On Having an Emotional Faith & the Need for Reason

In an earlier post I talked about my journey back towards Catholicism. What people sometimes don’t talk about is the journey that takes place after you make that fateful decision to follow Christ, and the difficulties one can face while they move forward. At some point you will be tested, at some point you will need to start considering more than just the experience you had not long ago.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, life after Steubenville was a revelation. No longer bound by the unforgiveness and perpetual bitterness towards my father, I was moving forward with a fresh lease on life. It turns out that year I wasn’t the only one to do so. A large group of us (in a small town no less) all came back to the Church and had conversion/reversion experiences. A youth group formed in our town, and the 40 or so of us established a community there.

At the time everything was new to me. Having a faith, the concept of having more than one friend. Everything was new. I was still quite immature since I was what one would call a “late bloomer”, so I was very much still starting to figure out my way around with life. In my faith life I pursued a relationship with Christ, I went to Mass, and read certain books of the Bible – that was all that I really focused on. There was not much intellectual growth in areas, I focused on the emotional aspects of things, since that’s where I had the most improvements in my life since my “reversion experience”.

Things fell apart though when I moved across the province to go to college. It was devastating to leave everyone and everything behind. The community I belonged to, the friends I finally had, everything I knew was gone. Complicating matters was I was eighteen years old and not yet fully starting puberty, meaning again there was a distinct lack of emotional maturity. By all accounts, I was still a child, with the faith of an infant. Don’t get me wrong, faith like a child is a great thing, faith like an infant is a bit more, well, infantile.

I tried to attend Mass a couple of times, but I didn’t feel comfortable with any of those communities. As in, I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere. It took *years* for me to finally find one, and I desperately wanted the same thing in Ottawa. That was not to be, however. So I spent two years in college not actively practicing my faith persay, in the sense I didn’t attend Mass. I believed in Christ, still prayed, but I didn’t practice the Sacraments – and certainly did more than a few questionable moral and ethical decisions. It wasn’t until the summer of 2012 that things became a bit more interesting. Which in turn, will lead me to a story. And as stories go, it’s a pretty good one. And like plenty of good stories, it involves a woman (in this case, two women!).

That summer of 2002, I wrapped up my last year of college. A group called Catholic Christian Outreach stayed at our student residence for a few weeks while they were doing a mission activity. I was amazed, a group of people my age who were Catholic. And there was a community of them! I talked with a few of them, and I started attending some of their events. Eventually, I even started volunteering for them. They showed me that, yes, there was community, I just needed to persevere and find it. That got me ready to get back in the saddle, but it was something else that launched my desire to have a more rational faith.

You see, also during the summer of 2002, there was a girl I was interested in leading up to the end of my college days. Intelligent and attractive (not to mention she took the same program as me in college, so we had similar interests), I was very pleased when we started dating. We hit a stumbling block during this process though; as a non-Catholic Christian, she had several objections and questions about the Catholic faith. When confronted with her questions, the content and delivery of some my answers were not up to par.

To this day I don’t blame her for asking questions. Catholicism does a few things on the surface that could make anyone raise an eyebrow, let alone other Christians. You know who was to blame for this situation though? Myself, and myself alone. Six-ish years after accepting Christ into my life, I wasn’t any closer to being able to explain Catholic beliefs and doctrines. Oh sure, I could say what Catholicism stood for and believed, but I had zero ability to explain the “whys” and the “hows”. As St. Paul talks about, “when I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child”, and that was still the stage where I was at spiritually. Essentially, I had that emotional faith, the emotional belief that Christ was my Savior. What I lacked was an intellectual faith, the kind of faith where I could explain why I believed what I believed.

Eventually these differences resulted in myself having to make an important decision, which in the end resulted in us breaking up. I was left with not much comfort over the fact that I had difficulty explaining beliefs I held dear. I did very much like this girl, and it bothered me greatly that the one person that I wanted to explain this stuff to, I couldn’t.

I did not want to continue with things as-is, it obviously wasn’t sustainable and also doubled as being incredibly frustrating not being able to explain myself properly. Because the relationship ended due to my conviction that Catholicism was correct, it left only one recourse; it was time to get to work. It was time to study the systematic, the rational. Find out exactly why the Church teaches what it does, and how it reached that stage. Which is when I discovered three critical components of Catholicism:

1) Everything from a doctrine perspective is written down.

2) In the Internet age, you can find citations and commentaries on pretty much anything.

3) The doctrine hasn’t changed in 2000+ years, Catholicism has remained consistent.

That began a journey that continues to this day. I devoured apologetics works from writers like Scott Hahn & Karl Keating. I came to a better understanding of the Sacraments – why they are, what they do. I read about early Church history and its documents, to see what was taught after the death and resurrection of Christ. I discovered a mentor, who introduced me to the lives and writings of the Franciscan Masters, which to this day I still read and contemplate. Speaking of contemplation, that was a key component as well, just sitting down and thinking sometimes about “hey, what this is?”. My emotive faith was still present, but it was even stronger because I saw the logical basis for the teachings of the Church, grounded in things like philosophy, bioethics, biology, and theological constructs. To me, everything made sense, and I eventually realized I could break things down for others so it made better sense for them. I grew in this area to the point where I was asked to become a Catechist, one who teaches the faith to converts.

Fast forward a couple of years, I met another non-Catholic Christian, and we started dating. She had questions about Catholicism, this time I was prepared on how to react. When certain things came up, I answered questions calmly and effectively, and cited sources. I spent time formulating thoughts and new ways to express my faith in a constructive and rational manner. Most important of all, I demonstrated the faith by walking it, even when it was difficult. Of course, it helped that she was an academically oriented woman – when provided with citations and sources she would immediately look them up, plus secondary and third references, and through that began independent research.

In the end, I’d like to think things worked out for all parties. The woman I dated in college now has a beautiful daughter, and from what I can see on Facebook she seems to be an amazing mother. The second woman in this story, she eventually converted to Catholicism willingly, and she got married to a Vagrant. A couple of years afterwards, she gave birth to an intelligent, handsome boy, who we named after my Grandfather.

The importance of having a rational faith cannot be discounted, but I do not mean to also discount the emotive. It is the emotional element that will fill you with a burning desire to be close and stay close to Christ. It is the rational that you need to understand why Christ’s Church says the things that are said, and teaches the things that are taught. I encourage those who have the “head knowledge” to dig deeper, to embrace Christ through the Sacraments. To look at the Eucharist as walking up to the alter as His bride, consummating your relationship with Christ – we the Bride and He the Bridegroom. I encourage those who have a heart for Christ to learn more about your faith, to look into why we believe what we believe, and gird yourself for the days ahead.

People will have questions. Do not leave them wanting for appropriate answers.

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