Doubting faith

Ascension Sunday

When I was 21, I was living in a formation house as my first year of attempting to follow this desire to be a priest. Towards the end of the first year I got sick. But before I realised that I was getting sick, I had come down with Chicken pox and as an adult, it’s not a terribly pleasant experience. It’s being covered head to toe with sores and having to be in isolation. But I didn’t realise that for the few days before the symptoms actually appear, one of the first symptoms that you receive when you are actually infectious is that you can feel this intense sense of depression and confusion and isolation.

And I remember in those days, you know, we were, we would have mass every day and we would gather for the office every day and we would have a couple of hours of personal prayer in community. Every day. But when I would go and sit in the Chapel and stare at the Tabernacle, there was just this vast emptiness. I just couldn’t believe in God or in anything else, you know. So I was looking at the Tabernacle, looking at something that until then had given me such joy and such hope and such desire. All there was just darkness. Blackness, just this emptiness. And it was the most overwhelming experience. For coming from a place where belief came quite easily, to suddenly this situation where there was just nothing, it was just empty and I just couldn’t believe it.

And I was in the Chapel for the hour upon hour, just totally and utterly confused by this experience, by this being. So overwhelmed by emptiness and darkness and nothingness and. And when later on, and when I actually then got sick and went to see a doctor and asked him about, hey, just before all this kind of happened and, you know, I experienced this real depression is, oh, that’s one of the standard symptoms. And I’m like, OK, well, that at least kind of explains it.

But I’m really grateful that I had that. I’m really grateful that I had that opportunity just to experience that complete blackness, that emptiness, because it taps into a situation that I think many people sometimes can experience and feel that sense that doubt is overwhelming, and that doubt is the only thing that seems to explain the fullness of their life, that it’s not this whole sense of, you know, unicorns and rainbows the whole of our lives, that everything is just this wonderful, marvellous sense of being able to believe so easily and so readily that.

Often that experience of darkness and the inability to actually make that profession of faith is really strong, and the only thing that. We know, and I think it’s one of the interesting parts of our gospel today, we’re told that the 11 – Judas of course has died – the 11 gather on the mountain and of course in the Gospel of Matthew it’s on a mountain.

They go and he’s there suddenly before them and we’re told that most of the community goes up and falls down: they prostrate before Jesus because they want to offer this act of worship. This act of surrender to God, but we’re told that Jerusalem doesn’t quite capture it by saying it’s by some hesitate. Others other translations say some doubted, some fell back. Some weren’t able to offer their worship because they were so confused, even though it had been many weeks by now that they’d been meeting with the Lord, that he’d forgiven their sins.

He’d encountered them. He’d showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. He’d done all of these mighty works with them. Even so, some doubted some fell back. Some weren’t sure what they were actually seeing when they saw the risen Lord. The word that’s used there is destarzo and it’s the same word that we see back in chapter 14:31 after Peter walked on the water and of course he took his eyes off the Lord and he begins to sink and Jesus says to him, why did you destarzo? So it’s the same word. Why did you doubt? Why weren’t you able to continue to believe?

And that sense that sinking into the abyss is something that that seems to kind of happen. But as I was praying with this gospel this week, one of the things that really struck me was that Jesus doesn’t then divide the disciples into two groups. He doesn’t say, OK. You who were able to fall down and worship me, you come over here and I will Commission you now. And those of you who doubted those of you who had questions, those of you who were confused – you stay over there. No, there’s no divisions. There’s no distinctions. The whole community, those who worshipped and those who. Doubt it are. All gathered together to be commissioned to be sent out. Sometimes we can feel that well, I can’t share my faith because I have these questions I have. These doubts I have these things that kind of hold me back and prevent me from actually knowing what it is that I truly.

To believe, but that didn’t prevent Jesus commissioning those disciples. It doesn’t prevent Jesus commissioning us today, even when we feel a bit overwhelmed by things, even when we’re not quite sure even we continue to have these questions, that’s never a reason. And not to actually continue in our friendship with God. The only mistake we can make is just to say. Well, that’s clearly the end of the story, and I’ll just have to walk off into the sunset.

The only good thing that happened to me when I was 21 was. That I stayed in the Chapel, I continued just to be present, even though I couldn’t believe, even though I continued to doubt, even though I had all these struggles, even though I had this overwhelming sense of just blackness and darkness and emptiness, the best thing that I did was just to stay put. To continue to be there. Even though I couldn’t believe in the existence of God, I stayed there. I remained in that place, and sometimes that’s all that we can do when we know this darkness and this doubt.

And you know, when we read the Diaries and the memoirs of many of the Great Saints of the church, they’ve experienced the same darkness, the same doubt the same. Confusion. The same concerns does that prevent them from being loved by God? No. Does that prevent them from sharing their life and their love continuing to serve, continuing to be and worship? No, we are commissioned not because we’re. Worthy, but we’re commissioned because he’s done it. He’s doing this work. And just as he promised to be with us until the end of the age.

So he continues to promise to be there whether we have these doubts and questions or not, the Lord will continue to be the one that invites all peoples, all nations. Into this act of surrender into this act of worship, the only mistake we ever make. Is not turning up. The only mistake we ever make is not remaining in those questions and justice, surrendering them in love to God and God will answer them. Maybe not straight away, maybe not in the way that we imagined, but our deepest longings, our deepest desires. God will always provide. An answer for and will usually come when we celebrate next week with the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is this breath of new life that is able to blow through us. It’s when we worship God and the Trinity as we. Celebrate in two weeks time that the Lord will continue to open us to these New Horizons of love and goodness when he feeds us with his body and blood in in three weeks time.

This gift of life and goodness that the Lord is always inviting us into, we can be a community of witness. We can be a community. The shares the life and goodness of God, and the fact that we doubt the fact that we sometimes have these questions. Is no disqualification for this desire to continue in our vulnerability and in our honesty just to share the life that we have received. The love that we have encountered and the goodness of the God that continues to invite us into freedom and into truth.

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