Doubt

A couple of weeks ago when Phillip Seymour Hoffman died I just could not figure out where I knew him from. People kept saying, "He's been in heaps of things" but I knew it was something specific. Anyway I finally figured it out and I knew him from the movie Doubt, which is one of my favourite movies.

For those who haven't seen it, it's a beautifully made movie about a nun who suspects a priest is molesting children. But she has no real proof – it's just a feeling and at the same time she is filled with doubt. The movie is filmed in colour, but all of the costumes and sets are dominated by black and white and this nun is continuously walking around turning on lights and lamps and opening blinds – literally and figuratively trying to shed light on the situation. And although she is surrounded by black and white, symbolically she's actually surrounded by all of this 'gray' – nothing is as simple as black and white – not faith or indeed doubt.

The movie also explores doubt in relation to faith. The movie opens with the priest (Philip Seymour Hoffman) giving a sermon on doubt and how it can unify as much as faith can. It also has a touching ending where we realise that even the most holy among us have their doubts.

Two weeks ago I blogged about the gift of faith and in the comments many people mentioned that, even though they are faith-filled, they still doubt. I myself often suffer from doubts. I guess it is just human nature. Sometimes I find myself thinking, "But did Jesus really rise from the dead?" or "What if all of this is just simply not true and we get to the end of our lives and there's just nothing?" 

When I was sick a few years back I had this really disturbing dream that I had died and I was standing in this open doorway. I was right on the edge and on one side was life and on the other side was nothingness – not even light or darkness, just this massive, terrifying void. That dream has certainly given me cause to doubt! I talked to a priest about it in confession and he suggested a prayer, taken from the gospel of Mark, "Lord I believe, help my unbelief." and that's what I use now when I find myself doubting. 

What do others have doubts about and what do you do to deal with them?

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    Comments: 20

    1. John Whyte February 19, 2014 at 12:35 pm

      M&M

      You may have encouraged me to see the movie.  

      But with doubt, one of the bigger tipping points in my conversion was the point that "This is the church Christ founded".  And that it would be possible to convert and accept that yes something is church teaching even if it seems weird.  The particular example is the dogma of the assumption.  It was a conceptially hard teaching, but years of praying and asking for faith have certainly helped.  

      In addition to prayer the best thing I did was not to voice my doubts to anyone I didn't completely trust.  Which is my wife, my confessor, and two very close friends.  I've seen so many people just keep repeating their doubts which make them stronger and stronger.  But conversely I've seen people who say they have no doubts go completley nuts and off the rails.  

    2. Benedicta February 19, 2014 at 1:01 pm

      Yes, I think another good movie recommendation.

      John , that's interesting about the Assumption. It is probably the Marian dogma I found the strangest too. I overcame it by realising the Mary just goes first. She was Redeemed first (the Immaculate Conception) and she was 'taken up into heaven' first. As it says in Thessalonians…that on the last day the Lord will come to meet us and take us up. Not a pre-trib rapture like the Dispensalitionists teach but simply the ending of all time. For Mary she prefigured that. I hope you don't mind me saying this…but it was a coincidence that we both had the same difficulty. When I became a Catholic Mary was the biggest stumbling block in these sorts of ways.

      M & M – I doubt myself ….I believe what the Church proposes and I don't doubt any of it at the level of ideas …but I doubt living up to it. It really is following Christ in the way that you can,  in a way hoping you aren't off track and not knowing where its going…even in the end. So it just comes down to trust…that Grace will be provided. For that reason I like Sr Faustina's little prayer….'Jesus, I trust in You'.

      It also seems M & M that for the faithful Christian dreams such as you had are signs of being closer to Christ….afterall it sent you to Confession, and gave you a way forward in Faith in order to move through doubt. That seems a pretty good gift, don't you think?

    3. Teresina February 19, 2014 at 2:13 pm

      M&M, if ever you have doubts – then think of the prayers that you have had answered.  That is one of the proofs that there is a God and that life after death exists because no prayer could be answered unless that was the case, because there would be nothing to answer you!  I am sure you have had prayers answered through the intercession of Mary – that would not be possible if she did not exist.  She could not exist unless there is an after life.

      I had a very strange dream many years ago that I thought meant I was going to die soon.  In the dream I was lying in bed in an open field with someone kneeling at the foot of the bed praying for me.  I saw an angel in the sky raising a host above a ciborium, and I was pulled out of the bed with a woosh and into the sky into a kneeling position beneath the angel.  At that point I would wake up.  The reason I would wake up was that at the time of the "woosh" I could feel the bedclothes being pulled from me as my body rose into the sky.  I had exactly the same dream twice and woke up with the same feeling and here I am today – so it was that just merely a dream.

      On a funny note my mother told me of a dream she had on several occasions.  She said that there was a mission being preached in their parish and it was a heavy one.  They were told that when you reach your judgment if you were going to heaven you would feel happy and if going the other way you wouldn't feel happy.  Well, mum said she dreamt on several occasions that she was at her last judgment and she could see thousands of people there and try as she might she could not make herself feel happy!  You can imagine how she felt when she had this dream more than once.

      So put that dream to rest.  Everyone can have doubts but it is just a temptation from the devil and if it comes again just put it out of your mind and don't entertain it.  Mother Teresa writes that through the majority of her life she was assailed by doubt.  Even Our Lord was tempted.  Yes, if ever a doubt comes into mind I say, "Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief" and it goes away.

    4. John Whyte February 19, 2014 at 2:29 pm

      Benedicta,

      What you may find more interesting is that due to my high school studies I knew what catholics believed in much the same way I know what the ancient Greeks believed with their gods.  

      But it wasn't until I went to mass I knew the mass was real.  It wasn't a myth, I remember being hit with the knowledge that this was something incredibly amazing.  

      Seeing as you mentioning something similar in another thread.

    5. Benedicta February 19, 2014 at 3:13 pm

      John

      That sounds profound. 'Eyes are opened' in a deeper way….a gift of knowledge and understanding all at the same time! God comes in the best way for that soul….which is the same for M & M and her dream. It gives you something which remains and never quite leaves you.

      I think at times the Holy Spirit steps in and gives us in a moment which might have taken a very long time to come around to. Brilliant. We are an open book to God and a mystery to ourselves.

       

    6. Rubyshine February 19, 2014 at 9:18 pm

      There are some church teachings I have doubts about eg Mary's perpetual virginity, not just in terms of, "how could this be possible?" but also in terms of how I feel about it as a social concept as a woman. Sometimes I get overwhelmed by all the different teachings that I could doubt and start thinking, "well maybe none of this is real." At which point I go back to the very core of it, and focus on, "Do I believe in God?" and that helps me keep stepping forward. Sometimes the other issues feel like the minutiae, and as long as I can hang onto the key point of it all then the other things will come into focus in their own time.

      There have been times when I have willfully denied God in my own head because it felt easier than battling my own thinking.

      There have also been times when I willfully deny God because I fear the future. I know a number of people who have struggled with doubt and had a crisis of faith when something bad has happened in their own life, and they are left with, "if God loves me, why would this be his plan for me?" So a part of me rejects the idea of God having a plan for each and every one of us and our lives, as a kind of insurance against having to confront those feelings if I should face extreme troubles. I know I need to work on the idea of entrusting myself to God.

      A short time ago I was struggling with aspects of doubt and discussed it in confession and my priest asked me, "how did I plan to move forward?" Perhaps he sensed I was wallowing in my angst, but it did make me look at the path forward and push on. Which I think links into John Whyte's comment on discussing your doubt with trusted people.

      I have a range of trusted people, not all of whom are religious, but who will ask pertinent, challenging questions, or allow me to talk and express their own experiences. Also they are people who won't push their own beliefs, or use it as an opportunity to try and dissuade me from my faith.

      As an aside, I was talking to my Dr. this week, who also happens to be catholic, and he was talking about a man he admired who had said in a lecture that one of the most important questions in life is, "what am I going to do next?" I think it's a good question when we are faced with troubles or doubts of any kind, because it can be easy to wallow or go over and over the same ground in a loop.

    7. Teresina February 19, 2014 at 10:41 pm

      Rubyshine, just a couple of thoughts on the doubts you have had on Mary's perpetual virginity.  First, we are dealing with God – nothing is impossible to God.  Our Lord himself said there is no marriage in heaven – that side of life does not exist because there is no need for procreation in heaven.  Mary was born without the stain of original sin – she was conceived immaculately without stain (the dogma of the Immaculate Conception).  We are told she was a virgin at the time the angel visited her and told her the Holy Spirit would overshadow her and she would be the Mother of God.  The Church teaches that she was perpetually a virgin.  We are taught that the Church cannot err – so that any dogma of the Church we can accept in faith.  Aside from that, we have many perpetual virgins in the Church even today. Our Lord Himself said (Matthew 19:12) "There are eunuchs, who have made themselves eunuchs, for the kingdom of heaven: This text is not to be taken in the literal sense; but means, that there are such, who have taken a firm and commendable resolution of leading a single and chaste life, in order to serve God in a more perfect state than those who marry: as St. Paul clearly shews. 1 Cor. 7. 37, 38.

      So, thinking about all of that I am sure you will find it is not difficult to accept Mary's perpetual virginity at all.

      I think perhaps you would be better not to dwell too much on dogmas at this stage and just concentrate on Mass and the sacraments and the rest will come in due course.   The story told of St Augustine really sums it up for us:

      "There is a story that St. Augustine was walking on the beach contemplating the mystery of the Trinity. Then he saw a boy in front of him who had dug a hole in the sand and was going out to the sea again and again and bringing some water to pour into the hole. St. Augustine asked him, “What are you doing?” “I’m going to pour the entire ocean into this hole.” “That is impossible, the whole ocean will not fit in the hole you have made” said St. Augustine. The boy replied, “And you cannot fit the Trinity in your tiny little brain.” The story concludes by saying that the boy vanished because St. Augustine had been talking to an angel."

    8. Rubyshine February 19, 2014 at 11:00 pm

      Teresina – I only just became aware of perpetual virginity over Christmas, so I have done no reading in terms of what scripture the idea is based on, or where it stems from.

      I'm reasonably relaxed about the "miracle" aspect of it because there are all sorts of mysteries that are beyond my understanding, but the social idea of it is what unsettles me. The idea that Mary didn't "give birth" saddens me. But I say that as a woman who loves giving birth and who views it as one of life's great triumphs and miracles. 

      Like I said, I have put no research into this, so this is just my gut reaction to it.

      I agree I need to focus on the mass and the core beliefs, but it's impossible not to mull over the other aspects of the catholic faith as they come to me.

       

       

    9. withhope February 19, 2014 at 11:21 pm

      pray for faith. St Thomas will help you out. pray, kneel while praying, read the penny catechism – 'doubt' is a temptation like any other. Ask Our Lord to hide you in His Wounds. Always ask for Our Lady's intercession. 

    10. withhope February 19, 2014 at 11:24 pm
    11. Teresina February 19, 2014 at 11:30 pm

      Rubyshine, that is sweet that you are thinking of Mary in that way.  But if you think of the fact that she had the consolation and all the joys of motherhood with the baby Jesus and of course all the worries of a mother too.  Also, she knew that she was the Mother of God – and she was completely open to the will of God and the joy that must have flowed from that that we cannot possibly imagine.

      It is possible to think too much, so as the saying goes "Let go and let God!" and as Withhope says pray and all will be given to you!

    12. Teresina February 19, 2014 at 11:32 pm

      Withhope – that penny Catechism takes me back!  Thank you!

    13. Benedicta February 20, 2014 at 6:35 am

      Rubyshine

      I think you can imagine Mary actually gave birth. The creed says Jesus is 'born of the Virgin Mary'. She was free from original sin which intensifies birth pain, so it must have not been extreme.

      Michelle Arnold at Catholic Answers wrote this…

      "The Church is officially silent on the issue of whether or not Mary suffered pain in childbirth, although some Fathers, Doctors, and theologians assume that her immaculate state rendered her free from it. Strictly speaking, we need not assume that Mary was free from labor pains. Christ too was sinless and went through hideous suffering on the cross. If Mary's labor to bring Christ into the world was painful, just as is ordinary childbirth, it may have been so in order to allow her to be in greater conformity to the life of her Son, who also would suffer. Even so, it is also true that she could have been free from childbirth pain. Absent a ruling from the Church, we just don't know for certain."

    14. Rubyshine February 20, 2014 at 7:12 am

      Thanks people. I've come across a few different ideas around her not suffering in childbirth, one analogy was, "like light through glass." and like I said, I've put not effort into reading further on it, it was just a gut reaction.

       

    15. Teresina February 20, 2014 at 10:53 am

      The Lateran Council stated that Mary gave birth to Jesus without loss of her integrity.  The Church has further stated:

      "But as the Conception itself transcends the order of nature, so the birth of our Lord presents to our contemplation nothing but what is divine.  Besides, what is admirable beyond the power of thoughts or words to express, He is born of His Mother without any diminution of her maternal virginity, just as He afterwards went forth from the sepulchre while it was closed and sealed, and entered the room in which His disciples were assembled, the doors being shut; or not to depart from every-day examples, just as the rays of the sun penetrate without breaking or injuring in the least the solid substance of glass, so after a like but more exalted manner did Jesus Christ come forth from His mother's womb without injury to her maternal virginity. ……………. To Eve it was said: In sorrow shalt thou bring forth children. Mary was exempt from this law, for preserving her virginal integrity inviolate she brought forth Jesus the Son of God without experiencing, as we have already said, any sense of pain.  CATECHISM OF THE COUNCIL OF TRENT
      PART 1: THE CREED
      Article III

      We can also know what the Church believes from her prayers:

      In the preface of the votive Mass in honor of Mary at the foot of the cross, we read the words: “She who had given Him birth without the pains of childbirth was to endure the greatest of pains in bringing forth to new life the family of the Church.”
      http://www.cst-phl.com/marian.html

      On the contrary, Augustine says (Sermone de Nativitate supposititious), addressing himself to the Virgin-Mother: "In conceiving thou wast all pure, in giving birth thou wast without pain."
      I answer that, The pains of childbirth are caused by the infant opening the passage from the womb. Now it has been said above (Q28,A2, Replies to Objections), that Christ came forth from the closed womb of His Mother, and, consequently, without opening the passage. Consequently there was no pain in that birth, as neither was there any corruption; on the contrary, there was much joy therein for that God-Man "was born into the world," according to Isaiah 35:1,2: "Like the lily, it shall bud forth and blossom, and shall rejoice with joy and praise."
      SUMMA THEOLOGICA
      Q35,A6

       

    16. John Whyte February 20, 2014 at 11:16 pm

      M&M,

      Catholic theology distinguishes between voluntary and involuntary doubt.  Voluntary is the rejection of some article of faith and is a sin.  However involuntary doubt is regarded not as a temptation but a manifestation of our wounded nature.  I think your priest's advice is excellent and I would be very cautious of anyone who starts talking about sin in regards to doubt as you've described it.

    17. Werahiko February 22, 2014 at 12:29 pm
    18. Benedicta February 22, 2014 at 1:09 pm

      Werahiko

      Yes, gorgeous…I love Dougal's facial expressions while he's thinking about it.

       

    19. bamac February 22, 2014 at 1:28 pm

      John,

        Thank you for your distinction between the two forms of doubt .  At one stage in my life temporary doubts used to worry me some but now I have come to look on them almost as gifts for it lets me , with God's help, tell God that I do believe and love Him with my will and dispite my lack of feeling that love and belief  … feelings can be a help or a hindrance on our faith journey if we pay too much attention to them I have found.

      shalom,

      Mrs Mac

       

    20. Teresina February 23, 2014 at 12:52 pm

      I think what John is referred to by "wounded nature" is reference to original sin as stated in the Catechism:

      "417 Adam and Eve transmitted to their descendants human nature wounded by their own first sin and hence deprived of original holiness and justice; this deprivation is called "original sin".

      418 As a result of original sin, human nature is weakened in its powers, subject to ignorance, suffering and the domination of death, and inclined to sin (this inclination is called "concupiscence").

      419 "We therefore hold, with the Council of Trent, that original sin is transmitted with human nature, "by propagation, not by imitation" and that it is. . . 'proper to each'" (Paul VI, CPG § 16).

      The catechism is great for giving us a steer on these things:

      2088 The first commandment requires us to nourish and protect our faith with prudence and vigilance, and to reject everything that is opposed to it. There are various ways of sinning against faith:

      Voluntary doubt about the faith disregards or refuses to hold as true what God has revealed and the Church proposes for belief. Involuntary doubt refers to hesitation in believing, difficulty in overcoming objections connected with the faith, or also anxiety aroused by its obscurity. If deliberately cultivated doubt can lead to spiritual blindness.

      And a good priest can always help us get through a period of doubt.