Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
Second Sunday of Easter: When Doubts Come....
The Sunday after Easter always presents the Gospel of Doubting Thomas. The reasoning is that the events in today’s gospel take place one week after the Lord rose from the dead. A deeper reason, though, is that our belief in the Resurrection is based on our faith. We have faith that Jesus fulfilled the Scriptural prophecies that the Suffering Servant would be raised up. We have faith that He fulfilled his own prophecies that he would suffer, die and on the third day rise up. We have faith in those who witnessed His resurrection and testified to it: Peter and the other ten, Mary Magdalene and the women who had been at the tomb and many other disciples like those on the road to Emmaus, who proclaimed that they had seen the Lord. In 1 Corinthian 15 St. Paul writes that one time Jesus appeared to over 500 disciples.
However, faith is always going to be met with doubts. This is part of the human condition. Everyone suffers times, often just fleeting moments, when he or she has doubts about the existence of God, the divinity and humanity of Jesus, the Eucharist or other teachings of the Church. Here is something you might find shocking: even the Pope has doubts. He has doubts because he is a human being. We will not be free from all doubts until we see God face to face in eternity. I love the story of the man with whose son was suffering from some form of what we would call epilepsy. You find this in The Gospel of Mark 9:15-29. Jesus came upon quite a scene, a lot of noise and yelling. People all gathered, seeming to be upset over something or other. So Jesus asked, “What’s going on. A man who was there said, “Sir, my son suffers from a spirit that seizes him, throws him down, causes him to foam from the mouth and roll around.” Jesus asked, “How long has this been happening?” “Since childhood,” the man responded. Then he added, “Sometimes he is thrown into the water or into a fire.” Then the man said, “Sir if you can do anything, please help him.” Jesus replied, “If I can. Everything is possible for someone who has faith. Then the boy’s father shouted out, “I do believe, Lord. Help those parts of me that don’t believe.” With that the Lord healed the boy. “Help those parts of me that don’t believe.” That is our prayer too when we realize how little our faith is at times.
We have many challenges to our faith. One challenge is the thought that somehow our minds can come to a knowledge beyond their capabilities. We start to consider a mystery of faith such as the Trinity, or the Divinity and Humanity of Christ, or why Christ died for us. In a world where we can always go to Google for an answer to our questions, we find it difficult to realize that some answers can only be provided by God. We find it hard to realize that our minds can be limited.
It takes a tremendous amount of humility to have faith. Having faith demands that we recognize that we do not have all the answers to the questions of life. Some answers can only be given to us through faith. If we are too proud to believe, then we limit ourselves to that which we can comprehend with our finite minds.
There is a wonderful story about the great Catholic intellectual, theologian and philosopher, St. Augustine. Augustine was walking on the beach in North Africa trying to come to an understanding of the Trinity, one God in three persons but only one God. So Augustine was walking along when he came upon a little boy doing what children have been doing at the beach for ages. The child had dug a hole in the sand and had a little bucket. He would run down to the water and fill his bucket with water, then run back and dump the water into the hole. He kept doing this over and over. Meanwhile St. Augustine was considering the Trinity, “How can there be one God, but the Father is God, the Son is God and the Spirit is God.” Finally, Augustine noticed the little boy, and said to him, “Hey, little boy. What do you think you are doing?” The little boy said, “I’m emptying all the water in the ocean into this hole.” Augustine laughed and said, “You can’t do that.” The child responded, “It is easier for me to empty all the water in the world into this hole than it is for you to fill your mind with an understanding of the mysteries of God.” Rotten kid. He was probably an angel or something.
When people say to us, “How can you explain this?” the answer we should give is, “This is a mystery given to us by God which is beyond our mind’s capability.” To deny that there could be something out there, anything, greater than our understanding, is to deny ourselves the things the Lord wishes to reveal to us through faith.
When I was a Teen and beyond, I often got into periods of doubt about this that or the other thing. Finally, somewhere in high school I remember saying to myself, “Self, (I’m on a first name basis with myself) Self, what the Church teaches, believe. Make life simple and stop trying to figure everything out.”
Another area of doubt comes not through intellectual reasons, but through physical challenges. A person becomes seriously ill. The doctor tells him or her that this might last for months, or years, or be a condition that might last a lifetime. A loved one dies. A young person dies. It is quite normal for us to ask, “Where were you God when I, when we, were going through this?” God’s answer is that He is with us holding us up, helping us get through and even grow stronger in our faith when it is challenged. Many times people will get through a crisis and then feel horrible that they doubted God, or even His existence. God sees the pain the person is suffering. He is crying with us, just as Jesus cried at the tomb of Lazarus. He tells us to use our challenges to draw closer to Him. We can, and we do.
Another time doubt enters into our lives is when someone is attacking us for our faith. Usually they are anti-Catholic bigots, although they would never consider themselves by that name. But people will routinely come up to us and say things like, “You Catholics don’t read the Bible.” or “You worship Mary” or some other absurdity we all know is false. After a while that wears down on us. Peer pressure takes over and we start thinking that there is something wrong with us if we are not seeing things like everybody else. That is when we really need to shore up our faith and say to others and even to ourselves, “I respect the beliefs of others and simply ask them to respect my belief.”
Sometimes people whom we respect subtly attack our faith by treating us as though we were simple minded. We may have a coach whom we really respect, or a professor whose classes we love, or someone whose intelligence we admire tell us that to him or her faith is for little children. Remember that some of the most brilliant people in the world, some of the greatest coaches also, are people of faith. Think about Coach K, Mike Krzyzewski of the Duke basketball team. He is an ardent and active Catholic. In science, you may have studied about the brilliant physicist and noble prizewinner, Marie Curie. She won two noble prizes in physics. She was also a determined woman of faith. My point is that intellectual brilliance has nothing to do with faith. Many extremely intelligent people are people of faith. Some brilliant people might be too proud to have faith.
The most common way that doubts enter into our lives is when we start departing from living a Christian life. Sometimes people in high school or in college get involved with drugs and choose substance abuse, or get involved with another person, start having sex, and then they think that maybe their faith is wrong. We cannot separate our faith from our actions. Listen to this carefully: If we stop behaving like a Christian we will soon stop believing like a Christian. Oh, we might say we still believe, but in reality we are just giving lip service to our faith. Many times people just say that they stopped believing; when actually what they stopped doing was living the Christian life.
Jesus looked at Thomas and said, “Do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Thomas then said, “My Lord and My God.” Then Jesus said something extremely important for us all to remember, he said, “You believe because you have seen. Blessed are those who have not seen and believe.”
Jesus was talking about us. He was considering all of us gathered right here and throughout the world, throughout history, and saying “Bless you, my friends for believing.” Think of it, the Lord sees us in a greater light than his disciples. They saw and believed. We have not seen, but we do believe.
So when doubts come, whether due to others or circumstances, or due to things welling up inside us, we need to say, “Lord, I do believe. Help those parts of me that don’t believe.” We need to trust that the Lord who promised to give us all good things, will give us faith.