In the hearts of men
One day a man went mountain climbing. Unfortunate he had a terrible accident. He had almost reached the summit of the mountain when he started to slip.
As he was slipping down the mountain he thought that he would be killed. As luck would have it, he happened to latch on to a little shrub that was growing on the side of the mountain.
The man soon realized that this was only a temporary reprieve because he was a big man and the shrub was quite small and was already giving at the roots.
Now this man was not a man of prayer but he decided, then and there, that this would be a good time to pray.
And so he started to pray – not silently but at the top of his voice, “God help me.” And, lo and behold, God answered him. “Here I am, what can I do for you?”
The man started to explain his precarious situation. He pleaded with God to save him. God pointed out to the man that He had never heard him pray before. The man immediately promised God that if He saved him from this situation he would become the best Christian that ever walked on the face of the earth.
To underline the man’s sudden conversion, God asked him a few questions. “Will you do exactly what I tell you?” “Do you trust me completely?” “Yes, Yes,” the man replied, “Just save me, now.” “Fine,” God said, “let go of the bush.”
There followed a few moments of absolute silence – and the man was still hanging on to the bush for dear life. After a few moments, which seemed like an eternity to him, the man yelled out, “Is there anyone else up there?”
The man in our story is very much like modern man. Modern man, like our mountain climber, proclaims his faith and trust in God but when he gets right down to the bottom line, it frequently happens that he does not want to take a chance on God.
I had the privilege of living in Rome for three years during the time of Pope Paul VI. I was present on many occasions at the Pope’s Wednesday general audiences.
Time and time again, I heard this great man say that atheism was one of the most serious problems of our day.
On the surface a person might have been tempted to say that the Pope was exaggerating. After all, how many people do you know who say they do not believe in God? I know a few, not many.
Pope Paul explained his position on this matter by making a distinction between theoretical atheism and practical atheism.
If you were to stop a man in the street and ask him if he believed in God, most likely he would answer in the affirmative. In fact, he might even resent the question. “Certainly, I believe in God!”
But examine that man’s life closely. If he is typical of many today, you might discover that he is very much like our mountain climber. He will not allow himself to trust God completely.
The theoretical atheist is convinced that God does not exist. The practical atheist pays lip service to God but, in fact, he lives his life as if God did not exist. In effect, the practical atheist tells God to get out of his life – especially in situations when allegiance to God becomes difficult.
Surely in the area of abortion we are dealing with atheism. No doubt there are advocates of abortion who are theoretical atheists, convinced that God does not exist. But I am sure that the majority of those who favour abortion belong to the second category, practical atheists.
In a sense, practical atheism is worse than theoretical atheism. The theoretical atheist, because he is convinced of the non-existence of God, is compelled to fill the vacuum by making himself an orphan, the theoretical atheist condemns himself to disaster.
The practical atheist plays the role of Judas – he betrays Innocence with a kiss. He pretends to be loyal to God but in fact his will and his heart do not belong to God.
We were reminded, in a recent Sunday reading, to set our hearts on His kingdom first and on His righteousness. The late Bishop Fulton Sheen said it well when he described our times as a post-Christian era. That is another way of saying that our modern world is involved in practical atheism.
Surely we need to do everything in our power to combat abortion but we also need to pray for reconciliation with God. We need to pray that our modern society will rid itself of practical atheism. We need to pray to let God be God in our lives.
Rev. Dr. P. A. Morand, JCD, is the parish priest of St. Vital Parish in Winnipeg, Manitoba.