I cannot feel God’s presence, am I a bad person?

I am a Catholic or try to be one, and I am having problems feeling the Power of my religion. I have been so hurt throughout my life and I’ve tried to forgive the people, but it does no good. I feel like I get far more satisfaction out of my work than my faith. It’s so hard for me to get the concept that when I go to communion, its Jesus’ Body and Blood that I’m receiving. That is so deep to me that I can’t grasp it. Why have I lost my grip on how I use to feel about going to Church, how I feel after confession and when I pray. Sometimes I ask for things, other times I thank God for everything, sometimes I pray for different people and sometimes I pray by just being quite. When I’m quiet, I never think or feel the presence of God, Jesus or the Holy Spirit being with me. Am I a bad person? I’ve been told that by my questioning these things, that I’m actually growing in my faith and not going the other direction. Am I a “bad” person? When I get to the gates of Heaven, will I be told that God didn’t have enough time for me to have put me in the book for Heaven and I lose out on it? Why do I have such a hard time believing, or the feelings I do have about my religion coming out and consuming me to the deep relationship I want to have and feel from God. Can someone please point me in the right direction? I’m not being a good Catholic for my husband or my son.

Dear Friend, I am saddened to hear of your suffering but happy that you are seeking answers. This is a sign that you are heading the right direction and that the pull of the divine master is still present in your heart. Be assured that there are answers to your struggles and that you are not alone. As you have likely noticed in our community, many struggle with many aspects of their faith. The key difference between those who fall into despair and away from God and those who continue to grow, is perseverance. Never disengage, never stop seeking, showing up, and wrestling with God and your faith.

You have asked a number of questions but my reply will focus on your struggles with the seeming absence of God’s presence. With respect to your other questions, if you have not already done so, a program of spiritual reading is very important to your situation. To help with this check out our resources for growth page which will provide you with the means to find answers to your questions in more detail.

Regarding your struggles with prayer, what you are experiencing is known as “aridity.” There are several causes and we will deal briefly with a few here.

Sin or Apathy: These aridities come for the same reasons that coldness and distance develop between a husband and wife or any two people who are in close relationship to one another. When the covenantal love or respect between persons is broken, or slighted even in the smallest ways, sometimes this can result in coldness in the relationship. The warmth fades, the intimacy dissipates, and we feel alone. This happens because we have either turned our back on the other, or have simply turned aside and begin to travel a path that is in any way contrary to what is best for the relationship. The solution here is simple – confession, reconciliation and rededication to the relationship.

Calling to a Deeper Relationship: When this is the cause, the situation is much more positive than in our first case. Aridity is what it is because of an absence of what may have been present at time before the aridity set in. This absence of the consolation of God feels like abandonment when in fact it is the opposite. St. John of the Cross uses a beautiful analogy to describe what is happening here (we will provide a summary and application of his analogy).

When a baby is held in its mother’s arms at her breast, there is no place of greater peace, solace, comfort and provision. If a mother loves her child, there will come a day when she knows that she must be set down on the floor and learn how to walk. How does this feel from the perspective of the child? Is the child any less safe, loved, or provided for in this context?

In the same way, God is seeking provide us with what we need to mature in Him. As he sets us down, sensual consolations disappear (aridity). We are then faced with a wrestling with the purity of our love. This situation brings a new awareness of the shallow nature of our love for Him and introduces us to a purifying challenge that is often very uncomfortable. How can we love if we feel nothing in return? In the end, this love required from us is a test to reveal the true nature of our love. Do we love because of what we gain in return? Do we love because of how this love makes us feel, or do we love in a pure self-giving way?

As the reality of our weakness is revealed, we cry out to God, and push forward in faith. The purification that comes then sets the stage for a love that we could have otherwise never known.

In this darkness, if we persevere, we will learn to love the way God loves.

We will close this treatment with a brief note of encouragement from the doctor of the dark night – St. John of the Cross:

It behoves those who find themselves in this condition to take courage, and persevere in patience. Let them not afflict themselves, but put their confidence in God, who never forsakes those who seek Him with a pure and upright heart. Neither will He withhold from them all that is necessary for them on this road until He brings them to the clear and pure light of love…

For more insights on aridity, see Fr. John’s posts here. Be assured of my prayers, and the prayers of those who will read your question.

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