Anyone who has a grand scheme and is in the process of setting it into motion will probably have had a toe-to-toe with one ugly emotion: doubt. One Hollywood film called Doubt made an impressive stab at this perplexing and universal experience. No other emotion smothers sheer enthusiasm or unbridled passion more than the five letter “D” word.
Despite its shortcomings and frustrating nature, through doubt can come growth and the proverbial “coming of age” in any given person — all provided it is handled in the right way.
In any person who analyzes their life with honesty, there is doubt. All of us experience it. Though many of our politicians, CEOs, leaders, and countless others give off the appearance of surety, none the less, they have it too. Some of the greatest Saints we look up to have had great doubts, as I know the ones in the making do now.
The best example is Mother Teresa. After her death many of her personal letters came into the public eye. The revelations within those letters are nothing new to someone with a deep seated understanding within the history of the saints. Mother Teresa, like countless before her, experienced what is often called a dark night or dark night of the soul. St. Faustina, St. John of the Cross, and others have written in detail about this experience.
Christopher Hitchens did not hesitate to comment on the subject:
“…the faithful should bravely confront the fact that one of their heroines all but lost her own faith, or that the Church should have gone on deploying, as an icon of favourable publicity, a confused old lady who it knew had for all practical purposes ceased to believe[.]”
Hitchens was an outspoken voice denouncing those like Mother Teresa and any religion. His comment has an air of intellectual arrogance and misses the point altogether. Faith is not, and never has been, about what you feel. It’s about what you choose.
Marriage highlights the nature of faith beautifully.
A loving spouse is not dedicated to their partner because of how they feel in return. If that were true the marriage would crumble after their first major fight. Unless those who are married are already saints, there will be a major fight. The fact that the a spouse chooses to stay, through good times and bad, proves their love. It is, in fact, the very foundation of their love.
So it is with faith.
Mother Teresa’s faith was not dependent on her feelings, but on her choices. The fact that she continued to serve and expand her apostolate, The Missionaries of Charity, throughout her doubts shows us her faith was not only intact, but strong.
How does this example relate to our lives?
This highlights a powerful model of fidelity, of sticking to what you know is right regardless of our emotions. If we decide to serve the poor it should never be about how it makes us feel, but about how the ones we serve feel. Service done in any other way, is not service, at least not in the purest sense. On a person’s path to maturity in love there is always ambiguity and mixed motives; we learn and grow with and through them.
Doubt is relevant in my life because I know it from experience. I have frequent conversations with those who are not religious, with those who do not share my beliefs. In order that I must come to understand them, I must understand what I believe and how I have arrived at these beliefs. Can I ever state with one hundred percent certainty that I’m right? Not if I’m honest. Any religious person who claims to believe beyond doubt is either in a state of complete and unmitigated union with God (possible, but unlikely) or is overstating their beliefs. To paraphrase the Queen in Hamlet, “[Thou] dost protest too much.” Our statement of complete certainty is an over-compensation for an underlying uncertainty.
The man who loves someone who hates him in return, exercises a stronger love then a man who loves someone who loves him back. We all know it’s easy to be kind to those who are kind to us, but to offer compassion to someone who is grumpy, demeaning, and rude? Few things are so contrary to our very human emotions.
Faith exercised while experiencing constant affirmation or consolation is good, but not necessarily strong. Faith maintained in the face of grave doubts becomes mature faith, a pre-requisite to growing deeper in our union with Love. To embrace such a challenge is a powerful act of prayer, and from it comes a lasting intercession for those we love.
. . . but who likes to admit they have doubts?
In a culture steeped in the need for confidence, self-esteem, and “you just have to do it right and you’ll be rich and successful,” doubt is not only unpopular, but often denied. Within the ranks of the religious, doubt is often labelled as a sign of weakness or failing, it is rather taboo. As can be seen with Mother Teresa, it doesn’t have to mean anything, because what we choose to believe and do, means everything – and choice is always an act of the will, never a feeling.
I choose to be a Catholic because the experiences of my life and the conviction within my heart has led me to this point. I have doubts about God, about my path in life, about where I’m meant to be. More and more I’m coming to understand that this is a necessary part of growing within an often confusing and contradictory world. These struggles will shape and strengthen my will so that when I come to a barrier so strong as the one which Mother Teresa came against, I will have the strength of character to continue to prioritize the poor, the sick, and those around me who need my love.