1966: Fr Charles Davis Writes on the Weakening of Faith
Many thanks to Fr. Augustine Hourigan C.P. for sending me this stimulating piece by Fr. Charles Davis from America magazine, January 29th, 1966. Fr Davis was one of England’s most famous theologians and professor of theology at the Jesuit-run Heythrop College. He left the priesthood a few months after this was written, but was subsequently reconciled to the Church in his later years. He died in 1999.
Much speaking in different places on themes of renewal has brought me into contact with many people seeking to revivify their faith. I have found a sense of emptiness, but together with it a deep yearning for God. There is an emptiness at the core of people’s lives, an emptiness waiting to be filled.
They are troubled about their faith; they find it slipping. I am not speaking about those who are worried about recent changes. These people are not. But they are looking for something to fill the void in their lives, and what they hear does not do that.
The more perceptive know that they are looking for God. He seems to have withdrawn from the world and from them. They come to talks by speakers like myself. They hear about the new liturgy, about new understanding of the layman’s role, about collegiality, about the Church and the world, about a thousand and one new and exciting ideas. They are duly impressed. But who will speak to them quite simply of God as a person he intimately knows, and make the reality and presence of God come alive for them, once more?
Before such need, how superficial, pathetically superficial, is much of the busyness about renewal. We reformers know so much about religion and about the Church and about theology, but we stand empty handed and uncomfortable when confronted with sheer hunger for God.
Holiness is less easily acquired than fluency in contemporary thinking. But people who, after listening to our enthusiastic discourses, quietly ask us to lead them to God are, though they do not know it, demanding holiness in us.
I fear they may find everything else but that. The harnessing of modern publicity and know-how to reforming zeal is a potent cause of deception. Saints were required in the past to renew the Church. We suppose that we can get by as spiritual operators.
Zeal for renewal may be used as a way of avoiding God. The busier we are about liturgical matters, the lay Apostolate, ecumenism, the biblical revival, reform of Church structures and all the rest, the more incessant our activity in the cause of the Aggiornamento, the less need there is to confront the reality of God in our own lives.
A fear prevents us from admitting the emptiness we should find there.