. But even if we encounter temptation, we still must pray... Whoever prays every day gains the grace to pray better. Whoever prays shows that he recognizes his need for God and trusts that he will be heard... In other words, just as we constantly take food and constantly breathe, all of us, every day our our lives, must really pray." (CISP, 100).
3. Enter willingly into the apostolate. "Every apostolate is worthwhile." (Bl. Alberione, Preaching the Apostolate. PrA, 235.) "The apostle is one who carries God within his soul and irradiates Him to others. The apostle is a saint who accumulates treasure and communicates its surplus to mankind. The apostle has a heart glowing with the love of God and the love of man, and can neither restrain nor suffocate what he feels and thinks." (Bl. Alberione, Ut Perfectus sit Homo Dei, UPS, 4.)
4. Become holy as the Lord is holy. This article started off describing a bleak day in the life of an apostle. Bleak days there will be. Don't wallow in it. Suck it up and move forward, trusting in Jesus Master. We are not called to holiness for our own sakes. Pauline laypersons are called to personal holiness in order to bring humanity to its Savior, Jesus Christ, Way, Truth and Life. "We must always lead others towards heaven. But we must lead those who live today, not those lived ten or more centuries ago. We have to take the world and mankind as they are today, in order to do good today." (Bl. Alberione, Appunti di Teologia Pastorale, TP, 147.)
May you love, serve, and model Jesus Master to the Cynthias in your lives.
Rae Stabosz has been a member of the Association of Pauline Cooperators since 2003. She and Bill Stabosz, her husband of 46 years, have six sons, three daughters, nine grandsons and seven granddaughters; they eagerly await the birth of grand #17. Rae retired in 2007 from the University of Delaware, where she was a technology and media specialist for 27 years. She is co-founder and past president of The Society of Catholic Scholars of Delaware and proprietor, since 2004, of the Pious Ladies Bookmobile.