I'm a 40-something male raised as a Catholic. I was generally made to attend Mass on Sundays until I was confirmed. I've been happily married for 16 years and have a wonderful 10-year-old daughter whom we're raising as a Catholic. All of this would lead one to assume that I'm a person of faith, or even somewhat religious. Yet, I have no faith. I've always believed that we are just large bugs, and it's simply "lights out" when we die. I'm sure my long career in law enforcement has something to do with this. There's only one problem. Whenever I go into a church, I begin to weep immediately and sometimes can't stop. This confuses me; I can't walk into a church without sadness. Is this the guilt and shame of having no faith? Or am I in the right place, after all?

-- C., via email

Your question is one of the most heartfelt queries I've ever received.

First off, I say that you are not a bug. You were never a bug and you'll never be a bug. Like every other human being, you are made in the image of God. Your bodily life is surely finite on earth, but your soul's life is infinite with God in heaven. Understand, please, that I don't know this. I believe this as a revealed truth from God through sacred Scriptures. This doesn't mean that my religious belief is false. It simply means that it is trustworthy because of a hopefulness that lives in the deepest part of my being.

Of course, my belief, which is the sure belief of all the Abrahamic faiths, may indeed be false. I don't simply sweep away the nihilism of atheists because of some Scriptural reference. The atheists may be right. We may be just bugs who are eventually squashed under the cruel fatalities of life. I honor their belief in nothingness, as I ask them to honor my belief in God.

We all make life choices about God and salvation that will inform our every waking moment. I choose to live in hope and I choose to believe that goodness has an edge over evil and I choose to believe that we are not alone in a cold, unfeeling cosmos.

I cannot take my debate with atheists any further. My best advice to you is to try to understand more deeply the meaning of your tears. My suspicion is that your tears and your doubts are the result of a kind of spiritual paralysis in the face of the great contradiction we all face in life: the contradiction between an evil world and a good God. We see war and we're told to believe in a God of peace. We see people abused and exploited and we're taught to see each and every person as made in the image of God.

You were brought up in a kind church and you've spent your life policing mean streets. I understand. Sometimes that contradiction is just too much for you, as it is for all of us at some times, and so we cry out our anger and pain.

Perhaps you might benefit by watching the news less and watching your daughter more. In her smiles and joyful play, you may come to remember that the world is filled with the traces of goodness every bit as much as it is filled with the traces of evil.

The problem is, we receive the bulk of our evidence about life from news organizations, whose sad mantra is, "If it bleeds, it leads." Volunteer to serve lunch at a soup kitchen. Help build a house for the homeless. Teach a child to read, and try to go to church again, even if you sit in the back row for a while. Feel the strength of a faith community lifting you up when you're cast down.

In the Psalms, King David wrote, "Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord." (Psalm 130:1) Remember what David eventually understood: The depths are not ground level for the truth of life and love here on planet earth. Good is happening all around you, and a loving God is waiting to love you. Tears of joy look just like tears of despair, but God knows the difference.

I pray that you may know this truth before Easter arrives, so that on that glorious Sunday you might once again remember how to smile in church.


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