Do you still have questions about your faith?

GOD’S WORD TODAY - Francis D. Alvarez S.J. (The Philippine Star) - September 23, 2018 - 12:00am

In our Gospel reading last week, Jesus revealed to his disciples that he was going to suffer greatly. Upon hearing this, Peter took Jesus aside and rebuked him. We can imagine Peter telling the Lord, “No, this cannot be! No way should this happen!” Those of us kind enough to give Peter the benefit of the doubt may say that Peter did this because he did not want his friend to get hurt. Those of us who are more cynical may smirk at how Peter was probably just looking out for himself – if the Master suffers, those who follow him can expect the same fate. Whichever the case may be, it is safe to conclude that Peter just did not get what Jesus was saying.

In our Gospel reading today, Jesus again teaches his disciples that he will be handed over to men, and they will kill him. This time, we are told explicitly that the disciples do not understand Jesus. They again do not get it.

There is a third time in the Gospel of Mark when Jesus predicts his passion: “The Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and hand him over to the Gentiles who will mock him, spit upon him, scourge him, and put him to death” (Mark 10:33-34). Right after this, we catch James and John ambitioning about greatness and asking the Lord for a share in his glory. The disciples still do not get it.

Before we judge the disciples not only for their hardheadedness but also for their hardheartedness, we have to take a step back and remind ourselves that these were Jesus’ closest friends. Of the Apostles, Peter, James, and John knew Jesus longest. If they who were with Jesus since the beginning of his public ministry did not get him, maybe we should not be too confident of our own knowledge of Jesus. We may have more theology to lean on today, we may have almost 2000 years of reflection and prayer as resources to back us up, but maybe there is something about Jesus we still do not get.

God has not stopped revealing Godself to us. Life is still slowly unfolding before us. We may now know more about God and the world, but can anyone of us claim that our knowledge is complete? Maybe it would be good to pause for a few moments and not just mouth but swallow these hard words: “There is still something I do not get.”

While we may be very similar to the disciples in our lack of understanding, we should try to be different from them in one thing. From our Gospel today, we read, “But [the disciples] did not understand… and they were afraid to question him.” When we do not understand, the worst thing we can do is be silent and not ask questions.

While listening to the confessions of young people, I often smile when they tell me they have a lot of questions about their faith. I usually tell them, “That’s not a sin. In fact, it’s good that you have questions. That means you think about your faith. More importantly, you care about your faith. You care enough that you want to understand more.” But I also warn them, “The danger with questions is that you may become impatient and you may be frustrated when you do not find quick answers. Worse is when you do find answers, you may conclude you finally have gotten it and stop thinking.” 

There are very few final answers in this world. What we mostly have are working hypotheses. They may work, but they are still provisional. Even what we are certain are already final answers still need to be developed and nuanced. For example, the “yes” husbands and wives give to each other, we hope, is a final answer. But husbands and wives still need to grow into that answer. It is the same with the “yes” we try to give to God. It is an answer that will be challenged and questioned, but the challenges and questions can deepen our answer – as long as while we wrestle with the questions, we continue to cling to the God we humbly admit we can never fully never understand.

When you do not understand, never be too afraid to ask questions. And do not ask questions alone. Ask them in community – this is also how you can ask questions though you are afraid. And ask others who do not see things the same way as you. This is one way you can make sure you remain honest in your seeking.

In a church that was slowly becoming a favorite place of homeless people to spend the night, parishioners started grumbling. But they were too afraid to ask questions lest they were asked, “Well, what would Jesus do?” So they stewed in their discontent. And instead of softening – as stews would otherwise result in – the slow boil of their disgruntlement hardened the parishioners. Because they stopped asking questions, the parish priest started asking the questions for them. “What does our church smell like?” At first there was silence. Then came an answer, “Our church smells like feet.” The priest asked another question, “Why is that?” “Because poor people slept here last night.” Yet again, the priest asked, “Why do we let that happen here?” The questioning continued. While still grumbling, the parishioners not only gave answers but started questioning themselves. Near the end, the parish priest asked again, “So what does our church smell like?” Most of the parishioners, some still disgruntled, started to realize a different answer: “Our church smells like commitment.”

A reflection on asking questions can only end with more questions: Can you admit there are still things you do not get? Do you care enough to ask questions about what you do not understand? Do you ask questions with others? Do you ask even those you know you will disagree with? Do you keep on asking even if you think you have found a good enough answer?

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