Catholic News

Faith troubled by doubts

By Father Ken Doyle, Catholic News Service Columnist

Question: I am 79 years of age, have been a Catholic all my life and have tried my best to follow the Ten Commandments. But I find myself now bothered by religious doubts and fear that I may really be an agnostic. Can a person remain in the state of grace with this state of mind? (I have read that Mother Teresa had similar feelings before her death.) (Gahanna, Ohio)

Please let me assure you, first of all, that you are not alone. It is characteristic of the lives of many people, including some outstanding Christians, to suffer deeply from the feeling that they are not as certain as they should be about matters of faith. (Cardinal Avery Dulles, the learned Jesuit theologian, once wrote that “faith is suspended over the abyss of unbelief and hence is liable to be questioned at any time.”)

You do well to reference Blessed Teresa of Kolkata, for she serves as an encouraging model of those who have weathered this crisis well.

A book released in 2007, revealing letters she had written over half a century, told graphically of her spiritual struggles; for decades, she was tortured by the fear that God had abandoned her. (In one letter to a priest-confidant the now-beatified Mother Teresa writes: “Jesus has a very special love for you. As for me, the silence and emptiness is so great, that I look and do not see.”)

What Mother Teresa endured, I believe, was not so much a crisis of faith. Only two or three times during more than 50 years does she say that she was tempted to conclude that God did not exist, and those times would pass. Instead it was more akin to what St. John of the Cross first referred to in the 16th century as the “dark night of the soul,” that sense that God was absent from her life and far away when she needed him most.

You wonder, in your question, whether your doubts leave you in the state of grace. Certainly they do, for you continue to practice your faith and keep the commandments much as Mother Teresa continued to pray and to reverence God in those who were dying in the streets of Kolkata.

Experiencing uncertainty is a part of being human. The prayer of the father of the boy possessed by the demon (Gospel of Mark, Chapter 9) is the prayer of each one of us: “Lord, I do believe. Help my unbelief.” You would do well to share your doubts in honest conversations — both with God and with a trusted priest or spiritual guide.

Question: Until the church begins to treat its people with kindness, attempts to evangelize such as by the new Roman Missal will never be successful. Parishes in our diocese have for some time now charged people a fee to use their church for weddings and funerals. What an abhorrent idea that is, to collect an added fee from the same people who built the church and maintain it by Sunday collections. Please justify this practice for me, if you can. (Baton Rouge, La.)

It is true that many parishes have an assigned fee for a wedding or a funeral (although certain churches assess this fee only for nonparishioners.) In some parishes, that income is used mainly to pay the organist who has provided the music for that particular liturgy. In other cases, the money goes to defray the additional costs incurred: heating and lighting the church for that service, providing maintenance personnel to open and close the church and to clean it afterward, etc.

Having explained the rationale, I must add that fundamentally I agree with you. Some parishes are struggling to make ends meet, so I can understand their thinking; their budgets can’t bear the added costs.

But most parishes, if they can, would probably do well to forego these special fees and to finance all of their sacramental celebrations through the regular weekly collection. Often enough, as your question shows, people are puzzled or even offended by such charges.

My own (very unbusinesslike) view is that we should simply be grateful that people choose to come to church for these important moments.

(Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, N.Y. 12208.)
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