Cycle B – 2016
Acts 5:12-16; Psalm 118; Revelation 1: 9-11, 12-13, 17-19; John 20:19-31
Have you ever doubted or questioned the existence of God or any of the central beliefs of our Catholic Christian Faith? Have questions of uncertainty ever occasionally emerged within you? Would you admit to it even if they did?
Parents often deal with the denial or uncertainty about God and the Church from their adolescent and young adult children. There are the weekly arguments about going to church, whether the kids want to be confirmed or not, the declaration that they can pray on their own, the arguments about attending faith formation classes, and whether they will get married in the church…sound familiar? From the best of Catholic families to those on the fringes, these situations can cause angst, a sense of failure, feelings of rejection on the part of parents who want to pass this important aspect of their lives to their children; many often give up tired of the arguing.
Might we be approaching the matter of belief from the wrong perspective?
How do you understand the place of uncertainty and doubt in relationship to religion and faith? …as a threat to belief? …a rejection of belief? … a catalyst to a deeper faith in Jesus? …or in a neutral manner?
Depending on how you answer that question, Thomas is either the vilest of traitors to Jesus or, out of his grief at the death of a friend with his hopes dashed upon the rocks of Calvary, an honest person seeking something, someone to believe in. I am reminded of the lyrics from Leonard Bernstein’s provocative theater piece, MASS composed in 1971 for the opening of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. It continues to give voice 45 years later to questions raised by an increasingly faithless modern world:
I believe in God. But does God believe in me?
I’ll believe in any god If any god there be.
Is there someone out there? If there is, then who? And who… Who’ll believe in me?
Are you scandalized by such questions? Are such questions a mark of a lack of faith or the sign of a person searching for a deeper and meaningful relationship with God?
“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.” [John 20:25] Thomas is desperately searching. He desires proof but proof is not faith. The Trappist monk Thomas Merton wrote that faith “is a decision, a judgment that is fully and deliberately taken in the light of a truth that cannot be proven – it is not merely the acceptance of a decision that has been made by someone else.”*
How many of us are Catholic Christians because we were raised by a Catholic family, in a Catholic ghetto and neighborhood surrounded by other Catholics and therefore have never had to question our beliefs, never had to defend our faith or see our beliefs but at risk; merely accepted a decision that had been made by someone else? We might have much to learn from Syrian and Iraqi Christians. What do you believe in regard to God? And why do you belief it? What are the beliefs that underlie your actions? There is no easy answer. And anyone who claims absolute certainty has never really entered on the spiritual journey.
Consider the experience of Mother Teresa of Kolkata. When her personal letters were made public in 2007 many people were scandalized and dismayed that this living saint experienced such profound and private spiritual struggles. She wrote in one letter: “Darkness is such that I really do not see—neither with my mind nor with my reason—the place of God in my soul is blank—There is no God in me—when the pain of longing is so great—I just long & long for God. … The torture and pain I can’t explain.”
I believe in God. But does God believe in me?
At another time Teresa writes: “Where is my faith? – even deep down, right in, there is nothing but emptiness & darkness. – My God – how painful is this unknown pain. It pains without ceasing. – I have no faith.”
Is there someone out there? If there is, then who? …Who’ll believe in me?
It took a lot of courage for Thomas to stand his ground up and against the witness of the other disciples. It took the same courage for Teresa of Kolkata, Saint John of the Cross, Saint Teresa of Avila, and Saint Thérèse of Lisieux to admit their profound doubts, questions, uncertainties and enter a spiritual darkness so as to encounter the hidden, incomprehensible, living God. Without doubt there can be no faith.
“It’s common to question your faith at different times of your life,”says Benedictine nun, Sr. Susan Hutchens, OSB. “Young people need to do so, in order to claim their faith as their own. Older people may find themselves in doubt because they never came to grips with the question, ‘Who is God?’” Sr. Sheila McGrath, OSB, agrees. “We aren’t wrong or bad for having questions and doubts. It’s helpful to have doubts – they can strengthen our faith. Hope is the bridge between doubt and faith.”**
Where is the bridge of hope found?
Talk about your spiritual life with God, with friends, with clergy, ask about acquiring a spiritual director, go out in nature and listen, seek times of silence, keep a journal and periodically reflect on what you write. Notice the most important aspect is not to separate yourself from the community of believers. Thomas comes to belief only when he returns to the company of the disciples. “Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came…and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” [John 20:26]
When you have doubts, Benedictine Sr. Teresa Ann Harrington, OSB, says. “Sometimes the best prayer is the one quoted in Mark’s Gospel: ‘Lord, I do believe, help my unbelief.’”**
Know, that it is all right to doubt, but wrestle with it, claim our faith as your own!
Without accepting the proof he asked for,
“Thomas answered and said to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!” [John 20:28]
*See God Is a Question, Not an Answer by William Irwin; The New York Times, Sunday, March 27, 2016.]