Once upon a long, long time ago, I sat in religion class at my Catholic high school, looked the good sister square in face, raised my chin, and declared myself an agnostic. I’ll never forget what happened next – there was the collective intake of breath from my classmates as they swiveled around to see what sister would say to me now that I was going to Hell. Sr Philomena cocked her head to the side as a Cheshire cat grin spread across her face. “Congratulations,” she told me. “Learning to question is the first step towards true faith.”
She turned slowly, as 80+ year old women do, walked up to the blackboard and wrote
“You cannot truly believe something you haven’t first truly questioned.”
While it knocked the wind out of my rebellious sails at the age of 15, it’s a truth I have held onto ever since. She was right. In order to believe something, we must understand it. We must have asked questions, turned them over, and looked for answers before we can accept them as truth. That’s why I’m truly grateful to Cardinal Kasper.
I have been watching the Synod carefully since it began. I read as much of what was released as I possibly could, as well as the translations of many interviews. I wanted to know, more than anything, that they were asking questions. I hoped for a rousing debate of differing opinions, and it seems as if that’s what we got. Thank God that is so!
It would be easy, in an institution as old as the Catholic Church, to simply say “This is the way things are because it is the way that they have always been,” and expect to get away with that. How nice it would be for the Pope to simply be able to say “because I said so” and have everyone listen. It’s not really that different from raising children, is it? No matter how much we wish it were different, new generations are always skeptical of the moral truths of those which have come before. While we can hope and pray that our children can learn the hard lessons of life from looking at our example, too often they don’t. They have to make the same mistakes and endure the same heartbreaks before coming to the same or similar conclusions. The very same thing has been happening in Rome.
We have been given a gift, if we are willing to see it. We have had the weaknesses in our teachings and approach laid bare for all the world to see. We can see where we have fallen short. Because I can guarantee you that if there are cardinals and bishops asking these questions, then there are scores of the laity wondering the same things. It is a lack, not just of clarity, but of love and compassion, in these areas which is leading so many of the formerly faithful to walk away shaking their heads in disgust.
We have the gift of this wonderful moment to reach out to them. We have this moment to say “See? We are asking these questions too. We get why these truths are often painful to accept, so let’s look at them together.” This is the moment for the clergy to step into the role of teacher, and truly instruct.
If only we had the wisdom to stop fighting amongst ourselves, and call out after the lost sheep “Congratulations! You have learned to ask questions. This is the first step towards true faith. Come, let’s delve deeply into them. Let us help you to discover the answers you seek”
So, thank you, Cardinal Kasper, for giving voice to the questions of so many. I’ll be offering up prayers of thanksgiving today for your willingness to keep pushing these pastoral issues to the forefront so that they must finally be addressed. Faith and wisdom begin with questions, no matter your age or station in life. I hope that you are willing to honestly and diligently search for the answers to them, and to humbly encourage your fellow questioners to do the same.