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What to Do When You Believe and Doubt at the Same Time

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Fr. Dan Daly, S.J. - published on 05/16/16

The father of the boy possessed by a demon was a lot like many of us -- he had faith in Jesus, but also fears and doubts

The words just slipped out. Malluch approached Jesus as soon as he saw him and urgently asked him to heal his son. He intended to soften the appeal by adding something like “if you would be so kind” or “if you wouldn’t mind.” He did not want to appear too demanding. Instead Malluch qualified his request with “if you can.”

As soon as he said it, Malluch knew that his words betrayed a lack of confidence. His son was possessed by a terrible and powerful demon that deprived him of speech and frequently threw him into convulsions. His son would thrash around so violently that two men could hardly hold him down. Rabbis and priests had prayed over his son to no avail. The demon came from a very dark place. Malluch was not even sure that God could conquer the evil that lurked there.

Malluch had not intended to question Jesus, of course. He knew that Jesus had done wondrous things and might even be able to help his son, but as soon as Malluch began speaking to Jesus his fears reemerged. The demon took hold of his son and threw him to the ground. The father knelt down to try to comfort his son and began feeling helpless and hopeless again. “If you can” just slipped out. Jesus recognized Malluch’s desperation and doubt and offered him reassurance. “Anything is possible for one who believes,” Jesus said.

Malluch looked up to Jesus and responded with words so perceptive and sincere that they have resonated with believers ever since: “I do believe, help my unbelief!”

Malluch recognized that he believed and doubted at the same time. He was a man of faith and always had been. He turned to God in times of trouble and relied on God to watch over his family, neighbors and friends. Malluch spoke to God about his life and listened to what God was trying to say to him. He was grateful to God for his many blessings and tried to serve God in his own small way. Malluch did believe.

At the same time Malluch had fears and doubts. He did not like to acknowledge it, but deep down he wondered if God could possibly be able to heal his son from such suffering. Malluch wanted his faith to be stronger; he wanted his doubts to diminish. He knew that he could not make those doubts disappear all on his own, so he asked Jesus for help.

Many of us are very much like Malluch. We do have faith. We hope in God and turn to him in times of trouble. We offer a quiet, heartfelt prayer to God from time to time.

At the same time, our faith is not as strong as we want it to be. We are easily distracted with the cares of the world and do not turn to God nearly as often as we should. And deep down we have our doubts. We question God’s ability to save our broken world. We become discouraged by all the sickness, evil and death we encounter.

We would do well to follow Malluch’s example. We gratefully acknowledge the faith we do have, a sign of God already working in our lives. At the same time, we recognize that our faith is fragile and that we cannot strengthen it all on our own. We ask God to help our unbelief.

Jesus often said that he could not help someone who had no faith. God cannot enter into someone’s life without an opening. But the opening need not be enormous. As Jesus said another time, faith the size of a mustard seed would be sufficient. Jesus was able to heal Malluch’s son that day at the foot of the mountain. Malluch’s faith provided an opening plenty wide enough. God can work in our lives, too.

For the Mass readings of Monday, May 16, click here.

Author’s Note: This is a reflection on one of the lesser-known characters that appear in the Scripture readings at Mass. We can learn something from those characters, I think. I follow the lead of St. Ignatius of Loyola in using my imagination to fill out some of the details of the story. To that end I have created a name for this character who is unnamed in the Scripture account.

Father Dan Daly, S.J., is a Jesuit of the U.S. Central and Southern Province. A former professor of accounting and economics at Boston College and Regis University, he now serves as the province treasurer. He has presided and preached at student and parish Masses for many years.

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