The Catholic Thing
On Losing the Faith Print E-mail
By David G. Bonagura, Jr.   
Wednesday, 08 January 2014

It has happened to not a few laymen, religious, priests, and bishops over the centuries, and it remains as harsh and threatening a reality today as ever. The specter of losing the Catholic faith that we were gratuitously given at baptism looms large in a world that has intentionally marginalized the supernatural – and in a Church that has for decades ineffectively instructed her young children. Current surveys and polls tell a consistent story: a large number of Catholics who attended Mass in their youth have ceased in adulthood.

Many reasons are given to explain this exodus, but one spiritual reason towers above all the quotidian ones: love for God has diminished in the hearts of those who purposely stay home. In other words, they have lost the faith.

What does it mean to lose the faith? How does it occur? What happens to those who lose it? How can the faith be recovered?

Faith is a supernatural virtue given by God through which one lives in a relationship of love and trust with Him, the Creator of all things. In the relationship of faith, God is the initiator who calls man to respond to Him. Man’s response is not coerced: it is decided freely in the depths of his personal conscience. If man, prompted by the Holy Spirit, responds in the affirmative, then he accepts God and everything that God has revealed through the Church.

       The Foolish Virgins by James Tissot, c. 1890

Faith, then, is both grace and virtue, objective and subjective: as grace faith is an object bestowed gratuitously by God, and as virtue faith must be cultivated within the life of each individual. Faith deepens and develops in varying degrees in each believer through human action: receiving the sacraments, accepting instruction in the content of faith, praying, responding to the preaching and witness of others, reading Scripture and other spiritual works, and performing acts of charity.

But since faith can increase through human acts, believers can also hinder and even extinguish faith in their souls through acts contrary to God’s will. Faith needs charity to flourish, and with every sin we commit, charity is diminished – or, if the sin is mortal, charity can be wiped out completely from our souls.

When we sin we choose the love of ourselves over God. Repentance aims to put the love of God back in the first place. If we choose not to repent, the love of God begins to die in our hearts. As Cardinal Avery Dulles explained, “When the believer does not love God for God’s own sake, the acts of faith become less intense and satisfying.”

In many cases, these acts of faith eventually cease entirely so that the virtue – the practice – of faith becomes lost. What is left for those who have lost the faith, according to St. Thomas, is “lifeless faith,” an objective seed, forever present through baptism, yet latent. This seed lays dormant within the unwilling subjects, yet it has the potential to grow again, if watered once more by the love of God.

Of course, many other factors in addition to sin can contribute to the loss of faith: poor (or nonexistent) catechesis, a fiercely secular culture, public hostility toward Catholicism, traumatic harm or loss, scandal caused by the sins of believers. Yet at root faith has a deeply personal orientation that hinges ultimately on our own free acceptance – or rejection – of God’s invitation.

       The Wise Virgins by James Tissot, c. 1890

What will happen in eternity to those who have lost the faith? Only God knows. On the one hand, we can ask: how anyone could walk away from God and the Church if he truly understood their immensity of love and power? For the wayward we can beseech God to “lead all souls to heaven, especially those most in need of thy mercy,” hopeful that the mitigating factors, which affected their judgment, and not the judgment itself, will receive God’s wrath. God, after all, “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim 2:4).

On the other hand, we have clear injunctions from Christ and the Scriptures that attaining salvation is not easy, that some will be lost, and that belief in Christ is necessary for salvation. Hence the Second Vatican Council taught: “Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved.”

These two counterpoints should together guide our efforts toward those who have lost the faith: we should pray for God’s mercy for them, but, mindful of the real prospect of eternal punishment, we should also work urgently to help the wayward recover and reignite what they have lost.

All gifts can be misused, discarded, or lost. The gift of divine faith bestowed in baptism can become lost through lack of use, but it can never be discarded completely. This should give hope to us who pray for – and worry about – the wayward, that they somehow may yet heed the words of St. Leo the Great before it is too late: “Christian, recognize your dignity and, now that you share in God’s own nature, do not return to your former base condition by sinning. Remember who is your head and of whose body you are a member. Never forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the light of the Kingdom of God.”

David G. Bonagura, Jr. teaches theology at St. Joseph’s Seminary, New York.
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Comments (14)Add Comment
written by Randall, January 08, 2014
This is spot on, Mr. Bonagura. I'm sure many others can relate to this, but I'm currently in a parish that defines the word 'moribund.' The priest mumbles through the scripture readings and basically sleepwalks through the rest of the mass while the mostly elderly parishioners either stare blankly ahead or yawn as the few younger ones fidget or whisper to one another. Children attend mass because if parents bring them but the teenagers mostly stay away. The young people in this parish who go off to college essentially stop going to mass.

There are no parish programs for people to get involved and previous attempts to establish any were discouraged.

Yes, "at root faith has a deeply personal orientation that hinges ultimately on our own free acceptance – or rejection – of God’s invitation." But I wonder how many of the young people in my parish even hear the invitation.
written by Thomas C. Coleman, Jr., January 08, 2014
I don't think that many Catholics would recognize that quote from a Vatican II as Catholic at all but rather they would take it somethnig from the Pre-Conciliar False Church whose errors were corrected by the Vatican II. Such innocents imagine that Vatican II did away with Confession,Penanace, the Rosary and anyting alien to Protestatnts and replaced the Magisterium with Absolute Subjectivism. Pope Benedict XVI blamed this mess on a "virtual media," whihc, he siad, concisisted of the misrepresentations amde by the media. Where did the media folks get all those lies if not from apostate "theologians" who were part of a cabal that was even then taking over seminareis and Catholic colleges? Where are the bishops who should be correcting and ex-communicating those agents of Satan, whose smoke Pope Paul VI said had enterred the sanctuary? How can one reamin calm when his or her own grandchildren are not even being baptized and their own pastors denounce them being "judgemental" for daring to care?
written by Michael Paterson-Seymour, January 08, 2014
In his letter to Simplician, St Augustine, the Doctor of Grace, says, “God has mercy on no man in vain. He calls the man on whom He has mercy in the way he knows will suit him, so that he will not refuse the call” and likewise, “who would dare to affirm that God has no method of calling whereby even Esau might have applied his mind and yoked his will to the faith in which Jacob was justified? But if the obstinacy of the will can be such that the mind’s aversion from all modes of calling becomes hardened, the question is whether that very hardening does not come from some divine penalty, as if God abandons a man by not calling him in the way in which he might be moved to faith. Who would dare to affirm that the Omnipotent lacked a method of persuading even Esau to believe?”

In the De Correptione et Gratia, St Augustine says, “If, therefore, you confess that to persevere to the end in good is God's gift, I think that equally with me you are ignorant why one man should receive this gift and another should not receive it”
written by Mack Hall, January 08, 2014
Nothing is helped by cardinals and bishops eager to be approved not by God but by baby-murdering politicians.
written by Beth, January 08, 2014
"Of course, many other factors in addition to sin can contribute to the loss of faith: poor (or nonexistent) catechesis, a fiercely secular culture, public hostility toward Catholicism, traumatic harm or loss, scandal caused by the sins of believers." Well said.

In the area of catechesis, if it is poor or nonexistent, then there is a lack of knowledge of what constitutes sin which is the catch-22, no? I believe that catechesis is the MAIN problem. Jesus was called Rabbi, Teacher--He taught the people and instructed His disciples to do the same. And how can you teach what you do not know yourself? Thus we have going on two generations of non-catechized youth--baptized but no follow up. So very, very sad. We can withstand a rabid anti-Christian culture if we know what we believe and why. With increased Faith, we can withstand anything.

Q & A #4 in the Baltimore Catechism: What must we do to gain the happiness of heaven? To gain the happiness of heaven, we must know, love, and serve God in this world. I stress to my children that to KNOW God is first; how can you love someone you do not know and how can you serve someone you do not love?

I have been criticized by some elderly folks in the parish because we pulled our children from the parish school to homeschool them. We learn/memorize the BC--when confronted by "Why do you make them memorize all of that?" I asked, Who made you? She replied, God made me. My response is this: My generation and those behind me NEVER even got the question let alone the answer. My parent's generation and those before were given the knowledge but for whatever reason it was decided that we didn't need the knowledge, we just needed the feel-good fuzzy banners and happy-clappy clown mass.

We MUST get back to teaching. And since we have neglected it for so long, we must teach from the 50-year-old down to the newborn. We have our work cut out for us.
written by Jack,CT, January 08, 2014
Gee Doc you hit it!
I was losing faith in "TCT" and you
pulled it back this year!
I love this article as I have only
made copys of a few articles in the past
four years,this is one!

I Feel that my faith is the greatest gift I
have and yet it is Very subjective and we have
a Pope that understands this as well.
I love the quotation of St Thomas,(faith)...Is
like a seed present through baptism,yet latent"
how terribly and tragically Beatiful,it shows the
great and wonderful Free Will the lord has givin
us all.

I think back to the days I was to busy to pay
attention to faith as card carrying" Liberal
and I think of the Analogy and I was rhe seed
and I have very slowly begun to grow.

I as St Therese have had "Dark Nights of the soul"
and i see it as a blessing that only a Catholic could

@Randell. I agree with your last statement,How many
of us hear the invitation?
How True-
written by Martha Rice Martini, January 08, 2014
I agree with Thomas C. Coleman, Jr., his sentiment ("How can one remain calm when [our] grandchildren are not...baptized and [our] pastors denounce [us as] judgmental for daring to care?) and his analysis. It's fine to blame the media, then as now, but the media were aided and abetted, then as now, by apostate theologians. I agree with Beth: Bring back the Baltimore Catechism!
written by Athanasius, January 08, 2014
The state of catechesis is appalling, both at home and in the parish. I have taught for many years, and I have found many youngsters are dropped off by parents who never take them to church, nor discuss God at home or pray. I can only do so much in an hour a week that is not taken seriously by the kids because it is not relevant to any other activity outside. Add to that the silly fluff that constitutes our books, and you will see why many Catholics vote for feel-good socialists that really institute programs antithetical to the faith.

We need real catechesis that teaches the faith and works. We are way over-allocated to works currently. And our pastors need to allow for adult education as well. This will take money for program materials and teaching facilities that have modern audio-visual equipment and spaces conducive to learning, not the cold church halls and hard folding chairs. The Protestants are way ahead of us on this. We rely too much on ordained clergy to teach, but they are too busy with the day to day running of the parish to really bother with adult ed. I have tried with marginal success to get programs going. We need a major focus on this. This is one reason I sent my girls to a Catholic High School, so that they would get a real religion class everyday that teaches what the magisterium teaches.
written by Grump, January 08, 2014
Faith and reason cannot be reconciled. As Voltaire put it, "Faith consists in believing when it is beyond the power of reason to believe."

The thinking person must discard all that he or she knows or has experienced in order to embrace beliefs that do not comport to that knowledge and experience. Thus faith is essentially subjective and can only be seen through our own lens and no one else's. I envy those who have faith. But to me it is blind unless there is even the tiniest bid of evidence that belief in the "maybe" trumps the experience of certainty.

written by Stanley Anderson, January 08, 2014
I would strongly disagree with Grump’s assessment of Faith and reason (i.e., that they "cannot be reconciled"). There have been lots of books and debate about the “place” of faith and reason and whether they conflict and such, but one of the things I haven’t seen much of (or at least not enough of), and which I have commented on in other places (and indeed am trying to write some articles along this line) is that I think the pervasive “scientific” view we have today, what I like to call “hyper-enlightenment” (meant to be taken ironically, I admit) is hiding an important aspect. This hyper-enlightenment is of course the child or grandchild of The Age of Enlightenment, where we (even those of religious upbringing) have bought in, even if subconsciously, to the “this is all there is” view of the world and how it works (I would even suggest, looking at the interesting timing of events, that the Reformation with its denial of the Real Presence and virtually all sacramental aspects of the Catholic Faith, is the true father of The Enlightenment and therefore the grandfather of this current materialistic and virtually atheistic hyper-enlightenment view of the world. But that is a whole ‘nother discussion).

I said above that my term is meant ironically, because far from being “enlightening”, its primary effect, despite all the “wonderful” scientific achievements it has produced, has been essentially to hide the most prevalent and pervasive aspect of scientific and mathematical investigation. This is a subject that requires far more space than I could take up here (thus, my current in-process article-writing attempts), but essentially the thrust of it is that in virtually all areas of scientific endeavor, the “this is all there is” stuff around us, even in its limited nature, still “points away from itself”, essentially saying “don’t look down here – I’m not all there is. There is something ‘out there’ that is far more extensive and important.”

An iconic example that I typically use (out of many, many I could give) is the simple “proof” that the Greek Pythagoreans found that showed (to their horror, by the way – they even tried keeping it secret) that rational numbers (ie, fractions) are not the only numbers that can exist. The proof (so simple I could reproduce it here, but don’t worry, I won’t) shows that the square root of two cannot be a fraction. The very curious thing about the proof though, is that it gives not the slightest hint whatever of where or how big or anything else about what this number might be or be like. It could be twenty trillion or less than five, but the proof does not care a whit. It only says, defiantly and definitively, that there are numbers “out there” that we “can’t see” from inside the pen of fractions. And an equally curious aspect is that the proof does this entirely within that pen of fractions itself. In other words, these “irrational numbers” as they are called, do not “invade” the fractions “from outside” to make themselves known, but rather, the fractions themselves “point out there” from inside among themselves toward the irrational numbers, making their presence known. Within their own “incompleteness” they prominently display that very incompleteness on their sleeves.

And this “internal pointing to stuff out there” pervades virtually ALL areas of science and mathematics, perhaps most prominently in quantum physics and Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems. And yet it is this “pointing” quality that is almost studiously (seemingly intentionally) ignored and avoided by enlightenment thinking.

Anyway, I think it is something that needs to be pursued more, simply because it is such a modern blind spot. But I would stress that I say that only because it is a modern blind spot. I think this “pointing” has always been available to us in many other ways, but because this hyper-enlightenment has so successfully hidden them from us (eg, how can people POSSIBLY manage to seriously consider that their own consciousness could be only the result of a bunch of atomic billiard balls bumping into each other in certain patterns? And yet that is the current common scientific view – one I have held myself seriously in the past). I say this because I wouldn’t want to imply that the current “scientific view” of this “pointing out there” aspect is required as some kind of Gnosticism in order to recognize our deficiency. The earliest medieval “scientists” and people in general always saw nature as “pointing to” or God or reflecting aspects of his nature. God makes that clear to us if we could allow ourselves to see it. But our current culture has been so hypnotized by hyper-enlightenment, that we (and I include myself here among the blinded) can hardly see through the fog. And yet, even within the fog, no matter how thick it gets, God provides those "pointings" if we are open to them.
written by Matt, January 08, 2014
Mary to God the father:

‘You, that had told me that he would be great, you had told me that you would have given him the throne of David, his forefather, that he would have reigned forever and now I see him there!’[on the cross] Our Lady was human! And perhaps she even had the desire to say: ‘Lies! I was deceived!’

If the Pope can say the above during his recent homily which disregard's the Churches Tradition that Mary knew that her son would be persecuted and killed long before she said "do whatever he says"; is it any wonder that a Catholic could lose the faith with such confusion in the Church?

Perhaps the Pope forgot the Prophecy spoken to her by Simeon; "And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that, out of many hearts, thoughts may be revealed."

I guess Rahner trumps Simeon.
written by Rodlarocque, January 09, 2014
This Pope is making me doubt the faith, how can a nobody resist the world, the flesh and the devil when our shepherd says things that appeal to the church's enemies and detractors?
The only "Francis Effect" that will materialize is the loss of faith of real thinking Catholics, they will fall away or become sedevacantists.
written by Matt, January 09, 2014
Do not doubt the faith - doubt its human leaders.

Per Cardinal Ciappi on Fatima..

“In the Third Secret, it is foretold, among other things, that the great apostasy in the Church will begin at the top.”
written by Donald, June 22, 2014
I don't think that the pope's words are apostate at all. That Mary knew Jesus would be persecuted is not contradicted by the pope's observations. It's possible she felt such conflicts within, yet still without sin, during her Dark Night of watching him die on the Cross. Moments of crisis blind the intellect, if not the faith, of the brightest and most knowledgable of people.

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