Why is it so hard to believe?

MOTHER ANGELICA & CHRISTINE ALLISON

In this book you will fine that each chapter addresses one of life's toughest questions. And to each question, with wit and wisdom, Mother Angelica offer answers, not promises.

A few years ago, at the end of a grueling week right in the middle of our efforts to found the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), I gave a speech at a conference in Los Angeles.  It was a long speech, and when I finished I felt tired and a little nauseated, so I went backstage and took a couple of Maalox.  Suddenly, a woman came up from behind me and cried out, "Mother!  You're supposed to have such great faith.  Why do you need to take Maalox?"  My stomach was really starting to feel upset.  "Lady," I said, "I do have faith.  It's just that my stomach doesn't know it."

Now what, you may wonder, does Maalox have to do with believing in God?  Well, believing in God takes faith, and faith, for me, is like having one foot in the air, one foot on the ground, and a very queasy feeling in my stomach.  Faith requires that you live your life in darkness, that you follow Someone Whom you cannot see and love Someone Whom you cannot touch.  Some people find it ludicrous, others find it miraculous.  But for me it's always been a matter of trusting His Word.

Faith is a fascinating subject, and I think that everyone has to confront or at least ponder the question of belief in God.  A reasonable person simply cannot live an entire lifetime without asking himself why billions of people throughout history have worshiped a God Who is invisible, His Son, Who by mere appearances was a carpenter, and the Spirit, Whose Presence seems incomprehensible.

Every day, the network receives calls and letters from people searching for clear explanations of faith.  Last summer I received a phone call from a woman who "didn't have time for idle conversation" and simply wanted me to send her four or five "convincing" proofs of God's existence by return mail so she could convert her son.  I had to break the news to her that it wasn't going to be quite that simple.  Asking why it is so hard to believe is like asking why you fall in love.  There are no recipes, no shortcuts.  God inspires you with a desire for Him, and slowly you begin to know that there is another Presence besides your own.

If you, too, are asking this question, then I know one very important thing about you: if pressed, you'd rather believe in God than not.  Actually, I think that everyone, if given a choice, would prefer to know that there is a God, a God Who loves them and Whom he or she can love in return.  The need to know and to love God is, at some level, as primary as the need to be fed and clothed.  Those who do believe are sustained in immeasurable ways.  Indeed, throughout history we see that where the spiritual needs of people were met, their material needs became easier to endure, simply because the Spirit upholds human beings in the face of adversity.  If you are asking questions about faith, if you are seeking knowledge of God, then you have already begun to possess the very thing you feel you lack.


Looking for God in all the wrong places

We cannot live a full life without faith.  Yes, we can get up in the morning and gulp down a bowl of cereal, drive to work in a daze, push a pencil for eight hours and come home at night — and call that living.  But without faith, we cannot really be alive.  People who have no faith live in a void.  They have a strange sense of emptiness in their lives, a vacuum, a thirst that can send them around the world — to the heights of life and to its depths — in search of anything that can fill that void.  But nothing will.

It is hard to find the fulfillment that comes only from God in a culture that places so much emphasis on "self."  And yet this is the environment most people find themselves in.  Modern philosophers unabashedly advocate "self-fulfillment" as not only the road to happiness but, in an odd way, an inalienable right.  I find this especially sad because it leads so many away from faith in God.

Richard was discovering the hard truth:  that he had been searching for the very thing he had been running from.  The last thing he had ever wanted was for God to be the answer. 

I met a "master" of self-fulfillment a couple of years ago.  Richard, a thirty-six-year-old lawyer from Illinois, to his surprise (and mine) found himself on our doorstep one day.  Here was a man who had "everything" and plenty of it: power, prestige, position, as well as a wife he described as a "terrific lady" and two "super" kids.  But all was not well with the man who had everything, for he also had a spiritual chip on his shoulder.  His visit to the network was born out of a free-floating contempt for God as well as for anyone who loved God.  In truth, Richard was desperately searching for God, although he disguised it in some pretty strange ways.

Richard wasted no time before insulting me.  After a nasty remark about our Franciscan habit, he started interrogating me about monastic life and my "insane decision to escape the real world."  If you've ever wanted to flatten a man twice your size, you know what it means to be Italian.  Fortunately, the Lord interceded and suggested that I turn the tables and start asking Richard some questions.  I obliged.

"You have a fine job and a beautiful family, don't you?"  I asked, as patiently as I could.  "Of course I do," he responded shortly

"Do you have any favorite pastimes?"  I inquired.  "Yes.  I enjoy sailing and I like to jog every morning.  So what?"  he said.

"Do you ever travel?"  I pressed.  "Sure, I take my wife to Europe every year," he retorted.

"Do you have all the money that you think you will ever need?"  I asked.  "More than I'd ever admit to you!" he snapped.

"So you must be very happy," I said quietly.

It was then that Richard looked out the window with eyes that began to well up.  "No, I'm not," he said haltingly, "and I can't stand the fact that you and all your nuns truly are happy."

Richard was discovering the hard truth: that he had been searching for the very thing he had been running from.  The last thing he had ever wanted was for God to be the answer.  He wanted to be self-sufficient, self-fulfilled, his own man, a man who owed nothing and answered to no one.  Like so many of us, he had sought meaning in his work, his possessions, his "perfect" lifestyle.  He poured everything he had into the "real world" — but the "real world" never gave back anything of lasting value.

We all know that on some level our escapes are not escapes at all.  We immerse ourselves in workaholism or alcoholism or drugs or sin and end up dissatisfied and guilty.  We bury our need for God in a thousand-and-one activities, chasing this promise and that promise — better skin, sharper minds, perfect dinner parties, exciting sports, and loving friends.  But as "new and improved" as we can make ourselves, as much as Madison Avenue and Main Street U.S.A. have to offer, we still come up with an odd sort of restlessness.  An uneasiness.  A sadness that caused one woman to ask me in a letter, "Is there life after a new Rolls-Royce?"

There are countless roadblocks and detours to believing in God, and I guess that's one reason why it's so hard for some to believe in Him.  It seems like the more you want to know Him, the harder you look in all the wrong places.  Show me a woman who goes from relationship to relationship, or an executive who lives in the fast lane, or a teenager who is addicted to music videos, or a scientist who spends every waking moment in his lab, and I'll show you someone who is desperately trying to dodge God.  Some of these people successfully block God from their whole lives.  But for others who stop long enough to reflect, they begin to feel a thirst that is unquenchable.  This restlessness becomes so overwhelming that they are forced to reckon with the awesome possibility that there might be something or Someone Who is greater than anything or anyone else they have known, that there might be a way to make sense out of it all, after all.


"Is this all there is?"

If you think that everyone who believes in God has been struck down by lightning, guess again.  Faith, for most of us, comes in tiny, ordinary steps, and the first step is generally an impatience with the world as we know it.  "Wait just a minute, everybody.  This can't be all there is," we say to any and all who will listen.  Life, as we know it, has become an absurdity — or is about to.  When we experience that faint thirst that makes us aware, "There's a vacuum inside me; something's missing," we are being called.

Most of us would attribute this discontent to the sophistication of our own minds, or to the influence of a theologian or philosopher or friend.  We might think that the emptiness we feel is an emptiness of our own making, and at this point we have no reason to know that it is something far more exciting, far more important.  Because, in truth, the emptiness is not just part of being human, but is permitted by God for a special purpose.  It is God calling us to Him, letting us know that as hard and fast as we look, we will never again be satisfied until we know and believe in Him.  It is God working through the people around us and in everything we see and hear and read.  As Saint Paul writes in his letter to the Galatians, "Then God, Who had specially chosen me while I was still in my mother's womb, called me through His Grace and chose to reveal His Son in me" (Galatians 1:15).  The call that God directed to Saint Paul is also directed to you and me.  It is His gift to us.  When we understand that God has called us individually by name, it profoundly alters the way we live.

What most of us don't realize is that you and I were made by God to know, love, and serve Him.  We weren't created just to eat, drink, and be merry.  Nor were we created only to punch a time clock or whatever else it is that we do every day.  No, our primary mission in life, the answer to "Why are we alive?"  is to love and serve God.  This is not to say that everything else we do in life isn't good and holy.  We weren't all meant to wear Franciscan habits or to serve in soup kitchens or to do missionary work in South America.  Whatever our present state in life may be, the key is that we accept and understand that our real purpose in life is to be God-centered rather than self-centered.

Once we recognize this truth, we begin to see that emptiness, restlessness, and thirst are inevitable whenever we distance ourselves from God.  We can now understand that mid-life crises are born of the fact that we've spent half a lifetime barking up the wrong tree! Our understanding of youth is broadened when we see teenage rebellion as the raw, unbridled search for the extraordinary amidst the ordinary.  Boredom with this life is merely an exhaustion with the fruits of this world and the need to grapple with the reality of the Infinite.  We were made for God, and without Him we are going to be out of kilter, dissatisfied, and quietly desperate.  The person who accepts the fact that he belongs to God has taken the most important step to believing.


Who is God, anyway?

I guess that any discussion about believing in God should begin with general agreement on Whom we are talking about.  This is where many of us trip and fall and never get up again.  Many expect God to be a grandfather in fine white robes Who either corrects harshly or just overlooks our existence.

You see, our problem is one of perception.  You and I operate with finite minds in a material world.  This is fine for grocery shopping and putting bandages on children's knees and playing bridge on Saturday night.  But the finite mind is somewhat of a drawback in perceiving an Infinite Being in the world of the supernatural.  God doesn't breathe down our necks, either;  He is devoted to allowing us to exercise our own free wills, but a lot of us take that as proof positive that He doesn't exist!  How easy it is to avoid the Truth.  Because as long as you seek that "great granddaddy in the sky" rather than the God Who loves you as though no one else existed, you're going to be disappointed.  What a tragic mistake!

At first, we all seek a "God of the senses," a God we can see and hear and touch.  We formulate this image as children, and it is an important first step in knowing the fatherliness of our God.  But unfortunately, for many, the learning curve hits a plateau with that image, and we grow into adulthood looking for that same "old man."  Then when He doesn't come to rescue us from our financial crises or when He doesn't save a loved one from death, we write Him off as one of the many last resorts that never came through.

The truth is that God is invisible.  You can't see Him.  You can't hear Him.  You can't touch Him.  But He is there.  He always was and He always will be.  He knows everything and everyone because He created everything and everyone.  There isn't a thing that goes on without God knowing it.  God's greatness is incomprehensible to us, but our inability to grasp it does nothing to change the fact that it is true.  The challenge of belief is to step outside the confines of our own senses and to grasp, on some level, this Truth that we cannot see or hear or hold.


Why won't he speak up?

If our Mother Angelica Live show is any indication, one of the things that bugs people most about God is that He is always silent.  You wouldn't believe how many people call in to complain about it.  "How am I supposed to believe in Someone Who never speaks to me?"  "How do I know if He's heard my prayer?"  "Why won't God just come right out and tell me the answer to my problem?"  they ask.  Without trying to be funny, I tell them to listen.  That's a tough notion, because we usually presume that silence means absence.  We figure that since we have voices, then God must have a louder Voice! This is a good example of how our finite minds can get us into a lot of trouble.

Without trying to be funny, I tell them to listen.  That's a tough notion, because we usually presume that silence means absence.  We figure that since we have voices, then God must have a louder Voice! This is a good example of how our finite minds can get us into a lot of trouble.

About twelve years ago, I went to the hospital for tests, and for some reason they put me in a room all the way down at the end of an empty corridor.  It was extremely quiet.  Almost like another world.  I was aware that this was not just an ordinary quiet — it was a different kind of silence.  1 wasn't used to it at all.  For the first few days, I prayed constantly and read Scripture aloud.  Then, gradually, the silence became my friend.  I came to realize that, in spite of the silence, I was not alone.  God's silent Presence was becoming intensely apparent to me.

What I experienced in that noiseless room was that God does not work in noise and commotion.  He works in absolute quiet.  I became increasingly aware that His ever-present act of Creation is a silent one, whether it is the forming of a child in a mother's womb or a blade of grass breaking through the earth.  I realized as I lay there that atoms were shifting all around me, within me, over me and under me, all in utter silence.  I thought of the tons of snow that fall each year without anyone hearing a sound.  And how the planets spin and revolve without as much as a whisper.

God was showing me how He operates, plain and simple, in silence.  Now, I realize that it takes time and faith to know that silence is, in fact, the sound of His Presence.  But if you just take a few minutes every day to stop and listen to the silence you will begin to be more aware of God's Presence.  As Scripture says, "Be still and know that I am God" (Psalms 46:10).  If you make it your business to listen for Him, you will become keenly aware that He is there.  All you really have to do is stay quiet long enough to hear Him speak within the silence of your heart.

Ever since my stay in the hospital, I have recommended silence as a pathway to believing in God, because in silence you really have to face yourself and Whoever is there with you.  It is said that Saint Francis de Sales was once gazing at a rose and became so keenly aware of God's perfect Hand in the making of it that he cried out, "Stop shouting!" Once we attune ourselves to silence, we learn that it is not just the absence of noise.  It is the Presence of God Himself.


So how can I get to know God?

Now that you know God has chosen you, and that He wants you to believe, you can see your restlessness and thirst as additional signs of His existence and Love for you.  "But Mother, so far you've only got me hungering for the Silent One somewhere in the darkness.  It's still hard to believe."

Yes, these are the toughest moments for the aspiring believer! But they are not as tough as you might think.  Remember, your belief in God is something that God has already willed for you.  It is a gift.  Not that you deserve it, mind you.  Neither do I.  Nobody ever receives it because of merit.  It is not a medal we receive for good conduct.  It is a gift of love freely given to us that we may choose to accept or reject.

How do we go about accepting this precious gift?  By a leap in faith.  It is at this point that you've either got to ride the horse or get off it.  The leap should not be taken in a moment of emotionalism, but with the quiet courage that separates the men from the boys and the sheep from the goats.  This is not a time to panic, but rather a time to ask God humbly for the courage you need to accept the gift He has already given you.  God is not going to leave you stranded in the darkness, nervously twiddling your thumbs.  But He does expect you to ask Him for the light that only He can give.

He will give you this light through three very powerful tools, and though I'm sure you are familiar with the words that identify them, you might not know what they truly mean.  The words are Faith, Hope, and Love.  And what they mean is the complete transformation of your life.

The process of believing in God is just that, a process, a spiritual journey that has a tangible beginning and a mystical end.  Every step of the journey is possible with these three virtues at your side.  Faith, Hope, and Love are the virtues that take you from being a spiritual bystander to being a believer.

– Faith is what gets you started.
– Hope is what keeps you going.
– Love is what brings you to the end.

Now I know that when I say "Faith, Hope, and Love" you may be tempted to wrinkle your nose, fearing that we're about to discuss some hard-to-understand theological treatise.  They sound like words, just words, and you can't imagine that they could ever make a difference in your life.  But they are far more than just words — they are precious gifts given to you by God, infused in you at Baptism, so that you might come to know Him.  "It looks as if I'm about to become terribly confused," you think to yourself.  But if you'll give me a chance, I'll show you how Faith, Hope, and Love will finally fill the void in your life.  And finally you will be able to live in peace.

First, let's discuss faith.  What does faith mean to us?  On a natural level, it means a kind of confidence or trust.  We have faith in our ability to perform certain duties.  We ask our spouse to be faithful to us.  We accept an IOU in good faith.  Natural faith relies on the actions of ourselves and others, and so it is riddled with imperfections and disappointments.

But faith in God, which we call Supernatural Faith, and which is implanted into our souls at Baptism, is founded on God rather than on ourselves.  Supernatural Faith helps us to know that what God has revealed to us is true.  With this kind of faith comes an attitude of acceptance.  This doesn't mean that we know everything about God or about what He has revealed.  But it does mean that we know that God exists without looking for scientific evidence or material proofs — that He loves us, and that He has our best good at heart, no matter how bleak or confused our circumstances may be.  It is through Supernatural Faith that we can see His work in darkness.

A good friend of the network once told us about a debate he had with an atheist.  Not surprisingly, they were arguing about the existence of God.

The atheist said, "Prove to me that there's a God and I'll become a Christian."

"Oh, no, you don't," the priest replied.  "You're in the minority in this world.  You prove to me that there isn't a God and I'll become an atheist!"

"Well, I can't," the atheist said.

"What?"  he replied.  "You believe in something that you can't prove?  My dear, that means you have faith.  Faith is believing in something you can't prove.  And if you're right, if there is no God, you're never going to know it.  But if I'm right, and there is a God, you're going to know it forever and ever!"

Mother Angelica's Answers, Not Promises
by Mother Angelica & Christine Allison

Well, I had to chuckle when the priest told us that story, but he wasn't just being clever.  Supernatural Faith, as he pointed out, is seeing in darkness what we will someday see in light.  No doubt about it: we're going to do a lot of groping in this life.  As we move forward on our spiritual journey, our faith will have its ups and downs.  But that's okay.  Even doubt can make us grow and increase our faith in God.  If we keep acting in faith even when we doubt, our faith will have the opportunity to make great strides toward God.  Some days we will be filled with enormous conviction.  Other days, we won't be so sure.  The point is just to keep trying.

But you say, "Mother, when I see someone suffering, I can only see that person and his pain.  How can I know God is there?"

It is faith that tells you He is there.  It takes time, of course.  Sometimes your human reason tells you something is ridiculous, or unfair, or just doesn't make any sense.  Like the tragic death of a child, or losing your job, or your marriage breaking up.  At times like these, it takes faith to know that God is with you, even in the midst of such a terrible circumstance.  That He has some purpose for this tragedy, as painful as it might be.  That He permits it in order to bring about some greater good, which you may not become aware of until many years later.

For example, let's imagine a man — we'll call him Joe — who is out of work and who's had an offer for a fifty-thousand-dollar-a-year job.  He starts out an hour early for the final interview.  As he is driving up a hill, there is a drunk driver, weaving back and forth on the far side of the hill, who will run a stop sign at the very moment Joe passes through the intersection.  Except that suddenly, Joe's own car begins to weave – he has blown a tire.  He manages to get off to the side of the road, but he is heartsick.  He has no spare, and there are no other cars in view.  He waits and waits, misses the interview, and loses the job.  All because of a flat tire.  He becomes bitter.  If he hadn't lost the job, he would have been able to care for his elderly parents, pay off his debts, and have a much easier life.  His logic sees no sense to the incident.  But what Joe does not see is that his very life was spared from a head-on collision.  His reason can only understand what his senses perceive; he has no way of knowing all the factors that were involved.  He thinks this was a cruel blow on God's part.

This is where faith comes in.  There is in God a Permitting Will and an Ordaining Will.  His Permitting Will sometimes does allow adversity in our lives, but will always bring a greater good out of it.  You can see the greater good in this story — God sparing Joe from a fatal accident.  But Joe has to depend on faith.

If you realize that God is operating from the vantage point of eternity, and that His Plan for you concerns your life in the next world as well as this one, then you will be more attuned to Him.  Then your humility will allow you to pray.  You will be able to tell Him, "I don't know You; I can't find You, but I want to."

And then, suddenly, in the midst of a painful or unpleasant situation, you will experience a tremendous increase in faith, and your desire for God will grow.  The painful incident may not change, but you will have the courage to bear with it, without bitterness.  In my own life, if we had looked at the "fact" of twelve nuns who barely knew how to adjust the color on a television set, we would never have built our first television studio.  If we had looked at the "fact" that satellite dishes cost money (and we only had $200), we would never have started a network.  There are no limits to what God can accomplish.  That is reality.  And when we ask for something that is in accordance with His Will, it is always granted.  I'm not suggesting that you should expect from God a Cadillac when you can only afford roller skates.  You must remember that God doesn't give us everything we want simply because of faith.  Faith obtains for us only what is within the Plan of God, only what will be for our good.

Hope is the second extraordinary virtue we receive at Baptism.  It is not the natural kind of hope we all talk about, as in "I hope I win the lottery" or "I hope little Danny passes his exam."  These are examples of hope on a natural level, which always contains an element of doubt.  We're not sure we're going to get what we hope for.  But Supernatural Hope is not about some future unfulfilled expectations; it is based on the firm, solid knowledge we have of God's Goodness and Power in the present moment.  Supernatural Hope is a spirit of courage and strength.  It gives us the assurance that our God, Who is invisible, is real and keeps His promises.

Supernatural Hope assures us that we possess God now; we don't have to wait until we get to Heaven to possess the One we love, desire, and want to know.  This assurance gives us the strength, power, and grace to endure whatever is happening in our lives, regardless of the circumstances.

Take the case of a woman we'll call Edna, who is dealing with her husband's terminal illness.  On a natural level, she fervently hopes her husband will be restored to full health.  But, mindful of the diagnosis, she knows the chances of his recovery are not good.  As she endures his long months of suffering, she may become resentful and bitter and finally come to despair.  Natural hope gives her nothing to hang on to.

Without Supernatural Hope, Edna can only view the situation on a human level.  At this time she is in great need of Supernatural Hope, which would give her an awareness of God's Presence in the midst of all the pain.  She would know that she is not alone.  She would have the ability to pray with confidence that God will restore her husband to health.  But she would also have the freedom to accept the long hours of pain, and possibly his death, without becoming devastated.  This may seem contradictory, but Supernatural Hope is the balance between expecting a miracle and accepting God's Will even if it results in pain and death.  There is a certain serenity that comes from Supernatural Hope, a serenity that enables us to persevere with the assurance of God's Love.

Hope tells us to move along, that it's all right, God is at our side, and that no matter what the appearances, regardless of the fact that we can't see Him or hear Him, He is here, right now, with us and in us.  When we pray for hope, it will be given to us in large measure, to sustain us through tragedies, injustices, and uncertainties.  Hope gives us joy in sorrow and peace amidst the turmoil of daily life.  In certain ways, I think it is the virtue we need most of all.

Without Supernatural Hope, Edna can only view the situation on a human level.  At this time she is in great need of Supernatural Hope, which would give her an awareness of God's Presence in the midst of all the pain. 

Finally, there is love.  We all know what love is on a natural level; it is, more often than not, a love of the senses.  A young man and woman meet, fall in love, and marry because she was peaceful and calm and he had a great sense of humor.  A year later, she's a bore and he's a tiresome wisecracker.  It is love on a natural level that can become very selfish, because it only wants to keep and receive.  But Love on a Supernatural level, with God as its source, only asks to give and to share.

Supernatural Love is God's Love in our soul.  The person who possesses Supernatural Love is able to keep loving when reason says it's time to give up.  It's what makes us able to forgive, and to keep forgiving, when what we really want to do is throw in the towel and be forever angry at the person who keeps hurting us.  When Jesus commanded that we love our enemies, He knew that to do so we'd have to possess Supernatural Love.  He knew that loving our enemies requires looking beyond what we feel like doing, what we are "justified" in doing, and instead being very compassionate and understanding.

On an even more practical level, Supernatural Love is what enables you to keep loving your spouse or your children or your best friend when at the moment you are hard pressed to find anything lovable about them.  It allows you to keep in mind that everyday annoyances that can drive you crazy — the unmade bed, the car left on empty, the squeezing of the toothpaste tube in the middle, the monopolizing of the TV's remote control — are small items in the overall scope of things.  How?  By making you aware that love is a decision, not just a feeling, and that you can decide to love as God loves — freely and endlessly.

Supernatural Love is the kind of love that keeps marriages vibrant, families solid, friendships strong.  It's the kind of love that inspires Christians to true acts of kindness and charity.  Supernatural Love doesn't judge or ask questions.  It simply gives.

Love is the whole point of Christianity, because God is Love.  The New Testament is a book of love, for love is what Jesus spoke of throughout His stay on earth.  For the believer, the Commandment "Love one another as I have loved you" (John 15:12) is the measure of all things.  It is Love that makes us truly Christian.  If you're wondering how you measure up as a Christian, ask yourself: "Was I kind today?"  "Was I compassionate today?"  "Was I forgiving today?"

Faith, Hope, and Love all have a part to play in our process of knowing God.  They are given to us in seed form for us to nurture and increase in our daily life.  But for many of us they are just vague notions.  They get buried, like marvelous treasures do, beneath mounds of earthly concerns.  The important thing to remember about Faith, Hope, and Love is that they are transforming virtues.  They mold us and chip away at our weaknesses until we are re-created in the Image of God.  They aren't magic formulas, but mysteries.  They don't make anyone a "true believer" or a "good person" overnight, but they give us the fortitude and the grace to experience God slowly and deliberately and to radiate that experience in our daily lives.  The reason it is so hard to believe is that the invisible God must become the center of our lives.  Believing in God takes a lifetime series of decisions in God's favor.  It means not just knowing about God, but wanting to become just like Him.


True believers

If you and I decided to take a survey of our fellow Americans, the majority of them would say that they believe in God.  What they really mean, though, is that they believe God exists.  I'm sure God appreciates their vote of confidence.  But this is where the believer and the spiritual bystander part ways.  Simply believing in the existence of God is not exactly what I would call a commitment.  After all, even the devil believes that God exists!  Believing has to change the way we live.

"God doesn't want your house — you don't even have curtains yet!"  I exclaimed.

A lot of people tell me they want to believe.  But what they really want is a quick cure for all that ails them.  They figure that Christianity makes one healthy, wealthy, and wise, and that once they profess belief in God, all their troubles will disappear.  The problem is what happens when God says "No."  What happens when life with all of its injustices and heartaches crowds in upon them and there seems to be no answer to their problems?  This is where they need Faith to see God, Hope to hang on to Him, and Love to keep their souls in peace.

I will never forget one afternoon when a friend came into the network offices, asking if we could chat for a while.  Rebecca is a talkative person, an accomplished attorney, always quick with the right answers and the best solutions.  So I was puzzled when she sat down before me in complete silence.  She gazed around my office and her eyes settled on my bookcase.  It seemed like small talk wasn't in order, so I too was silent.  Finally, she said, "Mother, you know I've been a churchgoer all my life, but I don't know what it means really to believe in God.  I am absolutely panicked by the idea that if I really give in to Him, He's going to ask me to give up everything."

"Like what?"  I asked gently, still a little confused about her problem.

"Like my new house, that's what!" she answered, choking on the horror of the thought.

Now I must explain that Rebecca has her own highly respected law practice and all the trappings of success: a new home, a late-model car, beautiful clothes.  Still, I could not contain my laughter.

"God doesn't want your house — you don't even have curtains yet!"  I exclaimed.

Well, she relaxed a bit, and we were able to figure out what was really bothering her.  Rebecca, like so many others, had spent her entire life looking for the love and stability of God in a material existence.  That intense search had caused her to achieve extraordinary success in her business life, and the love she wanted to give to God had been poured into all of her possessions instead.  When she finally started to know God, she was caught between her old love for possessions and her new love for God.  She just couldn't face the thought of losing everything.

But she had nothing to fear.  God didn't want her possessions.  He wanted her.  It's true that some people are called to give up everything, but poverty is surely not a prerequisite for Christianity.  There have been rich saints and poor saints and everything in between.  Salvation is for everyone, not just for a chosen few.

Then why do so many resist accepting God's gift of faith?  There are as many reasons for resisting belief and commitment to God as there are people whom He loves.  But what mainly stands between us and true joy is our fear of the unknown.

– We don't know what will happen to us.
– We balk at the idea of putting someone else in charge.
– We cringe from what we imagine God will ask us to do.

I will never tell you that believing in God is easy, and if you are standing on the edge right now wondering whether or not to take the leap, I know exactly how you feel — because I, too, have had to make that decision, the decision to let go, over and over again.  Faith will come to you, because God wants you to have it.  If I, as an unhappy teenager in Canton, Ohio, could finally accept His gift, so can you.  You don't have to become a nun or a Catholic, although the Church is a source of strength you won't find anywhere else.  All you need to do is yield, with a humble heart, to God, Who loves you more than anyone does, can, or ever will.  You will find that belief is not a onetime decision, but an ongoing, fascinating set of opportunities to say "Yes" to God, to jump again and again into those mystical Arms that your faith tells you are there.  Granted, it requires taking a risk.  But the more you say "Yes" to God, the easier it will become to take that risk.


God wants you

God wants to give you the gift of faith, even if you find the idea of a personal relationship with God frightening.  You may even have been raised in a Christian faith, received Baptism, and still attend church regularly and yet feel far away from God.  You'd like to experience Him in your life but don't really know how, and sometimes you're not even sure you really believe in Him.  But God wants you.  He is looking for you more than you are looking for Him.  You may wonder, "Why is He hounding me?"  All of us, at one point, wrestle with "why" He wants us, and "what" He'll ask us to do.

The poet Francis Thompson, who was a drug addict, is a good example of someone with these questions and fears.  He was a man with many problems.  But even in the midst of his illness and weakness, God made Himself present.  Along the way, Francis composed haunting poetry.

In "The Hound of Heaven," he wrote:

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind;
And in the mist of tears
I hid from Him ...

Francis Thompson made one wrong choice after another.  Yet God pursued him into the depths of his drug addiction.  A soul never falls so low that God cannot raise it up, provided the soul is repentant.  No matter what your circumstances, God is always seeking your love.  When you say, "I want to know God," you are already beginning to feel His Hand on your shoulder.  He is constantly after you even though you may think He has forgotten you.

At the end of the poem, the Voice of God says:

All which I took from thee I did but take,
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might seek it
In My Arms.

You can run from Him by chasing after drugs or drink or sex or work or whatever else you've been cramming into your soul.  But something will always seem wrong. 

I know this reality is difficult to grasp.  It was difficult for me during my childhood to believe that God was pursuing me, that He loved me.  When I was young my mother and father divorced, and life was miserable.  In those days, many people in the Church and in my hometown disapproved of people who divorced, and as a child I bore the brunt of it.

When you are young, the one thing you don't want is to be an outsider.  You want friends.  You want acceptance.  I was the only child in the entire school whose parents were divorced, so I always felt put in a corner as "someone different."

Sometimes I used to wonder if there was a God, and if there was such a Person, I couldn't figure out why He wouldn't let me have a family like the other kids.  I used to watch them go home at night to a great supper and lively conversation with their families, and wonder why my mother and I were worrying about where our next meal would come from.  Yet I was too young to understand.  I was only eight or nine years old.  So it was impossible for me to understand how any of this could be part of a larger plan or even part of God's Love for me.

It took a while, but I later came to understand that God had been hounding me.  He made Himself the first and last resort in my life.  He even used my Italian temperament to bring me close to Him.  At night I would pray: "God, I am angry inside.  I hurt.  Why must I go through all of this?  I want to love You, but I don't know how."

With time, I could see how God was pulling me toward Him, helping me to know Him.  My mother loved me, but she was a woman deeply hurt, rejected and crushed.  We clung to each other without a friend to share our despair.  But God was with us.  Hidden.  Quiet.  Watching and waiting.  Only later would I be ready to listen and give Him free reign in my soul.


Letting go

God will never stop hounding you until your last breath.  You must never forget that God has chosen you, just as He chose me.  Once you accept this gift of His Love, you will experience Him in your life.  You will no longer want to be separated from Him.  For He will have filled that vacuum in your heart with Himself.

It won't be filled any other way.

Yes, you can try to avoid God.  You can run from Him by chasing after drugs or drink or sex or work or whatever else you've been cramming into your soul.  But something will always seem wrong.  Your soul, if it is filled with everything but God, will be like a car that is filled with water instead of gasoline.  It simply won't work.  You can say you're happy, but you'll always know that something is missing.

The Gospel of Saint Mark tells us about a man who was struggling with faith.  He says to the Lord, "I do have faith.  Help the little faith I have" (Mark 9:24).  If you will just ask God to help you believe, your spiritual companions Faith, Hope, and Love will soon show you a very different world.  As you become more attuned to the reality of God's existence and Love, you will begin to see the world as He sees it.  And, with His Grace, you will begin to embrace holiness.

God has chosen you.

Believe in His Love.

 

 



ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Mother Angelica & Christine Allison. "Why is it so hard to believe?" chapter one from Mother Angelica's Answers, Not Promises (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1996): 25-46.

Reprinted by permission of Ignatius Press.

THE AUTHOR

Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation, PCPA (born Rita Antoinette Rizzo on April 20, 1923) is an American Franciscan nun best known as a television personality and the founder of the Eternal Word Television Network.  In 1944, she entered the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration, a Franciscan religious order for women, as a postulant, and a year later she was admitted to the order as a novice.  She went on to find a new house for the order in 1962 in Irondale, Alabama, where the EWTN is headquartered, and in 1996 she initiated the building of the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament and Our Lady of the Angels monastery in Hanceville, Alabama. Mother Angelica hosted shows on EWTN until she suffered a stroke in 2001.  She is a recipient of the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Award granted by Pope Benedict XVI and lives in the cloistered monastery in Hanceville.

Christine Allison has worked in advertising and in magazine publishing. With her husband, Wick Allison, she publishes Art & Antiques. Ms. Allison's first book was I'll Tell You a Story, I'll Sing You a Song. She is also the author of Teach Your Children Well, and 365 Bedtime Stories. Allisons live in New York City with their two children.

Copyright © 1996 Our Lady of the Angels Monastery




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