July 20, 2011

When Faith Died

The week before Easter, I was talking with acquaintances at my son’s lacrosse game. When asked if I was going to church on the holiday, I fumbled as did not know what to say. The answer was no, and the moment of awkwardness did not pass quickly. They could not know that my struggle with faith was more germane at present than ever before.

When my father was alive, I could refer to him and say that he had enough devotion for his entire family. We attended mass when we visited him, or when he came to our home for the weekend I took him to our parish. When he died, those opportunities vanished, and so did my connection to the church.

My dad was the spiritual leader of our family. My parents would bring their six children to Our Lady of the Assumption each Sunday as it was their duty to do so. My belief in God was modeled after theirs: stoic, unquestioned, and rooted in the rites and traditions of holy days and holidays. In my teenage years, I rebelled and questioned my belief in God as only an insolent seventeen-year-old could. It was natural to me that if I was to challenge my parents, I too would turn from the Lord as the ultimate affront to my mother and father and their beliefs.

As a parent, I made sure that my kids each received their sacraments, and that made my father happy as he was glad that we at least gave our children a chance to find their own faith. After my mother died, I would take my father to the five o’clock mass each Saturday when he came to stay with us. During this period, I learned that my father’s belief in God was not some habit drilled into him as a boy while attending catholic school. His conviction came to him during WWII on a battlefield in Italy when he was gravely wounded and left for dead. In a magical coincidence, he awoke as he was being administered last rites by an army chaplain. He thought he had died, and when he looked at the face of the man praying over him, clad in olive drab and holding a prayer book, he recognized him to be a priest from back home. From then on, he knew deep within his heart that he was meant to be alive and that God willed it so.

There was no such calling for me. When I pray, it is as though I am poking my head into a large, empty, darkened room and calling out to no one. The only light is a sliver sneaking in from behind me. From time to time, I check in to see if someone answered or if a note was left on the door for me. But, right now there is nothing beyond that entrance except empty space.

Maybe soon, during the next holiday season as Christmas music fills the shopping malls and the radio airwaves, I’ll rap on the door again. Perhaps no one will respond, but I will keep returning. There will be an answer one day when I call out. I have faith.

By Michael J. Kannengieser

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