Catechumens enrolled in the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults gather in a chapel to receive instruction in the Catholic faith in 2014. CNS photo/Ashleigh Buyers

Charles Lewis: Don’t fear doubts on faith

  • November 23, 2017
I’ve been fortunate to take part in several RCIA programs — the first time when I was preparing to enter the Church and subsequently when helping a friend who ran a parish program for potential converts.

I’m currently an assistant for the St. Michael’s Cathedral program, which is a great honour.

I feel that in a small way I’m taking part in Christ’s Great Commission to spread the faith. I am still moved to the bone when recalling the day I entered the Church almost a decade ago. The idea of helping someone else know that feeling is thrilling and a responsibility I cherish. 

Those who take part in the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults are getting a gift. So many Catholics were catechized as children and received no further formal training in the faith. Of course, there are scores of books and many parishes hold lecture series on the faith or Bible-study groups, but the realities of modern life —long work hours, children to raise, various activities — often make Catholic extracurricular activities a luxury to be put off until a less frantic time. 

I would humbly suggest it’s important to make time, especially given our fallen secular society and the need for solid knowledge so Catholics can make our case. Articulating our beliefs takes work and study. Vatican II re-emphasized what Christ taught: we all have a duty to evangelize.

For those enrolled in RCIA the incentive is obvious: the desire to explore rigorously the Catholic faith and ask hard questions from an adult perspective. In fact, asking tough questions is almost a requirement.

Think of all the great mysteries to absorb — the Immaculate Conception, Christ raising the dead, the Transfiguration in which three disciples saw Christ in divine light speaking with Elijah and Moses, and the Resurrection and ascension. All these beliefs, etched so deeply in our hearts, took a great faith to accept. Now pick just one and try to explain it. 

One time I was helping a friend lead his RCIA class. He got sick and asked me to take over. The topic: the Trinity. Gulp.

On that night a group of priests was meeting nearby. One of them stumbled into the class. He was pleased to see so many potential Catholics. Then he asked what the topic was. When I told him, he made like an escaped convict and actually said, “Get me out of here!” He laughed but I didn’t.
Imagine hearing about the perpetual virginity of Mary for the first time without wondering how such a thing was possible.

The grthe lord roman guardinieat theologian Roman Guardini wrote in his classic work, The Lord, that confronting doubts head-on is almost a prerequisite for developing faith. He used the example of the Incarnation, another Christian tenet that at first blush is not exactly obvious.

“However, this journey of God from everlasting into the transitory, this stride across the border into history, is something no human intellect can altogether grasp,” Guardini wrote.

“Before such an unheard of thought the intellect bogs down. Once at this point a friend gave me a clue that helped my understanding more than any measure of bare reason. He said: ‘But love does such things!’ ”

I sometimes wonder how many professed Catholics carry lingering doubts. Blessed John Henry Newman said, “Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt.” But I think doubt can be helpful, especially at early stages of entry into the Church. Doubt, to me, is the mind’s way of asking: Do I really believe this? It’s like an alarm bell. 

But I also like what Fr. Dwight Longenecker wrote a few years ago about Newman’s famous quote: 

“What Newman means is that there is a difference between a doubt and a difficulty,” wrote Longenecker, a parish priest in South Carolina and the author of several books of apologetics. “When we start to think through our Catholic faith we would be negligent or stupid not to have some problems. After all, the things we propose as true in the Catholic faith stretch the human mind and heart.” 

For those of you reading this who are in RCIA, take full advantage of this time. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. And for now, don’t be afraid of your doubts. This is the time to convert doubts into difficulties and finally into faith.

(Lewis is a writer in Toronto and regular contributor to The Catholic Register.)

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