From the Chaplain

Can we prove the existence of God? Those traveling along the path of disbelief not only find that organized religion holds no appeal, but have also arrived at an intellectual conclusion that God may not, does not, or cannot exist. Often they seek proof for God's existence, and finding none, or encountering intense suffering they reject the theistic world view completely.

It's like the story of the atheist caught in a flood. The fellow figures that the flood threatening his house is the chance to prove conclusively whether God exists. So he says to himself, "If there is a God, I will ask him for help, and he will save me". When he hears a warning on the radio advising listeners to move to higher ground, he ignores it. "If there is a God he will save me", he thinks.

Next, a fire-fighter knocks on this door to warn him to evacuate. "If there is a God he will save me" he says to the fire-fighter. When the floodwaters rise, the man climbs to the second floor. The coast guard boat motors by his window and offers him rescue. "If there is a God he will save me", he says and refuses help from the coast guard. Finally, he ends up on the roof, with the waters rising around him. A police helicopter hovers over the house and drops a rope to climb. "If there is a God, he will save me!" He shouts over the roar of the helicopter's blades.

Suddenly a giant wave sweeps over him, and the man drowns and finds himself in heaven, when God comes to welcome him, the atheist is first surprised. And then furious. "Why didn't you save me?" He asks. "What do you mean?" says God. "I sent the fire-fighter, the coast guard, and police officer, and you still wouldn't listen!"

This path of busyness and a lot of superficiality is getting more crowded every year. People in this group begin life in a religious family but drift away from their faith. After a childhood in which they were encouraged (or forced) to attend religious services, they find them either tired or irrelevant. Religion remains distant, though occasionally appealing.

Then something reignites their curiosity about God. Maybe they have achieved some financial success and ask, "Is that all there is?" Or after the death of a parent, they start to wonder about their own mortality. Or their children ask about God, awakening questions that have lain dormant within themselves for years. T. S. Eliot once remarked that "there are some things about which we can say nothing, but before which we dare not keep silent." This is a good starting place for the Christian understanding of God.

Generations of artists, writers and scholars have struggled to express this great mystery of our faith, the God who is Three in One. Symbols for the Trinity have included the shamrock, the triangle, a trio of intersecting circles, the fleur-de-lys, the Celtic knot, the cosmic dance. As with all our human attempts to capture God in art or language, however, these inevitably fall short.

Why are you a Catholic? Why are you still a Catholic? Each of our stories makes us take a broader view, says Fr. Andy Hamilton SJ, on the Catholic Church today. The reality of Catholic life, like that of other churches, includes the inexcusable, the brutal, the indefensible and the appalling. It also includes the potty, the mediocre, the bombastic, the confused and the sheepish. And as well there are the idealistic, the enduring, the courageous and the constant.

These three categories do not represent different groups of people. They and their possibilities run through each human heart, from Pope to peasant. So the unpleasant company that we find ourselves keeping in any church has also to hold its nose when keeping company with us.

So whether we can responsibly still stay in the Church is not decided by the list of bad or absurd things Catholics, from high to low estate, do, however authoritatively. The question is whether the story, the hope and the shared life that have held us in the Church can accommodate and handle our constant discovery of the disreputable company we keep.

In my judgment, continues Fr. Hamilton SJ, the story that lies at the heart of our faith does accommodate massive evil and stupidity, and also encourages us to hope for a better church and world. The story tells how the son of God shared our human life, called a group of incompetents to join his inner group, and experienced the darkest side of human malice, including betrayal and denial by his friends, and appalling torture and execution after trial in a kangaroo court. Then he rose from the dead to show that life is stronger than all the things that make for death and to invite us to live generously.

One of our spiritual directors quoted the Scottish philosopher John Macmurray, who contrasted 'real religion and illusory religion". The maxim of 'illusory religion" is as follows: "Fear not; trust in God and He will see that none of the things you fear will happen to you". "Real religion," said Macmurray, has a different maxim: "Fear not; the things you are afraid of are quite likely to happen to you, but they are nothing to be afraid of."

Fr Gaetan Pereira
College Chaplain