Summary: The answer to the new atheism is the old faith, belief in Christ and reception of his forgiveness and grace.
Monday of Third Week in Easter 2013
Gaudium et Spes
It’s been a while, but some years ago I used to hear Christians using the phrase “walk the talk.” That means that what you profess with your lips you have to live with your whole person. Today we are given the first “all-the-way witness” to the faith, St. Stephen, one of the first deacons and the first Catholic martyr. Don’t be confused by the Baroque image of angels you see on some paintings. When St. Luke tells us that his face was that of an angel, it means the face of a messenger of God who may be about to say what people don’t like to hear. Angels, after all, are the ultimate prophets, the ones who speak with the very voice of God Himself.
Jesus is given to us today in the words of the sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel, and we need to understand that in that incredibly beautiful and rich chapter, there are really two things going on. Jesus is telling us that the work of God is to believe in the One sent by the Father. This is the challenge to believe the prophetic word. The Jews of the OT didn’t do a very good job of believing the OT prophets. That’s one of the accusations that Stephen made against the Jewish authorities of his day, that for all generations they have resisted following God’s word. So when the very Word of God, the only-begotten Son of the Father, appeared on earth, they rejected Him as well–just as we, by our sin, rejected Him.
Now belief in Jesus Christ is an everything affair. The Fathers of the Council taught: “Many martyrs have given luminous witness to this faith and continue to do so. This faith needs to prove its fruitfulness by penetrating the believer's entire life, including its worldly dimensions, and by activating him toward justice and love, especially regarding the needy. What does the most reveal God's presence, however, is the brotherly charity of the faithful who are united in spirit as they work together for the faith of the Gospel(18) and who prove themselves a sign of unity.”
The new atheism is really the old atheism. People refuse to believe in God for a number of reasons. The Fathers scolded us a little for one of these reasons: “believers can have more than a little to do with the birth of atheism. To the extent that they neglect their own training in the faith, or teach erroneous doctrine, or are deficient in their religious, moral or social life, they must be said to conceal rather than reveal the authentic face of God and religion.” Before this century, the culture usually gave Catholics, especially priests, the benefit of the doubt. Now that has been turned on its head. When a Catholic, particularly a cleric, does something wrong, the media pounce on the situation. This prevents many people from investigating the valid claims of the Church that we offer the surest understanding of the only path to salvation–faith in Jesus Christ.
Every human asks the fundamental question: what is the meaning of life. Although atheists can live a good and moral life, they are faced with the ultimate question–why should I do so? At some point, everyone has to come to terms with the hole we have in our heart–a hole, Pascal taught, that can only be filled by God.
The Fathers continue: “Above all the Church knows that her message is in harmony with the most secret desires of the human heart when she champions the dignity of the human vocation, restoring hope to those who have already despaired of anything higher than their present lot. Far from diminishing man, her message brings to his development light, life and freedom. Apart from this message nothing will avail to fill up the heart of man: "Thou hast made us for Thyself," O Lord, "and our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee."
So as we hear the words of chapter 6 of John’s Gospel over these next days, let’s take to heart the challenge to walk the talk. The grace of God is poured out into our hearts every time we come to Mass and take communion. Our little sins are purged and forgotten, and new energy for the fight is received. God gives us His Son whenever we ask; God refreshes our spirit with His own Spirit.