US Catholic Faith in Real Life

From doubt to faith to doubt

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A former agnostic still has hesitations about the church, though it helped lead her to belief.

Guest blog by Crystal Watson

I grew up agnostic, but going through a number of difficult years made me begin to wish God did exist, if only to have someone besides myself to blame for how badly things were going. I eventually became a member of the Catholic Church. I didn't really believe in God, but I just felt so unhappy and hoped this would somehow help. After attending church for three years, however, I hadn't found whatever was missing in my life at church and I stopped going.

A few years later, though, I learned of an online Ignatian Spiritual Exercises retreat given by the Jesuits at Creighton University and decided to try it. With the help of a very good spiritual director I trudged through the 30+ weeks of the retreat and found glimpses of what I'd been hoping I'd find at church—an assurance that God could be interacted with. Through the retreat's "gospel contemplation," I came to believe (most of the time) that God does exist, that he’s good, that he loves me, that  life can have some meaning.

After that, I began reading about spirituality/theology and also paying more attention to the church, its teachings, and stances. The more I learned about Ignatian spirituality, the more I came to appreciate it, but I also came to realize that I disagreed with the institutional church on a great many issues, including women's ministry, the treatment of gays and lesbians, and the way the abuse crisis has been handled. 

The conflict has led me to compartmentalize my religious life, keeping my relationship with God separate from my feelings about the church.

I'm not sure how to resolve this problem, but I do hope things will improve in the future. In the meantime, I feel that the least I can do if remaining a Catholic is to speak up about what I see as injustice within the church.  I hold on to what I learned and experienced in the Ignatian retreat and most of the time, this seems like enough compensation to keep me in the church.

Guest blogger Crystal Watson blogs at

As a supplement of the January 2011 special issue on women, U.S. Catholic is asking guest bloggers, “How do you keep the faith as a woman in the church?” To submit your answer (about 500 words), e-mail

Guest blog posts express the views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of U.S. Catholic, its editors, or the Claretians.