One of the common difficulties I encounter in dealing with my fellow Catholics is that they often feel guilty for doubting their faith. When I begin to ask them questions about the problem I discover that most often they are not doubting their faith at all. They are simply asking honest questions. They are experiencing difficulties, not doubts.
A difficulty in the faith occurs when a person is genuinely seeking an answer — either to a doctrinal question or a moral teaching. A difficulty is different from a doubt. A doubt is when a person says scornfully, “That can’t be true!” and a difficulty is when a person ponders and says, “How can that be true?” The first is a rejection of the faith. The second is an exploration of the faith. The first is a sin. The second is not.
Not only is a difficulty not a sin, but questioning the faith in the proper way is to be encouraged. Catholics should not be unthinkingly obedient religious devotees. We are not expected to be religious robots, but engaged and activated family members. Let’s face it, the things we are expected to believe and the ways we are expected to behave are not easy. I therefore do not have a problem with Catholics who have difficulties. I have a problem with those who don’t have difficulties.
Catholics who never have difficulties with the faith are probably not taking it very seriously. If we are engaged with our faith then there should be many times when we scratch our heads and say, “How can this be so?” We should remember that in the gospel the Blessed Virgin Mary asked that question of the angel Gabriel. When the angel announced that she was to have a child she replied, “How can this be so?” When we are faced with miraculous claims, a dogma that is difficult to understand or a moral teaching that seems impossible or unfair we are right to say, “How can this be so?”
It is only as we ask the question that we can find the answer. We should be curious Catholics. Alert and inquisitive, we should prayerfully consider every aspect of our faith — always seeking to learn more and understand more fully. We should ask the right questions and to do this we are called to engage our bodies, minds and spirits.
Engaging our minds in the quest for a better understanding is easy enough to understand. We need to read the sacred Scriptures every day. The best way to do this is through a publication like Magnificat — where we share the readings from the Divine Office and the Mass. We should also have a good Catholic book on the go at all times. Solid Catholic publishing houses produce a constant stream of excellent resources in both fiction and non fiction genres. In this modern age we also have resources available as e-books, websites, radio shows, podcasts, YouTube channels and much more. The content is available as never before. Be a curious Catholic and engage your mind as this new year begins.
We also need to engage our hearts in the search for a deeper experience of our faith. This means a renewed commitment to prayer, worship and adoration. It is through prayer that the content we learn with our minds makes the long journey from the head to the heart. In seminary priests are told to “pray their theology." In other words, the heart needs to be opened as the mind is engaged. In this way the truths and values we come to understand with our minds can be written in our hearts and then put into action. An old Russian saying is “the heart moves the feet." We are most strongly motivated to action not through thought alone, but through our emotions and thoughts combined.
Finally, we need to engage our bodies. Faith without works is dead, but when faith is put into action it becomes real. Involving our bodies in our faith includes several things. First of all we should discipline our bodily appetites. Too much food and drink, lack of exercise, use of drugs and tobacco and not enough rest and relaxation can affect not only our physical, but also our spiritual health. The spiritual way has always included physical self discipline. A second way to be a “curious Catholic” is to get our bodies out and about with other people — serving, ministering, embracing and helping those in need. As we engage with others physically, mentally and spiritually we all grow closer to one another and to God and so strengthen and consolidate our faith.
The curious Catholic is not complacent, lazy or simply going through the routines. Instead he is constantly alert and alive—always engaged in body, mind and spirit in order to understand more fully and come ever closer to the abundant life Christ promises in the gospel.
Fr Dwight Longenecker’s latest book is Slubgrip Instructs. Look forward to getting a copy for Lent. Connect at dwightlongenecker.com