Project Canterbury

Problem Papers
Holy Cross Press
This piece was originally published in 1940 as Problem Paper No. 6 at West Park, NY

How Can I Believe?

This Problem Paper is written for the man who wishes to lead the Christian life and, although almost firmly convinced of the validity of the arguments for the Christian, is for some mysterious reason or another still unable to believe. This man, and in this twentieth century of hustle and bustle he is by no means a unique fellow, has his convictions. Doubtless he has read and has listened to countless arguments on religion. "O Lord, help Thou my unbelief," he may cry with even a note of despair. It is for this man that the non-controversial pages follow.

Surely his friends may say, "He is convinced. Well, that’s all there is to it. But, he is not in the Church? Well, there is something wrong with him then." No, faith is not the same thing as conviction. Faith is not quite so mundane. Faith, as a wise old priest once said, is a leap into the infinite. It is a cutting loose from the humdrum and an entering into a newer and larger world.

Scott Holland once said, "The secret of life is inspiration, --the breathing-in of God." Obviously, God does influence men and women, and is ever ready to do so. God’s grace is all-important in human life, and, like the atmosphere, it is all around us if we would but breathe it in. We cannot live the Christian life without grace for it is the source of all good desires and the inspiration of all worthy actions. It is there for us, disposing us towards everything that is strong, beautiful, and lovely. It hardens us against the brutal and the insincere; it impels us to the gentle and the courageous. It is a very armour against the mean and the vile.

God’s grace is for all sorts and conditions of men everywhere, and at all times. By a special degree and by particular means it is for Christians. Like a concentrated and living stream it comes to us through the channel of the Manhood of Christ, God's own Son made manifest on earth. It is evident, then, that it is in this stream of Divine Love that we need to soak ourselves and fill our souls to overflowing from the current of divine influence which we call grace.

Will grace travel over individuality and crush our personalities? Will it render us supine in the blazing light of God's glory? Grace cannot obliterate our individuality, nor does it destroy our personal responsibility. Quite the contrary, --it will enlarge our powers and educate us in the true sense. Grace reveals hidden freedom and gives us confidence and skill in using our aptitudes and our talents.

Too many of us expect signs and wonders when, after great difficulty, we build the bridge from human conviction to divine faith. Again we are with Saint Thomas-the-Apostle demanding that we touch the wounds of the Risen Christ. Again we are on the road to Damascus with Saint Paul expecting an "emotional cataclysm," yet God’s grace does not come to us in this manner. If it did, we should most probably check up on our diet, in our skeptical fashion, or seek some Freudian solution to what we would most assuredly consider a curious dream.

Have you ever asked yourself how many minutes in the day you give to God? God’s grace, we have said, is about us at all times like the atmosphere and yet what fraction of the twenty-four hours do we set aside for its reception?

And, is it not fair to ask any seeker of faith to adopt an attitude, which will make it possible for him to receive God’s grace when it comes?

How can I be truly religious? How often this question is raised by earnest individuals who needlessly grope for grace! The answer is very simple. Adopt the proper attitude. Dispose yourself to believe. Put yourself in the way of receiving grace. It is sound psychology and good Catholic theology that grace will come to any man that is ready and prepared to receive it.

How can you be religious, you say? Simply by being religious! No less a philosopher than Dr. John Dewey reiterates the truth that we learn to do by doing. St. Francis de Sales put the same fact in these words: "We learn to love by loving." In the body of this paper we shall discuss some of the means by which we can expose ourselves to God’s grace. Certainly this is an age of experimentation. In fact, some caustic wits have averred that we are "on our way, although we don’t know where we are going." This, of course, is not so with faith. We will not be experimenting with God’s grace. Once we adopt and carry through this experiment, we will be abundantly blessed with grace and the momentum will be such as will carry us over that bridge from human conviction to divine faith.

Now what should be the result of all this? The skeptic can point out that plenty of non-religious men live holy and good lives. That in the community, these same men have been powerful influences for good and that they have not lacked the social motive. On the other hand, it can be pointed out that many church members have not been exemplary figures. The non-religious man, in spite of himself, may be abundantly blessed with God’s grace and the erring church, member may, of course, not be a religious man at all. It is a common error to confuse "Churchianity" with Christianity.

But, you may persist, what ought we to expect from leading the Christian life? The answer is again simple. Psychologically, we may expect changes in our behavior patterns. We ought, aided by God’s saving grace, to meet our life situations with a confidence and with a power that will be truly remarkable. It is a false statement that the only Man who tried to live a Christian life died on a cross. Certainly Christ can be our pattern and, with God’s grace, we can dare to follow in His footsteps. "But will God indeed dwell on earth? Behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain Thee."


There are certain fairly definite ways of disposing one’s self to receive God’s grace. The first is the attitude of prayer. It is a good and wholesome practice to assume the attitude of prayer daily. Not to thank God that we are not as other men but to offer ourselves to God’s will. "But how can I pray?" "I don't know any prayers." Those are weak excuses indeed. It hurts nobody to kneel down at his bedside every morning upon rising and every night upon retiring. This simple physical act implies nothing except readiness to discover and worship God. It is not necessary to say certain prayers or repeat, formula-like, certain phrases. It is necessary, however, that the habit of kneeling be formed. If you do nothing else, simply kneel for two or three minutes by your watch. The important thing is that you kneel, night and morning. Of course there are prayers that can he said while you are kneeling (See Appendix A.). A simple, slow, and thoughtful repetition of our Lord’s own prayer is helpful.

But why kneeling? It is a relaxed position. It requires little bodily effort. And it gives the mind free play. It is an attitude of humility and of obedience.

There are three different forms which prayer may sometimes take, and to them are given the special names of vocal, mental, and sacramental prayer. Vocal prayer is that kind which depends on actual words, either uttered aloud or expressed in the mind. In public worship Christians are bound to make use of vocal prayer to a large extent.


STEP in advance of mere vocal prayer is meditation. This is an automatic and spontaneous function. Sometimes words come into it, and if they do, let them. Meditation is mental prayer. It is thus by thinking, feeling, learning, and willing that we are drawn closer to God and His grace. The seeker for God must cultivate this attitude of mental prayer1. At first we may do this automatically. At night in our beds, instead of sleeping, we may go over the incidents of the day. We may engage in day dreams or other varieties of wishful thinking. We may seek retreat in long walks alone. All this is good if not carried to extremes. We must not, above all things, develop shut-in personalities. True religion is a social thing. "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind." But also, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour." Deliberately, too, we can cultivate the art of meditation. "The human mind is an instrument to produce conclusions," said G. K. Chesterton, a man copiously endued with God’s grace and yet possessing a unique personality. We can set for ourselves certain topics for our reflections. The seeker after God’s grace might think long and hard over such topics as "What is this or that to thee? Follow Thou Me." Or, "Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free."

How neglected are the Psalms of David in private prayer! These magnificent outpourings of the heart of the Jewish poet have, indeed, a place in our worship. David, too, faced a real world,-a world of problems, of sorrows, of joys. Day by day we can follow the Psalter. Make the recitation of a Psalm a daily practice.

Now the third type of prayer is the most exalted. It is sacramental prayer. Sacramental prayer involves a certain amount of action. This part of religion implies a joint action between God and His people. They act together in such a manner as to advance the fulfillment of God’s purposes and to promote righteousness; to make useful men and to develop good uses in which to -employ them. The sacramental method of prayer is one in which prayer adopts the language of action in addition to the language of words. Here surely the end result must be that we show forth God’s praise not only with our lips, but in our lives.

There is nothing peculiarly Christian or Catholic in worship. Every man and woman has a natural tendency to worship. They recognize that there are forces much greater than themselves which directly affect them and which they do not choose to ignore. Their acknowledgment of these forces is worship.

For Catholic Christians the center and acme of all worship is the Mass. Our Prayer Book terms the Holy Eucharist "our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving." It is God’s way of offering Himself to us, and in the Mass we plead before Him the sacrifice of Calvary. How, we think, is it possible to remain away, even from the daily pleading of this Holy Sacrifice. To the seeker after God’s grace, High Mass offers a magnificent source of great aesthetic pleasure. The color, the light, the incense, the vested priests in their splendid robes, the singing, and the ceremonial are all too powerful to be resisted.

Just as powerful is a simple early Mass with none of the pageantry of Solemn Mass. Let the seeker after God’s grace cultivate the habit of going once a week to an early Mass. There let him follow word by word, and step by step, the magnificent service, so austere in its simplicity, that is set before us in the Holy Communion service in our Prayer Book. There let him join with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven in singing the ever powerful, "Holy, holy, holy." It is the Mass that matters! It is the Mass that remains the final and perfect prayer. Those who kneel at this perpetuation of Calvary are one with those who watched at the Cross. They are one with those who shared in their Master’s desolation as He cried out, "My, God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" They are one, too, with that joyful company who shared in the happy words of the Angel, "He is risen; He is not here." God has promised that He will be present whenever Mass is celebrated. The Mass is an intimate worship. Here is the living Christ, the same Christ who walked on earth and healed the sick; the same risen Christ is also Lord of today and tomorrow, the Lord of the twentieth century as He was of past eons and shall be of all future ages. The Mass, too, is the most perfect liturgical structure which man has ever known. Music and architecture, and indeed drama, are arts whose roots go back to this supreme service.

It is to the Mass that we must turn repeatedly. It is to this ever-changing yet ever same, service, that we must come for God’s grace. In our present civilization perhaps the greatest evil is the absence of any sense of community. As one looks out over a troubled world, one is the more convinced of the need for some common bond that might bring men together. In industrial problems, in political and business life, even in the domestic scene, the evil is that men think of themselves and their immediate circles as separate units, competing and having little responsibility for their fellows. The decline of religious worship has at least meant this: that there is removed any common act or association, which binds men together. Surely the Mass is the supreme act of social comradeship, and if all mankind worshipped at Mass, and understood what that worship invokes, a true and sound unity might calm a troubled world.

Nor must we think of God as someone who is only ecclesiastical, who is present only at the Mass or in the tabernacles in our churches, and in the specifically devotional side of life. But because this God, in whose sacrifice we share at Mass, is the Creator of all things, we do not leave Him behind as we go out into the world. We meet Him in life’s press and throng. He is the same God that we meet on the hillside as we watch the evening come on. The God whose Presence is announced on our altars by the ringing of the sanctus bell is the God of the countryside and of the city street. He is the companion and the guide of our games and our serious tasks. He is the guide of all our life and He is the guide that holds His Cross before our closing eyes when we are ready to enter into that closest of all fellowships with Him.


The attitude of inquiry too, must be cultivated by the seeker after God. Of this less need be said than of the attitude of prayer. The hearing of a challenging sermon, the reading of stimulating books, the discussions of pertinent religious problems with truly equipped people all help. The saints throughout the ages have been witnesses for the Faith. In their writings (See Appendix B) we are struck by their very human qualities. They, too, faced the world of doubts anti difficulties. They, too, sought God’s grace and found it. From their writings we can gather inspiration and help. Then there is the literature of instruction. The Book of Common Prayer contains accurate statements of Catholic teaching. In supplementary volumes of instruction the seeker after God's grace can discover exactly what the faith is that he desires, instead of having to guess it.

Then there is the literature of conversion (See Appendix C). How many men and women have been brought into touch with the Christian faith and in logical, concise and convincing fashion have set down their thoughts! To this vast treasury, and much of it is in the English tongue, we can turn readily.

Nor does the attitude of inquiry necessarily degenerate to the level of petty controversy. Faith is not a matter of mere controversy. Indeed there are great intellectual obstacles to be removed from the inquirer’s mind. There is the literature of instruction (See Appendix D). Nor will the printed page be all that is necessary to cast from the seeker’s mind, these doubts and misgivings. Regular instruction from a parish priest has three advantages. It permits the "talking out" of difficulties. It is personal, and the needs of the individual and the particular form in which the objections have taken is comprehended and resolved. Finally, it ought to be authoritative. The priest is entrusted by the Church to teach her doctrine and in his special field of study he should be amply prepared to function efficiently.

"How can I believe?" By doing what those who believe do. By giving up ourselves to His service, and by walking before Him in holiness and righteousness all our days. Then surely we shall be filled with His heavenly grace and benediction, and made one body with Him. And He will dwell in us and we in Him.

  1. For an explanation of mental prayer, see Problem Paper No. 4, "What is Meditation?" by the Reverend Mother Mary Theodora, C.S.M.


Some Simple

Prayers For Those Who Seek God’s Grace


Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.


I praise my God this day,

I give myself to God this day,

I ask God to help me this day.


O my God, I believe in Thee, and all Thy Church doth teach: because Thou hast said it, and Thy word is true.


O my God, I hope in Thee for grace and for glory: because of Thy promises, Thy mercy, and Thy power.


O my God, I love Thee with my whole heart; because Thou art so good; and for Thy sake I love my neighbor as myself.


My God, I am very sorry that I have sinned against Thee, who art so good; forgive me for Jesus’ sake, and I will try to sin no more.


Come, Lord Jesus, and dwell in my heart, in the fullness of Thy strength, in the perfection of Thy ways, and in the holiness of Thy Spirit, and rule over every hostile act in the might of Thy Spirit and to the glory of Thy Father.


We adore Thee, O Christ, and we bless Thee, because by Thy Holy Cross Thou hast redeemed the world.


O Almighty God, who pourest out on all who desire it, the spirit of grace and of supplication; deliver us, when we draw nigh to Thee, from coldness of heart and wanderings of mind, that with steadfast thoughts and kindled affections, we may worship Thee in spirit and in truth, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Almighty and Everlasting God, give unto us the in- crease of faith, hope, and charity, and that we may obtain that which Thou dost promise, make us to love that which Thou dost command, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


O Heavenly Father, Thou understandest all thy children; through Thy gift of faith we bring our perplexities to the light of Thy wisdom, and receive the blessed encouragement of Thy sympathy, and a clearer knowledge of Thy will. Glory be to Thee for all Thy gracious gifts; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Almighty God, who hast given us Thy only-begotten Son to take our nature upon Him and to be born of a pure Virgin; grant that we, being regenerate, and made Thy children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by Thy Holy Spirit; through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the same Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.


O God, who hast prepared for those who love Thee such good things as pass man's understanding, pour into our hearts such love towards Thee that we loving Thee above all things may attain Thy promises which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


O God, I cannot feel Thee present; O God, I cannot prove Thee present; it is enough to know that Thou art here.


Thomas ý Kempis, The Imitation, Oxford Univ. Press. St. Francis de Sales, Introduction to a Devout Life, Burns,

St. Francis de Sales, Introduction to a Devout Life, Burns, Oates

Lady Julian, For Christ’s Lovers [The Revelations], H. T. Allensen

St. John-of-the-Cross, The Ascent of Mount Carmel, Thomas Baker


J. G. H. Barry, Meditations on the Communion Office, Gorham

J. G. H. Barry, The Christian Day, Gorham Arthur Chandler, Prayer, C. L. A.

J. O. S. Huntington, The World of Prayer, Holy Cross Press

S. C. Hughson, Contemplative Prayer, MacMillan

William Temple, Personal Religion and the Life of Fellowship, Longman’s

Karl Tiedemann, The Glories of Jesus, Holy Cross Press

Anonymous, Ascensiones in corde, Mowbray.


Abbot Cabrol, St. Benedict, Burns, Oates

Lord Irwin, John Keble, Mowbray

J. Jorgensen, St. Francis, Longman’s

J. G. Lockhart, Viscount Halifax, Geoffry Bles

G. W. E. Russell, Dr. Pusey, Mowbray

J. Paterson-Smyth, A People’s Life of Christ, Fleming H. Revell.

E. K. Sanders, St. Chantal, MacMillan

G. Stevenson, Edward Stuart Talbot, MacMillan


M. C. Bickersteth, Letters to a Godson (Second Series) Morehouse

J. G. H. Barry, Office and Work of the Holy Spirit, Morehouse

J. G. H. Barry, Our Lady St. Mary, Gorham

G. D. Carlton, The King’s Highway, C. L. A.

Marcus Donovan, The Faith of a Catholic, Faith Press

L. W. Grensted, The Person of Christ, Harper’s

K. D. Mackenzie, The Faith of the Church, Mowbray

A. G. Mortimer, Catholic Faith and Practice, Longman’s

Darwell Stone, The Faith of an English Catholic, Longman's

Karl Tiedemann, The Holy Cross, Faith Press


W. W. Manross, The American Episcopal Church, Morehouse

M. W. Patterson, A History of the Church of England, Longman’s.

W. Walker, A History of the Christian Church, Scribner’s.


Herbert Kelley, The Gospel of God, Longman’s

H. F. B. Mackay, The Religion of an Englishman, Longman’s

O. C. Quick, The Ground of Faith and the Chaos of Thought, Longman’s

B. H. Streeter, Reality, MacMillan’s

*For an explanation of mental prayer, see Problem Paper Number 4, What is Meditation? by the Reverend Mother Mary Theodora, C.S.M.

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