I think the message of today’s Gospel is just the opposite: Don’t ignore your doubts.
If we never doubt, we would never ask questions. And if we never ask questions, we’ll never look for answers. And if we never look for answers, then we’ll never find the truth and believe it with all our heart.
This past Wednesday, I got to have dinner with several of our parishioners who are attending USI. We like to go to Hacienda a couple times each semester just to keep up with each other and have some good food. Besides – I gave up chips and salsa for Lent, so it was time to break my fast! This week we got to talking about some questions that their non-Catholic friends have asked them. Things like why we have to go to Confession to a priest? Whether it’s OK to marry somebody who’s not Catholic. Why do we call our Priest ‘Father’, when other churches call their minister ‘Pastor’?
I encouraged them to ask questions. If they never ask questions and find the answers, then they’ll never know the TRUTH, and when somebody approaches them with some seemingly logical arguments from the Bible, they ‘might’ be pulleed away from the Church.
If we’re honest with ourselves, probably every person at one time or another has doubts about God – about Jesus – about the Catholic Church. Some of us are so strong in our doubt that we’re SURE that the Church is wrong about one teaching or another. I’m here to tell you that it is OK to have doubts – in fact, doubting can be the first step in really understanding something. Thomas is a great example… – he was the doubter, and he wasn’t afraid to admit it – but after today’s encounter with Jesus, he ended up travelling all the way to southwest India and started a sect of the Catholic Church which still survives today in the midst of an overwhelming Hindu and Muslim population. This same guy who at first doubted the Resurrection – once he had the proof, he caught fire and wanted to spread that message to the world. In the end, he was martyred for his faith. Know the Truth can change our life.
More dangerous is the person who never doubts at all. This can happen one of two ways – First way is that I just accept everything the church teaches me and never really try to understand it. What’s the danger here? Look at all the people leaving the church… my guess is that most of them fall into this category. They accept all the teachings, but never really try to understand it… so when somebody from another faith approaches them with some logical arguments, they are swept away by the logic of it and they walk away from the Church that Jesus started. I myself used to fall into this category – I accepted the Catholic teachings until I was in college – then an atheist professor made me question for the first time. His logic led me to question whether God even exists! Several years later, anti-catholics came at me with very logical arguments against the Church which the Bible seemed to support. Thank God I had the wits about me to question what they were saying…. In a way – it was their arguments which made me doubt – and it was that doubt that made me start searching for answers. It was only through that search that this Catholic faith became ‘mine’. What I mean by that is – I no longer went to church just because I was told to as a kid… but because I truly believe in our Catholic faith. In fact, it was only through that doubt that I caught fire enough to want to serve Jesus as a Deacon. Ever listen to Scott Hahn’s conversion? Or read Rome Sweet Home? Powerful stuff – he explains the multi-year story of how he started doubting his non-Catholic tradition and through his research found that all the answers were contained in Catholic Doctrine. Now he, like Thomas, is spending his life trying to spread that fire and Truth to others. I personally credit his story with helping to keep me solidly planted here in the Church.
The other danger is for those who have doubts – and are so SURE of themselves that they know the “Real Truth”…. But they never really check out WHY the Church teaches what they do. For example, maybe you’re POSITIVE that the Church is wrong about confession to a Priest – or maybe you are SURE that the churches stand on contraception is old-fashioned and no longer relevant – or maybe you are Positive that the Eucharist really isn’t the Body and Blood of Jesus, or maybe you think Purgatory is just an old superstition. If you or I fall into this category where we have doubts that are SO strong that we “KNOW” the Church is wrong - but we never take the time to really research WHY the church teaches what they do, then we are in a dangerous position. We may leave the church – or worse yet – we may infect other people with our un-informed opinions and lead THEM away from the truth. Remember what Jesus said – it is better to tie a millstone around your neck and drop in the sea than to lead someone away from the Truth.
Now – this may surprise you – but did you know that it is OK to disagree with the Church!? Really! But listen carefully…there are two conditions. You are actually morally obligated to go against Church teachings IF 1) you believe it would be morally wrong to FOLLOW that teaching and (and this is important) 2) you have fully formed your conscience – in other words, you have fully researched the REASONING behind the teaching and you have approached God in prayer to seek His wisdom about the teaching.
If you really take that seriously, chances are, you will never find a situation that fits the criteria – and therefore, you’ll never come across a situation where you can morally disregard any one teaching of the Church.We will only know the truth if we ask the question… and we will only ask the question if we admit that we have a doubt.