Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Longing For Faith

By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published July 5, 2012

“I wish I had more faith,” my aunt said.

She is 91 and facing a recurrence of lung cancer. Doctors want her to undergo chemotherapy and radiation—and she is, understandably, fearful.

She is well aware that some people refuse such treatments in the hopes of enjoying the time they have left without enduring the terrible side effects. But she feels that this particular road requires more faith than she has.

I tried to reassure her: “All of us wish we had more faith.”

“But I have doubts,” she replied.

And again I sought to comfort her. “We all do. Even the apostles, who were with Christ every day, had doubts.”

And, really, how can we not have doubts? We are immersed in the treacherous waters of a secular society that snickers at the thought of an afterlife. We are told to believe only what we can see, hear or touch. We are told that we are merely a collection of cells.

Still, there are levels of doubt. There are some who stop going to Mass the moment they experience the first doubt. They cease praying and turn their backs entirely on what they once believed. They are like people who decide, at the first sign of a cold, that death is imminent.

Others recognize that faith has low and high tides. They keep praying, even when they wonder if anyone is listening. They continue nurturing their kernel of faith, even if it’s as tiny as the proverbial mustard seed. They also understand that some people are blessed with a childlike faith, while others are more skeptical by nature.

In Matthew’s Gospel there is a very telling phrase about the apostles. After the resurrection, the men traveled to Galilee, as Jesus had instructed them: “And seeing him they worshipped, but some doubted.”

And of course there is the famous skeptic Thomas, whose doubts foreshadowed our secular society that says, “Nothing is real unless you can experience it through the senses.” These stories assure us that it is perfectly human to doubt.

I don’t know what my aunt ultimately will decide. I don’t know what I would do in her place.

Would I have enough faith to put everything in God’s hands and enjoy the time I had left?

Like my aunt I often wish my faith were stronger. There are times when I hit low tide myself. Some Sundays I feel very close to Jesus after Communion, but other times I’m so distracted that I feel he is far away.

Faith is about actions, not feelings, though. And in that way faith is so much like love. There are days when we may not feel very kindly toward our children or spouse. We may even wonder if we still love them.

But if we continue acting as if we love them—treating them with tenderness, compassion and patience—our recognition of real affection eventually returns.

And it’s the same with faith.

When the waves of doubt threaten to overwhelm us, we should continue on our journey as if we had the most robust faith in the world. Keep on praying, reading Scripture and receiving the sacraments.

We might also repeat what a man in the Gospels—with tears in his eyes—cried out to Jesus: “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).

As Flannery O’Connor wrote in a letter to a college student struggling to keep his faith, this cry was “the most human and agonizing prayer in the Gospels and … the foundation prayer of faith.”

My aunt has been like a second mother to me since my own mother died many years ago. My aunt remained true to Catholicism during all the years when I strayed. And she may not realize it, but I consider her a role model, doubts and all.

The other night my husband and I were serving supper to a priest at our home when my aunt called. As soon as she heard about our dinner guest, she said, “Ask him to pray for me.”

In my mind, that is real faith. Maybe she doesn’t realize it, but I’m sure the good Lord does.