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. 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.
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 and for anyone who loved God. In truth, Richard was desperately searching for God, although he disguised it in some pretty strange ways. He 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 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 USA 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 it’s so hard for some to believe in Him. It seems as if 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 popular culture, 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.
~Mother Mary Angelica