It aint necessarily so. Or at least, that’s how the song goes.
We all face it. Some of us more than others. But, I think it’s important to understand that it happens to all of us. I think it’s important to face it head on, and move forward.
And so, it is that when we look at the commands of God and the exhortation to endure in Faith, in Hope and in Charity sometimes what’s missing to find the strength of this endurance is simple perception.
But it’s hard to move on alone, and for precisely that reason I want to talk about two things:
Faith, and Community.
I think that these are two things that more than any others go hand in hand in overcoming temptations.
Recently, in some conversations with friends I have had discussions on sin, and faith and justice and belief. A friend recently came to me and said that she is having a hard time understanding how Christianity presents a comprehensive worldview that is as expansive as the multi-cultural and wide world that we find ourselves in. She expressed feeling that world is wider than Christianity makes room for, and that the Christian framework simply could not contain the whole world.
Doubt and The Post-Christian World
So, Today I want to talk about the temptation we might call the temptation to doubt.
We all go through this from time to time. It’s something I’m not an alien to by any means. It’s the challenge to our faith, the whisper in the back of our ears that says: “Did God really say?” And I think it’s a challenge that is difficult to face alone. So often in our culture, we don’t hear the word temptation. We hear about struggles, we hear about challenges, or strivings, or goals, and sometimes even doubts, but we rarely talk about temptation.
This is not to say that those other things are illegitimate, but I think that at some point we have to say that certain challenges to faith are not merely psychological or emotional, and that they are orchestrated and planned by some dark force in the universe that attempts to keep humanity from its fullness.
I think my friend is undergoing a series of temptations, and that many of my friends are in similar places. We’re facing a difficult world in transition for many of us in the post-graduate world. Either we’re in graduate school, or getting jobs and starting families or maybe doing all of those things at once. It’s not an easy task, by any means. When we encounter various other cultures or engage in post-Christian cultures, we can feel isolated, archaic, or silly and superstitious.
I think the first and most important answer to encroaching doubts is to face the questions head-on, not to shut down questions and thus remove all thought from the matter. Faith is as much about spiritual as well as mental conversions. I say conversions, because there are little ways in which things should be changing in daily life. There should be little conversions along the way. The only way we can get to answers about the faith in the end is through Jesus and the tools of faith he provides us with. He has given us the Church, her saints, the sacraments, prayer, community and the scriptures.
The first thing we might ask when doubt arises is when we last were diligent in studies, or in prayer. If these things have continued, or have ceased the answer is the same: To renew a commitment to praying for others. I think it’s important to give and to care for others when we face interior doubts because they help remind us of the world outside our rather small imaginations. Doubt constricts the imagination, but Charity gives it wings and liberates it to truly contemplate the world by allowing contemplation to happen both within and outside the person in question. Further such Charity causes the engaging of the person with community, as well as with faith.
Further, when we try to expand imperialistically a faith that has to remove all doubt, we might find ourselves tired and in an overworked empire of the mind. However, when we understand that the sacraments and all sacramental realities belong to Christ, we are in good company. The best answer to doubt is not certainty, but trust in and an encounter with The Risen Lord. St. Thomas expressed what we all similarly express when we come into contact with Jesus of Nazareth. To encounter Him is to undergo the removal of doubt. If mass is not cutting it, perhaps confession, or penance, or other sacramental realities like friendship, service, or worship can give us a glimpse of faith in a darkened world.
The Scriptures and Temptation
I am reminded of a few verses in the New Testament that deal with difficulty and I think that one passage in particular strikes me. I Peter4:12-13 (NRSV) says:
12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13But rejoice in so far as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed.
This is to test us. It is that we may rejoice. To suffer Christianly, even to suffer temptations is to join ourselves to the overcoming King. How shall we know the glory we stand to inherit if we do not knwo what trials might have impeded us.
Ecclesiasticus 34:11 (Douay-Rheims) says: He that hath not been tried, what manner of things doth he know?…
If we are not faced with these questions, how will we know when the hour has come for us to be glorified? Temptation may be difficult, but it illuminates us with a different kind of experience.
Sometimes we fall. It’s ok though. Get back up.
St. Josemaria Escriva says in his book The Way: #262 Stop thinking of your fall. That thought, besides overwhelming and crushing you under its weight, may easily be an occasion of further temptations. Christ has forgiven you: forget the ‘old self’.
I know, personally, one thing that has really helped me in both making the decision to become Catholic, as well as just the rough times has been the crucifix. I look to Jesus, the crucified innocent, the man devoid of justice, and remember his suffering. I remember that this is God’s answer to our pain, not a magical cure, but enjoining us in it. We serve a God who has spoken, both through martyrs and prophets, and ultimately through the suffering servant known as Jesus of Nazareth, his very image, his very voice.
We cannot have a final non-mysterious answer to how to overcome doubt, or the temptation to believe our faith is silly, there’s no formula for it. There’s only the virtue of Faith, fostered in community and the Hope that we too shall have helped the crucified Rabbi overcome the world through our participation in his cross now, and in his resurrection then. Remember that you’re not alone, and that the only reason we choose to be alone in valleys is because we do not understand the gift of community at times like these.
The world may indeed by larger than Christianity, but I do not think so. I may not know for sure, but the best thing I can do is remain faithful in my questing after the virtues of Christ Jesus of Nazareth, and if I do these things, will not all else be added to me in time? I think that when we face the questions that try our faith, such as “Did God really say?” we might do well to investigate, to study the Church’s positions on things across time and space and discover that maybe the Church is wider and deeper than we ever imagined. Mayhap, we shall be the ones replying to the tempter with righteous scorn: “It aint necessarily so.”