Many people who are active in the life and ministry of the Church, yes, those people that others are sure must be full of faith, have a faith that is all dried up, and in danger of being extinguished. They were excited at one time about the faith and they decided to serve Christ through the Church at some point in their lives. They may have been in love with the Church, and God, and desirous to do no more than serve Him.
But then something happens.
Maybe it is that burnt-out coworker who has stayed in active service of the Church for a long time and has become cynical. Maybe it’s the sex abuse scandal and how terribly it was handled. Maybe it was personal experience with clergymen who are difficult personalities and don’t exactly exude the heart of Christ. Maybe it is the sheer magnitude of the task, being overworked, underpaid, under-recognized, and under-supported. Maybe it is personal sin and attachments: a disordered emphasis on material success, finding more satisfaction in food than in God, other addictions, finding security and shelter in technological gadgets instead of Jesus, etc..
Maybe it’s plain old doubt as to the central and radical claims of the Catholic faith. The Sacraments become rote, self-reliance takes the place of God-reliance, and the faith just seems too incredible to be true. Maybe Christ was the long-awaited Messiah, but the Resurrection? And, needing to eat His Body and Blood to have life?
These are hard teachings, no doubt. They are hard because we can’t penetrate their meaning alone, in particular in the way we are used to relying on self. These teachings can only be received, understood, and lived, in the sacred Body of Christ.
But, you already work, or volunteer, for the Church. You are in her bosom, so to speak. You may ask yourself… why isn’t this working for me anymore? What happened?
For any number of reasons such as those listed above, people who participate in the ministry of Christ and the Church can lose their once strong faith. Especially after our “first fervor” or the honeymoon period of our reversion or conversion.
I will outline a simple plan for those who find themselves in this position:
1) Start your day on your knees or another act of submission to God, such as standing with a respectful bow of head or body. It is likely that if your faith is drying up you are neglecting to offer the first fruits of your day back to your Creator. Make an act of self-offering first thing.
Invoke the Presence of God by saying something like, “I believe you are here, that you hear me and see me, that you are closer to me than I am to myself.”. Admit to Him those things you stand in need of. Ask for His help. Rely upon Him. Give 3-5 minutes to this. One simple prayer is this, I will serve You, Lord. This can be repeated until your heart unites to your words.
2) Redo how you participate in Holy Mass. Get there a half-hour to an hour early to prepare your heart and mind with the Holy Scriptures for Christian Worship. Be fully present throughout the Mass. Refrain from chatter. Be reverent. This is the Holy of Holies.
Also, offer an act of Thanksgiving after receiving Holy Communion. Thank Jesus from your heart for giving his life for your salvation. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote a beautiful Thanksgiving prayer to recite. So did St. Basil the Great. Keep a copy with you. Unite your interior awareness to Christ in the Holy Eucharist.
Meditate on the Eucharistic worship that is taking place. Be aided by a Missal that contains the Mass words/parts. If your priest isn’t allowing enough time of Sacred Silence after Holy Communion, ask him to allow more. Silence is essential. Allow Mass to be the saving reality of Christ in your life.
3) Change up how you participate in other Sacraments as well. Go to Confession (at least once a month is typically recommended though the Church requires at least one time per year). It is usually recommended to confess to a priest whom isn’t also your direct superior, as a practice, so that there is complete freedom to be honest.
Confession is a Sacrament. Spend at least 15 minutes in Church preparing to receive this Sacrament. Maybe you don’t have time prior to Confession. So do it the night before. Focus on Scriptures related leaving the old life of sin and putting on the new person. Meditate upon them. Then see what your sins really are. After Confession, spend time in Church in thanksgiving for the unfathomable mercy of God.
The same is true for the Sacrament of Annointing of the Sick. If you know you have a special opportunity to receive this Sacrament, prepare for it by spending time meditating on Scriptures related to healing. Think about the healing you stand most in need of, both physical and spiritual. If you don’t have an opportunity to before receiving the Sacrament, do so afterwards as an opportunity to thank and praise the Lord for His healing presence in your life.
You may not feel well enough for any grand ways of praying. But you can say thank you to the Lord in your heart, and offer your illness or disability to the Father through Him. Try saying something like, “Lord, I offer this to you. May it bring us closer to your Son”.
4) Begin to inventory yourself regularly during the day asking:
a) What am I presently placing my faith in?
b) What is the object of my hope right now?
c)What do my actions demonstrate I love the most?
Then make a correction by making acts of faith, hope, and love in God either through traditional prayers or through interior dialogue. Do this over and over again. Watch for how often faith, hope, and love, are being placed in material concerns or other anxieties.
5) Study explanations of the faith again. Part of what may be going on is that your understanding of the faith needs to be renewed, i.e. your understanding of history and theology needs to be enlightened again by those who help people see our faith for the amazing, beautiful gift that it is. Being reintroduced to the reasons for belief can be a great help here.
6) Embrace the Cross. Our’s is not a religion that tells us everything is going to be rosy in this life. Offer any and all suffering and hardship from the day during your night time prayer before bed. Offer and unite it to the heart of Jesus that it may be efficacious for building up what is often times sorely lacking in the members of the Church. You will see that your suffering is not meaningless, but an intrinsic part of the Mystery of Salvation. You will be consoled as your heart and the heart of Jesus become ever-closer.
7) Be tolerant of others. Practice tolerance with those co-workers, friends, or family, people who are different than you, especially people who really get on your nerves. Stop expecting people to be perfect. Give people the space to be imperfect, and learn to tolerate their shortcomings. When someone upsets you, ask God for patience and the capacity to empathize with others, to forgive the faults of others, to not be a perfectionist.
Remember, what we measure onto others will be measured onto us. And do not sit in judgement upon people, lest you a heavier judgement fall upon you. We can never see people through God’s eyes but we can get closer to his vision of us by meditating upon His words in the Holy Scriptures.
You may be overwhelmed by a list like this. You already have too much to do.
A) Prioritize your interior relationship with God. Let Him in. Place faith, hope, and love in Him.
B) Start small. Adopt maybe only one of these practices at a time and build up.
C) When it comes time, count on not wanting to do what will build up your faith. Take action anyway. Judge by the later fruits, not by the thoughts or feelings prior to the exercise.
It is only by participating in the Sacred Mysteries of our faith, and consciously seeking God in our heart that we can keep our faith alive. Especially after our first fervor or honeymoon period we must be intentional to keep faith. We have to practice it. If we don’t practice it, we’re no good at it, and we have little to offer others in respect to communicating the saving Christ.
Being Catholic is going to inconvenience us, it means we are going to have to give up things that other people freely indulge in. It means being rooted in Jesus Christ instead of self, or the World, by growing every closer to him through Word and Sacrament.
If you are struggling with your faith after a honeymoon period or time of great fervor, consider the practices above. Dig into God deep. If you do, others will see the fruits of the Spirit in your life: gentleness, goodness, self-control, patience, love, joy, peace, etc..
If the fruits of the Spirit are manifest in your life you will be a great catechist and evangelist. You will reconnect with the zeal of your first-fervor but you will also be more humble. That is a good thing. You can be the saint you once wanted to be but not without seeking God’s power (graces) to make you into one.