A theme common to Ezekiel and Saint Mark—the readings for the fourteenth Sunday, year B—is the necessity of faith . . . and, be it said, the difficulty of achieving it. The history of the Jews is a catalogue of the sin of idolatry, i.e., of surrendering their allegiance to the one true God for pagan idols. And it was a lack of faith at Nazareth that prevented Jesus from “doing deeds of power” there. And what about us? How strong is our faith? Well, your attendance at Mass indicates that it’s active. But no one will deny that there are difficulties in believing when any sort of religious commitment is continually challenged by the intellectual and cultural establishments of our society. Paradoxically, my own faith has been strengthened when I examine the current arguments brought against it. For not only do I find being a Catholic personally rewarding; it is also much superior to any alternative I have encountered in my long life.
Consider this statement from Richard Dawkins, an eloquent and persuasive exponent of atheism. What does he conclude? This: that we inhabit a universe in which there is “no design, no purpose, no evil, no good.” His arguments may seem irrefutable to a simple-minded fellow like me, but I find his conclusion nonsensical. Furthermore, if we ask about evolution, i.e., how inert matter, a few atoms jostling around in primaeval mud, could possibly have the potential to develop over time into a Beethoven or an Einstein, we are told that “air and water are . . . conscious,” i.e., there is some sort of awareness in a stone or a star that directs its progress up the evolutionary scale. But if matter is conscious, if an atom somehow senses or thinks, we are really into pantheism, according to which the entire universe is a single gigantic organism, and human beings, like that stone, are manifestations of a single, universal intelligence. No thanks! If we have to choose between a divinized cosmos and the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, I’ll take the latter every time, the Creator who stands apart from his work and whose providential care delivers us from the crushing burden of mere chance or blind necessity.
Another character you will all have met is the relativist, who maintains that morality changes over time and even from person to person: “What is right to me is wrong to you”, and vice versa. Of course, no one really believes this. To demonstrate his fallacy, ask him if slavery should have been morally acceptable two hundred years ago, or denying women the right to vote or burning witches at the stake. The fact is that, whatever he may say, everyone has definite convictions about right and wrong. Consider the #MeToo movement. No one defends past abuse on the grounds that morality was different then. And our Prime Minister does not think that abortion was legitimately punished as a crime in the past. Rather he views the decisions of the supreme court as righting a long-standing wrong, which he honours by requiring all his MPs to be pro-abortion. Similarly, formal apologies to homosexuals or victims of the residential schools are based on human rights that are regarded as valid always and everywhere.