"Some people attending in wheelchairs still believe St. Willibrord could heal them," she said. "For them the hopping procession has a spiritual meaning". "And what about you?" I asked. "Oh, for me and my friends, this is a chance to see each other toward the end of a year of university study, chill out and have a beer. That's all".
I wasn't surprised at her answer. Europeans say they believe in God less and less. Religious services seem far emptier than after WW II, when people's lives were threatened daily. Why should we bother to believe in God today? We have everything we need: opportunities for education, a secure job, a comfortable home, exotic holiday venues to be explored, and a generous pension to bring us coasting comfortably into old age. The state social security system cares for the body. What more could you want? What more do we need? God? He's for people far less sophisticated and a time more menacing than our own. Yawn . . . we've all outgrown Him, don't you think? We used to have Willibrord, now we have the pharmacy.
At least two comments come to mind. First, it isn't necessarily true that Europeans after the war were eager to believe in God. I was born in the Netherlands and lived my early years in Kerkrade, a mining town close to Maastricht. My father--a Dutch clergyman married to an American wife--was viewed as the rich man on the block. After all, he had a telephone and a Vespa. Of course he believed in God! If all the neighbors had as much as he did, they'd believe too! But if you go to that town today and look at the BMWs and Audis parked along the street, you'll not find a neighborhood crammed with Hollanders grateful for God's bountiful material gifts. On the contrary--their spiritual condition hasn't warmed at all.
Secondly, the kind of faith that relies on God to do for us whatever we demand, just as long as we pay our dues, is not biblical faith. It's an insurance contract. When we moved to the Grand Duchy I read André Heiderscheid's little booklet on Luxembourg's infatuation with security. He argued there that in matters of faith--as in everything else--Luxembourgers viewed religion as an insurance policy. You want the best possible coverage for the lowest possible premium. If there is a God, then you'd better be covered. But just in case it's all a hoax, don't waste your life paying too much for a policy you don't need anyhow.
On the other hand, the kind of faith the Bible describes as pleasing to God simply takes Him at his word, just like a child trusts his dad when the father says to jump into his arms. Abraham had that kind of trust when, being "fully assured that what He had promised He was able also to perform", he believed God would give him and Sarah a son in their old age (Romans 4:21). Job had that kind of faith as well when both riches and family were stripped away in a single day, yet he said, "naked I came from my mother's womb and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord . . . shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?" (Job 1:21; 2:10).
I agree we don't need a renewed faith in St. Willibrord (neither Jesus nor the apostles ever encouraged people to pray to the dead). But we do need to set aside our foolish trust in ease and material comforts and turn to the Creator, who made us for Himself. We will discover Him if we read the book He has written for all who want to know Him--gifts or no gifts. When was the last time you opened it?