Shortly after she died, some of Saint Teresa of Kolkata’s diaries were made public. These personal journals revealed her deep struggles with faith during her long and fruitful life. Many who read about these doubts were disturbed. How could such a saintly woman question her faith? Meanwhile, others were consoled. If someone like Mother Teresa could doubt, then maybe there was hope for the rest of us! Rather than diminish her holiness, her questioning made St. Teresa much more human. Her story reminds us that even doubters can become saints.
The story of “Doubting Thomas” in the Gospel makes a similar point. His experience also assures us that doubters can become saints. Everyone knows that he demanded proof of Jesus’ resurrection. For him, seeing was believing. He needed to put his hands into the wounds of Christ for the resurrection to become credible. But, in his naked questioning, Thomas revealed a very real part of our own faith journey. There are times in each of our lives when we demand to see in order to believe, when our previous understandings are shaken to the core. Our doubting ancestors in the faith — be it Thomas or Teresa — teach us some important lessons about what it means to become mature disciples of the risen Christ.
First, we learn that doubts are normal. God has gifted us with rational minds. It is with these rational, though limited, minds that we try to comprehend the mystery of God’s infinite love for us. As we fall ever deeper into this mystery, our minds will fail us. We will be disoriented. What we thought we knew will no longer make sense. We’ll enter what some spiritual writers have called a dark night. But, rather than being a sign of a loss of faith, these human experiences are an invitation into a deeper faith, a deeper trust. They offer us a choice: to lose our faith or to fall deeper into it. The saintliness of Teresa and Thomas come not from the fact that they never doubted, but from the fact that they continually chose to fall deeper into God’s loving embrace.
Second, we see that it’s OK to demand proof. Thomas was chided for demanding to put his finger into Jesus’ wounds. He was reminded that it’s better to believe without seeing. But even in that reprimand came an encounter. Jesus made his presence known to his doubting friend. Of course, when it comes to our own experience of doubt, we don’t often get the sort of concrete evidence Thomas demanded. But asking for support and divine grace to get us through the times of darkness is perfectly OK. We may well be surprised in what ways God makes God’s presence known.
Third, our periods of doubt remind us that ultimately faith is a communal affair. Thomas could not believe in the resurrection without seeing with his own eyes. But the other disciples had seen. They could believe. While Thomas may have been questioning his faith, these doubts did not alienate him from the rest of the disciples. He was still part of a believing community. In our own times of doubt, it is important for us to stay connected to the believing community. We can be buoyed by the faith of those around us while we go through our own, often painful, process of falling deeper into faith.
Doubts are not the antithesis to faith, but an integral part of our journey. Doubt is an invitation to growth. Questioning our faith is normal and even the greatest of saints experience it. Even if it is better to believe without seeing, asking for proof may be part of our journey toward a deeper encounter. Finally, we need not go through these disorienting moments alone. Being part of a community of believers means that, at times, we can let ourselves be carried by those around us.
May the joy of the Easter mysteries console us, even if ours is a moment of doubt. May our celebration of Christ’s resurrection encourage us to keep falling deeper into faith.
Rompré is the director of Mission and Ministry at St. Thomas More College in Saskatoon.