First of all, many apologies for my prolonged vacation. I wanted to get my life in order so I wouldn’t feel quite so hypocritical posting calls to holiness. It’s not in order, but it’s better, which is really the story of holiness, and what it means to be a bad Catholic. It’s all screwed up, but it’s better. That sounded depressing. My bad.
Anyhow, this post is for a girl who has a profoundly special place in my heart, to the point where I cannot recall a day spent in the last two years without some time spent thinking about her. She is wonderful. In fact, stop reading and pray for her, it’ll be a better experience than reading this. BUTCOMEBACKAFTERWARDS!!
Doubt. It’s a lame experience, and creates all sorts of confusion. The standard view of it, as far as I can tell, is that it is a Very Bad Thing, and should be avoided. That it is somehow the anti-faith, faith’s enemy, faith’s destroyer. Like most standard views, I would love – absolutely love – to flip it around for you. Doubt requires belief. It is not doubt but skepticism (in the modern sense) that is an enemy to faith, for skepticism is the disdain for a religion held by those outside of the religion. Whereas doubt is the fear of those within a religion. And let me be the first to tell you, if there is no solid fear within your religion, it’s not a religion, it’s a yoga class.
Doubt requires belief. That much is obvious. But in many ways, belief requires doubt. It is precisely the doubt I feel when I’ve looked at the Eucharist that makes my belief valid. It is the fact that the abyss opens up all around me, that the words “all lies” are whispered into my ears that makes belief possible. Otherwise I have not belief but a truth force-fed to me. If there were no doubt I would not be free to choose God, rather He would be forced upon me. Indeed, there are days when I ask for God to do exactly that, for after all, aren’t the doubts too much to bear? Isn’t the notion that this could all be the most brilliant, terrible lie ever conceived, isn’t that too heart-breaking to justify the faith that comes as a result? Couldn’t he just throw Himself at me, whether I liked it or not? The answer is yes, but love is greater than all that. Love freely given is all that will fulfill us, love freely chosen is what will end doubt, not a God who gives us no choice in believing Him. If I know human nature, all a forced belief would lead to is resentment.
The kind of doubt I often experience, and the most common doubt I’ve heard my friends talk about is actually quite holy. “I don’t want to go to confession because I don’t think I believe it forgives sins” or “How can I receive the Eucharist if I doubt that it is truly God?” There is a hidden reverence here, a flower of hope so small and beautiful it might go unnoticed by the doubter. What a great reverence it is to to the Eucharist to avoid it for fear of not believing it. What high esteem the sacrament of reconciliation is held in the words above, that it should not be visited unless fully grasped? Skepticism would say that the thing is a wash and can thus be visited freely. If it is a cracker, eat it. If baptism is just a bath, then have a bath. Only doubt is rooted faith. Only if it is true should there be a reverent avoidance. I immediately think of my favorite piece of fiction by Chesterton, The Ball and the Cross, in which a certain Turnbull explains to a lady he is in love with that he will not receive the Eucharist because he is an atheist.
The book is bloody fantastic. And obviously the message applies to both the doubtful Catholic and the hardened atheist. Do not be disheartened by doubts so reverent. God works through them. All this is not to say that doubt is a good thing. It is merely to say that doubt is not the end of all things, In fact, it is very often the beginning.