If you think the United States is a secular country, it is nothing compared to Sweden. So said Stockholm Cardinal Anders Arborelius during a talk sponsored by the Lumen Christi Institute on March 12 at the University Club in downtown Chicago. The cardinal, who is the first cardinal and native-born bishop in Sweden’s history, gave a reflection on how to connect with God in a society where faith is not part of its fabric. The Scandinavian culture isn’t anti-faith, it is just that faith does not feature widely in daily life. According to a Gallup poll, less than 19 percent of Swedes say they are religious and only 1 percent of the population is Catholic. “Most of our part of the world becomes more secular and many people have the experience of living in a spiritual desert. Life seems so empty. The daily reality has nothing to do with God,” Cardinal Arborelius said. “At the same time many people are getting tired and sick of a secular society. That’s what we see in Sweden.” Despite the reality, secular society can make people long for God and desire a relationship with him. He is always there but hidden and unknown, he said. Since there is no assistance from the culture to discover the hidden presence of God, a person must make a concerted effort in their faith. For immigrants coming from traditionally Catholic countries, this can either test their faith or help it, he said. “A secular society can also help people to grow in silence, prayer and contemplation because if they want to survive as Christians they have to take their faith more seriously,” he said. Cardinal Arborelius, who is a convert to Catholicism and a Carmelite, said the theological virtues — faith, hope and charity — help us find a deeper relationship with God in these societies. They help us see God in creation and in other people, the latter being inherently difficult in cultures where individuality is celebrated. “If we really have this longing for God, we find his presence wherever we are, whatever we do, however we feel, because we don’t rely upon our senses. We rely upon this deep gift of faith, hope and charity,” Cardinal Arborelius said. “In a very everyday way, if we really have this longing for God, we will always find signs and traces around us because everything created gives us a trace of the creator.” Silence is rare today but we need it to connect to the humble voice of the Lord. If there is no silence, the noise in our world drowns out it his quiet voice. We can find that silence deep inside us if we look for it, the cardinal said. “When we were baptized, the blessed Trinity took up its abode in us,” he said. “There is a silent sanctuary inside.” Since God dwells within, people can constantly adore him deep inside their souls. They must discover this silence and peace inside them, which can be difficult with all of the noise in the world, especially in secular societies where there are not churches all around as in Chicago, he said. Just reaching out to God in silent prayer for brief moments during the day can help, Cardinal Arborelius added. People can also adore God in other people because they, too, are temples of God — including those people they don’t like or don’t get along with. “God is always there but we are not. God is always offering us his immense love but we don’t notice it because we have so much to do, so much to think about. So I would say, one of the most important things in spiritual life is to learn what it means to be loved by God,” the cardinal said. “To be loved is an important art. In a secular society we are not taught how to be loved by God. We have to learn it.” God is always there, but people have to let themselves be loved by him. Often people want to feel his love but don’t, which is why they must rely on the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity in their everyday lives to know they are loved. “For many people the secular society of today is a kind of dark night of the soul. We don’t get any support from outside. Most people seem to be not interested in God or are against him,” he said. “We feel lonely as believers. We feel that God has forgotten us.” However, through this, people are purified and come to desire cooperation with God’s plan for salvation. Even non-believers in secular societies can discover God this way. In Stockholm, many people lead solitary lives, which can make them hunger for more, he said. In the end, people must surrender to God, wherever they are, in whatever city or town they live in, and as soon as possible, Cardinal Arborelius said. “We have this temptation to postpone the surrender and that’s a very, very dangerous temptation. We have to do it now. Here and now we can receive him in faith, hope and charity even if we don’t feel a thing,” he said, “It’s never too late.” To watch Cardinal Arborelius’ talk, click here.