When I was growing up Catholic, questioning aspects of my faith was frowned on, even at times suggested to be sinful. And yet at an early age I questioned, perhaps because of trying to make sense of early tragedies in my family. For years I felt guilty, a “less-than” Catholic. However, when I finally confronted addiction and encountered the concept of “the God of my understanding”, I found that my questions were not only liberating but enriching.
The reality, though, is that I have few if any answers and more and more questions as I age. Certainty has its advantages. Those who don’t question, who don’t argue with God, find a certain security that I at times envy. And yet I continue to embrace my doubts and have come to see that the greatest gift of embracing one’s doubts is the journey itself.
I see that, had I not allowed myself to question, I would have missed out. I would not have explored writers and thinkers from other traditions or no traditions. Through their writings, I would never have met Abraham Joshua Heschel, Thich Naht Hahn, Annie Dillard, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and dozens of others. If I never questioned, I might not have discovered great cathedrals outside of Catholic churches. I would have missed God’s presence in Yosemite or Big Bend or the Skelligs. Had I not come to see that creation did not end after seven days, I would not have encountered the thought that creation continues and that I am invited to participate. I would never have found God in the paintings of Van Gogh, the poems of Robert Frost, the plays of Thornton Wilder. I likely would not be writing these words.
Had I not doubted, I would never have had profound encounters with God that I have experienced when angry with Him/Her. Rabbi Harold Kushner suggests that what satisfied Job was not any answers God gave (there were none!), but that, through his anger, Job had a profound encounter with God. I understand that. My arguments with God are real and honest, not couched in piety. I feel God’s presence quite deeply during those moments.
I love my Catholicism. The sacraments have great meaning to me. The saints inspire me. But I can only be a Catholic who questions. If I embrace the old beliefs and define my doubts as wrong, then I will take the vitality out of my Catholic faith. That perhaps would be the ultimate sin.
REFLECTION: What if any role has doubting played in your spiritual journey?
My son is also a Doubter. It was his essay on this subject, inspired by your insights about it, which caught the attention of the Admissions Director at his university.
Thanks so much, Rich. I really needed this today.