The Atheists Our

The Atheists Our "Brothers"

These days are certainly very different from those in which I grew up. Perhaps you have a similar feeling? The assumption of Christian values and a Christian cultural environment just aren't there today as they were forty years ago. There is a very definite move toward atheism being more public and society being shaped by values which are far from those proclaimed by Jesus in the Gospel. I read last week how an import from Britain called the Sunday Assembly—a church that doesn’t believe in God—is seeking to take America by storm, and is also expanding to a number of other countries.

At the beginning of the Year of Faith, Pope Benedict offered us as an image of our new cultural situation: the image of Bartimaeus, the man afflicted with blindness who called out to Jesus for healing. "Bartimaeus could represent those who live in regions that were evangelized years ago, where the light of faith has grown dim and people have drifted away from God, no longer considering him relevant for their lives. These people have...lost a secure and sound direction and they have become, often unconsciously, beggars for the meaning of existence... It is only He, Jesus Christ, [who is] the true newness who answers the longings of man from every age."

This world—which some have described as an "inhospitable desert"—cries out for newness, a newness that we Christians can't offer others unless we ourselves are made new.

But there’s a catch. We can’t make ourselves new.
Newness, in the realm of the spirit, is a gift. 

New life implies a kind of death to our past “self” which is made up of our ideas of ourselves, our opinions, the conventional wisdom of the day, our expectations, biases, and prejudices. We will dread new life in proportion to our attachment to this pastiche of images we take to be our real selves.

Without self-awareness we believe that what we think and feel about ourselves is who we ultimately are. It isn’t. 

Without self-awareness we end up reasoning according to the conventional wisdom of the day because that seems to make the most practical sense. It doesn’t.

Without self-awareness it's easy to blame and scapegoat in an attempt to bring clarity about what's right and what's wrong, who's right and who's wrong. That doesn't help.

Without self-awareness we can struggle through life feeling like "practical atheists" and not know what to do because we ourselves are struggling to trust that God is here and God works only good. That's where St. Therese, the Little Flower, can help.

Pope Benedict XVI in 2011 remarked regarding the little St. Therese that her "grace of Easter," which was a very painful trial of faith, was understood by her to be a call to offer herself for the salvation of all the atheists of the modern world. She who had lived lost in the cloister of Carmel spent the last ten years of her life with Mary beside the cross of Jesus in the most heroic faith, and her faith has become a light in the darkness of the modern world, a faith that is the utter certainty and trust in the goodness of Jesus, whether one feels his presence or not. She even called the atheists with whom she suffered this dark struggle of faith her "brothers." Her act of faith made in the darkness of doubt was united in a mysterious way to their rejection of the faith. Their struggle with faith was played out before the face of the Father who loves all. 

Learn more about St. Therese

Pope Francis wrote in The Light of Faith, “Faith is born of an encounter with the living God who calls us and reveals his love, a love which precedes us and upon which we can lean for security and for building our lives. Transformed by this love, we gain fresh vision, new eyes to see; we realize that it contains a great promise of fulfillment, and that a vision of the future opens up before us. Faith, received from God as a supernatural gift, becomes a light for our way, guiding our journey through time” (no. 4).

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In the face of the growth of atheism in today's society, without self-awareness we might be tempted to join those who point fingers, blame, reject, label. St. Therese and Pope Francis instead teach us to stand with atheists in the mystery of faith and prayer, to stand with our brothers and sisters who struggle with the God who loves them and seeks them and embraces them. For we are all children of the same Father.

Sr. Kathryn James Hermes, fsp

Help when we're struggling with faith



God exists, faith, non believers, st therese


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  • I agree that this is quite a meaty topic. It is something that has come to mean alot to me lately... the hope that all of us children of the one Creator will stand before him with love for each other. Just the thought of it leads me to greater conversion of my own heart...so I guess that's good for me. Sr. Kathryn
    10/7/2013 4:14:57 PM Reply
  • Thank you, Sister Kathryn for sharing your wisdom. It gives me a lot to think about. And I know that it is helping me to grow. This was an especially meaty message! God bless you!
    10/5/2013 10:11:32 PM Reply
  • Thank you very much, dear Sister Kathryn and all other Sisrters, for your encouraging words -which you send me every week. They are a great help and at times great con solation. God bless you all
    10/5/2013 7:07:57 AM Reply
  • Thank you for this reflection, Sister Kathryn.This commentary was a big bite to chew for me so I had to take it with little bites. Self awareness- a good thing but only to help us to imitate our Lord, Jesus Christ. He is our model of Goodness and Love. Newness- agreed it is a gift from the Holy Spirit, who is giver of Life. Athiest Brethen- Lord give me an understanding heart , not to judge, but to give an example of your Love to all. Agreed, we are all children of the same Father, Creator of everything.
    10/5/2013 6:05:12 AM Reply

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