It’s human nature – when we are forced to look in a mirror and confront uncomfortable truths, we are destined to squirm.
The Catholic Church rocked by incendiary and evil sexual abuse scandals? There is nothing but critique for Church leadership in my mind. The victims have been forever scarred, and their families and friends have been left to assist with the fall-out of the impact sexual abuse has on a victim. Church leadership continues to mishandle opportunities to right a horrible wrong that has been committed, erring on remaining silent, rather than acknowledging the pain caused by one of their agents. There is absolutely no way to defend the indefensible, and I can attest that silence does not make things better. Silence reeks of shadows, in which we know the evil one loves to hide.
Belonging to a universal church… a universal organization… whose leadership continues to jaw-droppingly bungle every opportunity to get it right can seem counter-productive and absurd, to
I get that.
St. Peter is one of my favorites, and I have often shared this with my husband when he has (lovingly) asked what keeps me going to Mass through the entire scandal, “Simon Peter answered him, ‘Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God’” (John 6:68-69).
If I did not truly believe, deep in my heart, that the One Who is raised up over the heads of us all at church was the True Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ at every single Mass, I would have left the Church two years ago as the Pennsylvania sex abuse scandals broke.
Yet, if I leave the Church – the physical Body of Christ left on earth – to whom shall I go?
There have been half a dozen studies released in the past couple years which point to an amazingly low number of Catholics who either know, or believe, in the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Often, it appears the generation of the respondent seems to drive their understanding of Church teachings, and most likely fuels their subsequent answers.
The Church teaches that, when the priest says the words of consecration (“this is my Body…” and “this is my Blood…”), something amazing happens. At the moment of (big word alert) “Transubstantiation,” the physical appearance of bread and wine remain the same, but that “mere” bread and wine undergo a spiritual conversion into Christ’s Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.
Christ becomes present, tangible, and a living witness in our lives at every single Mass. In fact, the Catholic Church just universally celebrated this amazing belief in the Feast of Corpus Christi on the 14th of June!
I don’t have a major conversion story, and I honestly can’t tell a soul a single instance in which I felt Jesus truly come to me in a big way. Yet, He reveals Himself to me in the little ways… and He comes to me at every Mass. This I know… this I profess.
But, to let you in on a little secret…
This, I have sometimes doubted.
In my course as a Catholic social media influencer and blogger, I have to confess that I, too, have sometimes doubted if the Church teachings are true… are just… and, are sound.
The Bible, itself, appears to be a timeless story. The stories (and lessons) were applicable as the books were written, as they were when the Bible was officially put together, as they remain today. There’s infinite love, there’s loss, there’s the antagonist, there’s the Savior. It’s all there, and the lessons and stories span the centuries.
Just as the Mass spans the centuries, so, too do the teachings of the Church, found in the Bible and Tradition.
Yet, sometimes, doubt lingers.
As some of the words of the translated Tantum Ergo point out, “Faith will tell us Christ is present, when our human senses fail…” and sometimes, our human senses fail to an irreconcilable level, and our faith crumbles entirely.
And, when a person in a position of authority within the Church begins to doubt, to whom shall they go?
I have been guilty of “faking it until I make it,” at times in my life. Either sitting out of the communion line, or going to communion with a simple prayer on my heart, “Lord, make my belief as strong as Peter’s,” I readily acknowledge I have been guilty of going through the motions at times.
As Dr. Brant Pitre asserts in his book, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, Peter acknowledged in the aforementioned Bible quote (John 6:68-69) he didn’t quite understand everything Jesus said, but he placed his trust in the One Who spoke the words. And, at times, the simple prayer to give me faith like Peter’s has been what has held me together spiritually.
However, it’s uncomfortable to sit and look in the mirror, knowing you publicly profess one thing, and privately struggle with that teaching.
Whether it’s one certain teaching that one struggles to understand, or whether it’s a central teaching that shakes a person to their core, it’s uncomfortable to acknowledge that there remains a doubt.
And, well-meaning (or otherwise) individuals in our Church don’t often make it feel safe to express our doubts and discomfort.
St. John of the Cross explores the concept of the, “dark night of the soul,” when he wrote his same-titled book. I once was told by a priest in a confessional that there was no way I could be experiencing a dark night of the soul, “because you are a wife and mom with a little kid. Dark night of the soul only occurs to really holy people.” The absurdity of that young friar’s statement sticks with me four years later.
But, if I weren’t prepared to seek other counsel when faced with that response, to whom would I go?
Jesus, present in the Eucharist, is on a mission to change hearts and minds. When we approach Him with an open heart, we receive the Graces He bestows on us, even in the midst of our doubt.
Yet, the previously mentioned statistics beg the uncomfortable “reflection” moment destined to make us squirm. The rhetorical question for each of us to ask ourselves as we stare in the mirror is: are each of us truly receiving Christ with an open mind and heart?
After we have received Jesus, do we go back to our daily lives and continue to live unchanged from mere moments before?
Do we leave Mass without a care or thought of the One Whom we are called to know, love, and serve with all our heart, mind, soul, and body?
Do we invite Christ into our lives on a daily basis, and ask Him to actively help us in being more loving toward our family, toward our neighbors, toward the stranger on the street, or toward those in our Church – lay and ordained alike?
Are we giving Christ room to change our minds, hearts, and ultimately, our actions?
When those in a position of leadership within their church begin to doubt, is the atmosphere welcoming to discussion of those doubts? Or, are they shut down with the trite, “You need to pray harder, study Scripture more, get involved more…”?
Do they find a safe space to voice their normal and natural doubts? Or, are they being told that it makes them a lesser Christian and a worse Catholic because they dare to voice their doubts?
Do they have support in unpacking a lot of the anger, confusion, frustration, pain, and doubt? Or, are they told they are not worthy to express any of those normal emotions?
When we don’t have the support within our community to explore these emotions and doubt, we can become increasingly isolated…
we become lonely…
we become discouraged…
we become weary…
we begin to give in to our doubts…
When we try to muddle through the doubt on our own, we open ourselves up to succumbing to the lure that maybe Christ, His teachings, and that of the Church are not all true.
In light of recent events, perhaps each of us need to take a moment to reflect on where we are on our own faith journey, and dig a little deeper for the compassion to recognize that not everyone is on the same journey, nor on the same part of the path.
Perhaps each of us need to squirm a little to recognize those actions we have done, and the ones we have failed to do, which led to another person experiencing doubt, or wading alone in their doubt.
Finally, perhaps we, as a collective Catholic group, need to get better at meeting all of our members – lay and religious, outspoken and reserved, well-known and inconspicuous – where they are at, recognizing them, and embracing where they are on their journey.
There comes a time in everyone’s spiritual journey where we can’t go it alone – we need the compassion, the empathy, the guidance, and the love of others to continue to grow spiritually. When we don’t find that around us, and when the Truths of the Church are hard to comprehend, we need to be able to rely on the strength of others to support us.
If we can’t find that strength or support in the midst of the doubt, when we can’t find Christ at work in our lives, and have trouble seeing Him working around us, to whom shall we go?
AnnAliese is a proud Army wife to her husband Chris and mother to their two young children. She has a BA in History, a Masters in Social Work, and has worked with disabled veterans, troubled teens, and in early childhood intervention therapy. Since the birth of her children, she has dedicated her time to volunteering with Army Community Services and several military chapel communities. As a cradle-Catholic, AnnAliese has been active in the Church since she was a child. As an adult, she has spent time serving as a lector, EMHC, Adoration coordinator, and Catholic Women of the Chapel (CWOC) chapter president and vice president. She also blogs about topics of Catholicism, parenting, and military life at A Beautiful, Camouflaged Mess of A Life. You can also follow her on Twitter @BeautifulCamoMe, on Instagram at beautifulcamouflagedmess, or on Facebook at A Beautiful, Camouflaged Mess of A Life.