April 2, 2013 // Uncategorized

Doubt and faith

This coming Sunday concludes the Octave of Easter. Blessed John Paul II entitled this Second Sunday of Easter “Divine Mercy Sunday” when he canonized Saint Faustina in the Jubilee Year 2000.

Each year on this Sunday we hear the Gospel passage from Saint John (20:19-31) about Jesus’ appearance to the Apostles in the upper room on the first Easter night. The apostle Thomas was not present that night. Later, when the other apostles told him that they had seen the Lord, he did not believe them. He doubted their testimony to the Resurrection, saying: Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.

A week later, the Risen Jesus appeared to the Apostles again. This time Thomas was with them. Our Lord invited Thomas to put his finger into the nailmarks and into his side and said to him: do not be unbelieving, but believe. At that moment, Thomas pronounced probably the greatest profession of faith in the whole New Testament. He said to Jesus: My Lord and my God. Our Lord then proclaimed a Beatitude: Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.

This Beatitude is important and fundamental for all of us on our journey of faith. Another Thomas, Saint Thomas Aquinas, wrote: Those who believe without seeing are more meritorious than those who, seeing, believe.

Many perhaps can relate to the experience of the “doubting Thomas.” We can experience, at different times in our lives, doubts about the truth of the faith. Sometimes these doubts can pertain to very fundamental articles of our faith: the existence of God; the doctrine of the Trinity; the divinity of Christ; the Resurrection; the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist; etc. Or they can pertain to particular moral teachings of the Church, on matters such as abortion, contraception, sexuality, etc. An increasing number of people are doubting the Church’s teaching on marriage, not only its indissolubility, but even about its very nature as the permanent union of one man and one woman.

Doubt can trouble the conscience. Sometimes, doubt arises because of intellectual pride. Or it can arise because of particular trials and difficulties in life. The Catechism distinguishes between voluntary and involuntary doubt. Voluntary doubt about the faith disregards or refuses to hold as true what God has revealed and the Church proposes for belief. Involuntary doubt refers to hesitation in believing, difficulty in overcoming objections connected with the faith, or also anxiety aroused by its obscurity. If deliberately cultivated, doubt can lead to spiritual blindness (CCC 2088).

Voluntary doubt is truly dangerous. It is a violation of the first commandment which “requires us to nourish and protect our faith with prudence and vigilance, and to reject everything that is opposed to it” (CCC 2088). It is a sin against faith. Involuntary doubt, on the other hand, can be unwanted. This trial of faith needs to be faced calmly and resolutely. But how?

One should examine the source of the doubt. Is it coming from something happening in one’s life that really has nothing to do with the truth about God and our faith? Does it arise from resentment towards one’s parents or other Catholics? Is it due to arrogance? Is it due to some perceived conflict or incompatibility between faith and science or reason? Thomas’ doubt arose because he needed physical evidence to believe. The testimony of his brother apostles was not enough for him to believe.

Blessed John Paul II wrote a wonderful encyclical entitled Faith and Reason. It begins: Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth. The Church has always promoted what Pope Benedict once called “the natural friendship between faith and reason” and spoke of how faith is open to the effort of understanding by reason and “impels her towards vaster and loftier horizons.” Rationalism, on the other hand, dismisses faith and closes reason to the fullness of truth, the mystery of God.

Some people’s doubts arise from immature faith or erroneous understandings of the faith. I once met a man who had serious doubts about God and his love when he was facing a serious illness. He questioned whether God existed, and if he did, how could he allow him to suffer? Obviously, this man’s faith had been lacking something essential: the reality and mystery of the cross! Some have their own ideas about God, false or narrow ideas, and their faith is shattered when God doesn’t fit into their preconceived ideas.

Those who sincerely want to believe, but face struggles in believing, must look to the source of the doubt and work on it. If it is an intellectual doubt about a doctrine of faith or morals, one must delve more deeply into that teaching of the faith through the rich writings of the Doctors (teachers) of the Church, great apologists, popes, etc. Often doubts can be overcome by serious study since we have such a rich and bountiful theological and philosophical patrimony.

At the same time, one must always be humble in the pursuit of truth. Faith is ultimately a gift from the Lord, so we must pray for that gift. We can pray simply: “Lord, increase my faith” or, “Lord, help me to overcome my doubt.” I am convinced that the light of faith will always break through when we sincerely ask for that light. The important thing is to never give up. We all go through moments of darkness in our life of faith.

There may be many dark nights in our life of faith. Even Mother Teresa experienced such dark nights. But we must not lose confidence that God is always in the midst of our life, even if we do not feel his presence sometimes. This is true and mature faith, believing when not seeing nor feeling. We must not succumb to the temptation to lose faith, to lose trust in God’s closeness. To be steadfast in faith, especially during dark times of trial, is a way to holiness. We must fight the temptation of the Evil One to lose faith. This is his ultimate attack on believers. In these situations, we must keep on praying and cry out to God, convinced that He is close, even if he seems silent.

May this Year of Faith help all of us to grow in our faith, allowing God’s grace to illumine our minds and strengthen our hearts. And let us pray for those who lack faith, asking Saint Thomas the Apostle’s intercession for them.

Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed!

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