Are we facing a crisis of faith?

There is no doubt that in times of crisis, many people turn to religion for guidance and consolation.

Jul 17, 2021

By Fr Dr Clarence Devadass
This week I called up three people I know well who had lost a loved one to COVID-19. Just speaking to them, I could sense their inconsolable grief, and in my mind, thoughts were racing as to what to say in the awkward silence that ensued. However, I realised very quickly that silence is perhaps the best balm in such situations. In that silence, one of them remarked, ‘Why is God so cruel? What is the point of praying when all I feel at this time is a great sense of disappointment with God?’ That question caught me off guard because here was a person whose life revolved around the Church. The tone of the question in fact said more than the actual words. With all the theologising and spiritualising that could provide the perfect answer at a time like this, it is pain and grief that overwhelms people during such times of loss.

When we went into one lockdown after another, many of us complained that the inaccessibility to the Church caused a great disruption to our well-oiled Sunday routine. As the days went by, people got used to attending Mass online and may have even enjoyed the freedom to ‘attend’ Mass in any part of the world. Without a doubt, a level of comfort has set in and naturally the fear now is — will people come back to church once the churches reopen? Only time will tell if people will come back.

However, as the pandemic and lockdowns continue, there is a deeper question on the horizon – Will there be a crisis of faith? With lives being lost, job insecurities, many being driven to poverty and a future that is uncertain, will people begin to question God in their despair?

There is no doubt that in times of crisis, many people turn to religion for guidance and consolation. But with the COVID-19 pandemic resulting in physical distancing and accessibility to sacred spaces being denied, the relationship between faith and God is being challenged, especially when even the eyes of faith are becoming blurry.

Without a doubt, just as most of us have been experiencing online fatigue over these last 18 months, there is also spiritual fatigue or distress that the Church will have to deal with as we recover from this crisis. If talking to just three people who lost a dear one is any indication, then the reality on the ground may be that, for a section of our community at least, some may have lost hope and may now be having a difficult time finding meaning and purpose in what’s happening to them. Looks like we have our mission cut out for us!

Some would think that the quick fix would be to offer these people more prayer sessions and hope that things will turn around. However, the crisis of faith here is closely tied to a crisis of meaning, and part of this search for meaning is wondering where God fits in.

In the words of Victor Frankl, “Life never ceases to have meaning; even suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning” (Man’s Search for Meaning). In the midst of this great “suffering”, we need to find meaning in our relationship with God, especially when faith is stripped of its access to time-honoured practices, churches and the living community. It is our relationship with God that is now put to the test. Perhaps, when we come back to communal celebrations (whenever that may be), each of us will bring a new meaning and be open to the fact that it might be something very different from what it has been for us before.

Perhaps a crisis of faith, void of the crutches that we have been used to, is indeed much needed so that we can get back to the core of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. We may be in a place which feels almost like a loss of faith or a regression to thoughts that may not even be considered Christian, but let us be mindful of these words of St Teresa of Avila:

Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing;
God only is changeless.
Patience gains all things.
Who has God wants nothing.
God alone suffices.

(A diocesan priest of the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur, Fr Dr Clarence Devadass is currently the Director of the Catholic Research Centre, Malaysia and the Editor of the magazine Catholic Asian News.)

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