Just before being ordained a deacon back in 1976, I was on a private retreat. It was the final preparation for the great sacrament of holy orders. Suddenly, I was struck with the most severe doubt that has ever come upon me. I did not believe that Jesus was really present in the Eucharist! The Eucharist had always been the center of my life and certainly was to be even more so as a deacon and then as a priest. I was in a panic.
My retreat director, who also happened to be my confessor and spiritual director at the time, Fr. Doug Osborn, counseled me to simply rest in the faith which had sustained me all the years of my life, that this was a serious temptation, and that God’s grace would help me through. He was absolutely right.
The great gift of faith, which God has given us in our Baptism, is always under attack from temptations of the devil. How is it that we can resist these temptations and thus allow that gift of faith to flourish in us?
The first and most effective way is to desire this — to want to believe and to want to live a life of faith. Without this desire which opens our hearts to the work of the Holy Spirit, we will be closed to God’s action in us. If we have trouble even desiring this, then we should pray to have this desire, that is, to want to want to have the gift of faith.
Secondly, oftentimes a very serious block to our growth in faith is our becoming too content with sin in our lives. God has great trouble working in us if we do not want to fight our own sinfulness. Sin is fun! And many of us do not want to give up that fun. But sin will not make us happy — it may make us entertained, but not happy. When we come to realize this, we will repent. What God asks is not that we be completely free of sin. That will not happen this side of the grave. Rather, we have to repent of our sins, seek God’s grace, and desire to do the good.
Thirdly, we may at times claim to disagree with an element of our faith, such as my struggle with the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Stubbornness could have locked me into my doubt and there would have been no way out. At those times it is important to rest in our life-long faith, and in the faith of others around us. It is important to seek to understand our faith as handed on to us by the Church over these past 2000 years. That, of course, takes humility. We must admit that when we do not understand something we are willing to seek the wisdom of the Church and that we will be patient until we do understand that.
Finally, faith requires an abandonment, a letting go and a handing over of ourselves into the hands of God. We all have doubts. In fact, doubts can be preparations for a deeper grasp of our faith and a more profound living out of that faith.
Sisters and brothers, let us desire with all our hearts that faith in God, in his Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit which will allow us that happiness which we all seek, a happiness without end.
Bishop Earl Boyea is the fifth bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Lansing.