Asking Why and the Pursuit of Faith
(Click on the letters to enlarge)
To my dearest woman of Christ:
I could write a thousand letters to you all about my journey through this life and what my Catholic Christian faith has taught me but I’ll start with this one and leave the rest for my journals. As an introvert, I spend a lot of time in my head. I think some big thoughts, feel some deep feelings, dream some grandiose dreams and wonder about some great wonders. Even from a young age, “why?” was my favorite question and I always sought to understand every detail of something to fully become aware. I’m almost positive that this what led to my career as a woman in science. Although, these traits are incredibly great and beautiful because I never stop seeking truth, I would be lying if I said that it didn’t hold its own weight through so much darkness. My introspective quest for knowledge in my self-awareness manner has led me to the deep pits of depression and anxiety where I question a lot of my life. At times, my Catholic faith becomes a very large stumbling block through the seasons.
I tend to connect most with the people in my field as a marine biologist because of our love for nature, our peace that stems from the simplicity yet complexity of life, and care that wells up as we become stewards of our planet but rarely (if at all) do any of them share my faith. I feel as if I almost opposed daily and quietly judged for staunchly practicing a religion. It gets to be very lonely and that’s when I connect most with my Catholic brothers and sisters. But even that has its limit. The number of times I have encountered Catholics who don’t believe my life’s work has purpose because conserving our planet for the sake of humanity is “too liberal” is heart-wrenching for me. My views and lifestyle have frequently caused much conflict in Catholic circles. This lack of never truly belonging leads to many questions about the deepest parts of a human being and our aloneness in this world.
Can science and faith intersect? Does God even exist and if He does, can evolution coexist with Him? Does heaven, purgatory, or hell or even an afterlife exist? If it does, what does that mean and how do we get there? Can you get there just by being a person of good will? (Because I know some people that love really darn well but also don’t believe in God, have any kind of faith or practice any kind of religion.) If it doesn’t exist, isn’t this world all we have? Doesn’t that mean all nature and morals are subjective? And if everything is subjective, how can I claim that what the Catholic Church teaches is for everyone, everywhere, and at all times? How can I even claim love exists? Do I have a place in my Catholic Christian world as a marine biologist? Do I listen to what others say around me about my place or do I listen to the voice that I believe to be God that has led me since I was a young child on the New Jersey shore to passionately conserve our planet? The list of inquires goes on and on and although some of them are answerable with intellectual reasoning, majority of them must be seen in the eyes of faith and at times that makes me very uncomfortable.
With no solid, clear answers, a fear wells up inside of me. I continuously ask how I can trust Something or give my life over to Someone that I don’t understand? The constant rabbit holes allow me to so easily fall into the tired comfortable position of not striving for anything more and fall away from my faith. Isn’t it better to just give up sometimes? I think we can all relate to that one! My past wounds lead me to pain which typically breed anger, contempt and resentment and gets me stuck from living life.
Although this is the case, seemingly out of nowhere something always draws me back to my inner stirrings: a smile from a baby, dancing and listening to good music, the glimmer of the stars at night, the writings of the saints and their trials, the vastness and universality that the Catholic Church holds, life talks with good friends and family, the sheer power of the ocean, the beauty in suffering and pain, the butterflies I get when I catch a glimpse of the man I like looking at me, the face of sadness in a friend when I say something that hurts him or her, the lack of compassion I possess when I selflessly focus on only my wants or the feeling I get when I relate with another individual who reminds me of my own human weakness and utter need for God. All these facts about nature, creation, and our humanity call me back out of myself and point me back to the goodness that ultimately must have an Author. It all cannot simply be a coincidence that this much greatness, although hidden under very deep layers at times, exists.
This is when the magnitude of our fullness of the truth comes into play and I am taught some of the greatest theologians and philosophers that if a God who is defined as all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good entered as a vulnerable baby into our world 2000 years ago, then it better be something we ought to pay attention to and take very seriously. It begins to take my breath away as I realize that this God is not an impersonal one. He is quite the opposite. He entered the messiness of this broken world so that He could love me, have a relationship with me, and meet me every week at Mass in the Eucharist even if I don’t accept His offer. He wants me to relinquish my control and what I think is right or what others say about say about me and just follow Him. In those moments of realization, after so much seeking, I find peace in the fact that the Catholic Church is home always and secondly, my passions can fulfill a unique niche in the Church, one that might need filling. I allow myself to acknowledge that my questions are valid, but I will never know it all and quite frankly, I can’t know it all. I am not in control and Someone greater than me is. If the Lord has given me such a love for creation, then I can follow that desire.
Sisters, how frequently do we turn our backs on the beauty, goodness and ultimately the Truth we have learned from Jesus that He gave to us in the Catholic Church? How many times do we stifle our passions and desires because we are told or believe that they aren’t worth anything? How many times do we wrestle with our belonging and place? I know for me, it is an everyday battle but I have begun to learn that integration, rather than extremes, is key. When we struggle with who we are, where we are going and what we should be doing, looking at the parts of us as separate entities never works. We are mind, body and soul beings and therefore, we first need to remember our God-given worth and place in a 2000 year old Church that we can come to empty handed, wounded, and bruised over and over again. If our intentions after self reflection are continuously good, pure, true and holy, then ultimately there should be nothing holding us back. We can live and love our Catholic faith in whatever worldly form that looks like.
So sisters, believe it! Let it sink in to your whole being! You belong, you have a place, you are loved, and your passion for something good is not something to suppress. And if you don’t believe it and are an extreme skeptic like me with loads of questions and doubts about life and faith all the time, then don’t stay stagnant. Face those difficulties head-on and dive to the deepest answers. Always continuously grow and seek. Don’t be afraid of the path that you might follow when searching because knowing the truth will set you free and allow you to have an unwavering confidence.
Therefore, never stop chasing Him, never stop learning about Him, never spend a minute apart from Him and when you do, never fail to get back up again and run faster back to Him and the Sacraments he founded for us. Always return home to our heavenly (the saints!) and earthly Body of Christ even in the darkest and hardest of times. I promise you will find an authentic joy that can never be found anywhere else. I’m praying for you all to be humans fully alive with your passions and desires in the spirit of God!
Want to share this quote with a friend? On your smart phone: press, save and share.
Full name: Danielle Beers
Occupation: Graduate Student obtaining a Master’s degree in Marine Biology
Location: Charleston, SC (USA)
Educational background: Dual B.S. in Marine Biology & Environmental Science with a minor in Chemistry, University of North Carolina Wilmington
How does your Catholic faith affect the way you live your day-to-day life?
I have to say that my Catholic faith gives a lot more things meaning and purpose in my life. Whether it be looking through a microscope at larval fish to learn about its behavior in response to pollutants, understanding the pull and push of the tides due to the moon, or learning more about our bodies as male and female, I am reminded that even the tiniest of things are an opportunity to love and lift our minds, bodies, and souls to God. He has a lot to say to us about who He is through creation and sometimes we just need to open our eyes to see it.
Has there been a particular teaching of the Church that has intimately transformed the way you see yourself and others?
Without a doubt, Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si or Chapter 4 of Pope Benedict’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate. Both speak a lot of about our need for the protection of individual moral ecology, as well as environmental ecology. They essentially go hand in hand and it helps me understand that ourselves & our morals, our own human nature and the world around us are very intricately connected. I am most moved by the call that came from both encyclicals to stop consuming, using, wasting or exploiting our bodies, others and the environment. We will find infinite joy when we just let things be as they are meant to be in the present moment and let God use it for His glory instead of trying to restlessly manipulate, control, or possess.
What’s your favorite way to pray?
I have always struggled with remaining consistent with structured/disciplined prayer such as things like the rosary (but I’m working on it!). Because of that, my favorite way to pray is usually just off the cuff speaking to God about my day, saying an Our Father or Hail Mary real quick or thinking about Him and asking for His guidance. That being said, I know I have always been drawn to silence and therefore, I also really love Adoration & Benediction. Something about just sitting with only a few other people and resting in His presence and then honoring who He is just gives me so much comfort.
What aspect of your life right now do you find the most beautiful? The most challenging?
The aspect of my life that I actually find the most beautiful and also the most challenging is my daily mundane work grind. My routine looks about the same everyday and there are small wins but also big roadblocks with respective to my thesis research. It also allows me to see the greatness and beauty of the people I work with and my graduate school friends who are so supportive. On the flip side, it is also super challenging. I get drained/burned out pretty easily and have a very hard time asking for help when I know I need it. Sometimes the roadblocks during my research seem like gigantic mountains and leave me feeling defeated. Seeing the same people everyday is also a challenge in the way of loving greatly and boldly. We all can get easily frustrated with each other but yet we all still choose to wake up anew and try to love better each day.
Fill in the blank.
My morning routine consists of: brushing my teeth, putting on a t-shirt and jeans, reading the daily readings and offering prayers up to my favorite saints and for the day, eating breakfast and making my coffee, and then driving a half an hour to the lab over a really pretty bridge usually while the sun is rising
I’m currently obsessed with: composting, recycling, reusing, and reducing any and all plastic waste in my life…..but I am pretty sure that is something I am going to be obsessed with until the day I die
I feel most inspired when: when I see an individual/ group of people/companies become empowered to stand up for what is good and true.
My favorite part about my life right now is: The ability of getting to do scientific field & lab work to learn. Getting sweaty, gross, disgusting, muddy, and being silly is almost a requirement and it gives me a lot of childlike wonder and reminds me to not take life so seriously all the time.
The advice I would give to the millennial Catholic woman is: Never forget the importance of having community and support! It is especially hard today to stay true to a value system that is often viewed as archaic & not worth anything so having others you can turn too when the world seems bleak is essential, life-giving and will keep you close to home.