Homily for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
All homilies posted here or elsewhere are written to be delivered orally, and thus do not represent careful writing technique. Please excuse any blunders and typos you may find. Any foolishness is exclusively my own.
The other night, I gave a talk on Faith and Reason and how the two are complimentary, how they match up. And at the end of the night, someone asked an excellent question: What do we do with Doubt? How do we view Doubt, when it comes to us and challenges us?
It was a superb question. Christ constantly meets Doubt in the Gospels, and today is no exception. From the very beginning, the people are murmuring to themselves about Christ’s claim that he is the Bread come down from Heaven. They are filled with Doubt, because Christ makes a claim that is hard for them to believe, hard for them to understand: how can this man, the man whose family they know, be equivalent with God? That’s really the claim Christ makes here, that he has seen the Father because He Himself is of God.
In large part, we know these things because they have become embedded in our culture. The majority of us who come to Mass on Sundays understand the fundamental principles of who Jesus Christ is as the Son of God, and yet still, there might be Doubt. I know that when I started getting serious about my faith a little over a decade ago, I had a plethora of doubts concerning Christ and His Church.
Notice something about the nature of the Gospels, though: the overwhelming majority of the time, when people doubt Christ, Christ rails against them. He rails against them because they’ve ended up questioning the Order of Truth, the divine logos, the Word Made Flesh; another translation of the word logos is Reason: those who deny Christ in moments like the ones we see today are those who ultimately deny Reason itself. The problem, these interlocutors would have you believe, is with Truth Itself. There’s no way this man Jesus, whose family we know, could be the Bread come down from Heaven.
But skipping ahead a little bit in the Bread of Life discourse which we’ve been hearing about over the past few Sundays, we see Peter. Near the end of John, Chapter 6, when Doubt has led many followers of Jesus Christ to turn their back on him, Christ turns to Peter and asks if he’s going to walk away too. Peter effectively tells Christ, “Where would I go? You have the words of Eternal Life.”
Peter in that moment doesn’t yet understand the Eucharist, because he’s yet to live out its full reality at the Last Supper. Peter hears all this, and it’s clear that Peter doubts. He hasn’t put it all together yet. But what Peter realizes is that the deficiency is ultimately with him, not with Christ. When I look at a math problem and fail to understand, the issue isn’t with the math problem; the issue is with me. I don’t quite have it yet. I haven’t quite put the process together. Christ doesn’t chastise Peter for his doubt, but rather draws him forward so that he might see more completely.
And so it goes in our spiritual lives. If we doubt in the way of those who murmur to themselves, we doubt Reality. Worse yet, in our pride, we suggest that we know or understand something more completely and more profoundly than God Himself. When we doubt as those who leave Christ’s side, we suggest that Christ is not who he says He is.
But if we see our Doubt as a deficiency in us, something we’re lacking, then we’re open to Christ. In our humility, we see that Christ and His Bride the Church are rational, reasonable, and we need them to fill a gap in us. If we view Doubt from this perspective, then we’re ready to pursue Reason itself, setting aside our own misconceptions and prejudices in regards to Christian anthropology and marriage, the absolute sanctity of human life, or any host of other hotbutton issues. In our humility, we see the way things are. We see that Christ is perfection; His Bride, the Church, teaches Perfection; I myself am not Perfection.
St. Peter remained open, and as a result he received more than he could have imagined, through the reception of Christ’s Body and Blood. If we ourselves remain open to the Word Made Flesh, to the God who is Reason, then we ourselves stand to gain exactly the same.