“Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt, as I understand the subject,” wrote the Venerable John Henry Newman in “ Apologia Pro Vita Sua,” his masterful defense of the Catholic faith. “Difficulty and doubt are incommensurate.” Being a disciple of Christ involves many difficulties. But these difficulties do not inevitably lead to doubt. “If deliberately cultivated,” the Catechism of the Catholic Church warns, “doubt can lead to spiritual blindness” (No. 2088).
Today’s readings present us with three key protections against doubt. The first is found in the story of Doubting Thomas. It is easy to criticize or roll our eyes a bit at Thomas’ doubt. Recall that he was the same apostle who, after learning of the death of Lazarus and hearing Jesus’ exhortation to belief in the face of death, had said, “Let us also go to die with him” (Jn 11:16).
Granted, the crucifixion was not an ordinary difficulty for the apostles; it was a time of intense testing. Who of us would have held firm in faith? Who of us could have stood at the foot of the cross? We can appreciate the doubting apostle’s demand for evidence. He wanted to see the nail marks in the hands of Jesus, put his fingers into those marks and into the pierced side. Otherwise, he stated, “I will not believe.”
Pope Benedict XVI, in a September 2006 general audience dedicated to Thomas, said, “Basically, from these words emerges the conviction that Jesus can now be recognized by his wounds rather than by his face.” The confirmation of Jesus’ identity is found in his wounds. The text suggests strongly that Jesus did not simply stand before Thomas, but took his hand and guided it to his side. In facing difficulties Jesus does not passively stand by but guides us. He assures us, even as we waver and wilt. Our first protection against doubt is Jesus himself who grasps our hand and allows us to touch him, to know him, to worship him.
The second protection is presented in the story of Peter and the apostles performing signs and miracles. A central theme in the Acts of the Apostles is that the apostles and the Church continued the work of Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit. “Amen, amen, I say to you,” Jesus said before his passion, “whoever believes in me will do the works that I do; and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father” (Jn 14:12). This work is not separate from the Son, who ascended to heaven, but flows from him. As the head of the Mystical Body, he heals and cures, especially through the sacraments. The divine physician “has willed that his Church continue, in the power of the Holy Spirit, his work of healing and salvation” (Catechism, No. 1421). The Church, given authority by the One who established her, is a protection against doubt, being “the pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Tm 3:15).
Finally, in the account given by John, we see the protection found in the liturgy. John, upon seeing the glorious Son of Man, was overcome like Thomas with awe. “Do not be afraid,” Jesus said. “Once I was dead, but now I am alive forever and ever.” In worshipping the Lord, hearing the Word of God and receiving the Eucharist, we are protected against doubt and despair. The Blessed Sacrament sustains us (see Catechism, No. 1419). There will be difficulties, perhaps even thousands of them. But there is no need for doubt.
Carl E. Olson is the editor of IgnatiusInsight.com.