When I first began my blog about six years ago, I felt that the Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle was an important date for us to bear in mind as a community of believers. That post is still here, and I think that what I was getting at in 2006 is perhaps even more important to us now in 2012.
Many years ago, long before I had place to post my thoughts on the Internet, a wise priest told me that someday I would find my personal patron saint. Since then I've considered more than one who has indirectly influenced my life--people like Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta or perhaps Dorothy Day: people who gave their lives for the poor of the earth. In my search for serving in justice and charity these have stood out. However, I'm not sure now that I would consider them to be my patron saints. A personal patron ought to be one whose life somehow reaches deep to cross paths with our own. With a patron saint we make a deeply personal connection.
In 2006 on the feast day of St. Thomas I considered the doubt that existed in the world then. I considered what I read in the news of increasingly vocal opposition to belief, and moved by that opposition and unbelief I wrote to it. My point of view hasn't changed really at all: belief is now challenged more than ever it seems. In way that may seem strange to many Christian believers I tend to identify deeply with Thomas the doubter, and I identify with those who have a hard time believing. I think we tend to believe in the wrong things while we overlook the most obvious. If there has been a patron saint in my life it will mostly likely turn out to be St. Thomas the Apostle before any of the other noble inspirations I might mention here.
As with my earlier post, I still believe in looking beyond the empirical objective world for the deepest realities. I believe in and I look to qualitative experiences of the lifeworld, the "down and dirty" and "nitty-gritty" of life, to find the stuff of faith. For me faith can't be so much about the things that demand scientific proofs, rather faith is about life as it is experienced. If faith is about merely believing, about blindly accepting and following--without questioning, reflecting, or grappling with doubt--then I would be among those whose doubts are overwhelming. I might count myself among the unbelievers. However, I am a believer and I believe that life offers evidence daily in itself for what I believe in.
While opposition to Christianity in our world seems stronger than ever, the greatest challenges to faith don't necessarily come from anti-Christian or atheistic claims. The greatest opposition comes from our willingness to take hold of what is false and our unwillingness, perhaps our fear, to seek out the truth with clarity. It comes from our unwillingness to search beneath the surface and explore the deepest layers of experience. Faith is about having the courage to hang on when there aren't any readily available answers on the surface at the moment.
In 2006 I hinted in my post that there is a problem with being both an ideologue and a believer. The two are in opposition to one another. I hinted that we have to move beyond legalistic and political positions. Well here we are in 2012 and we aren't necessarily better off. I look around and I see those who claim to have faith battling those who they see as their opponents with politics and legalistic religion. We seem to want to put out the fire by pouring gas on it. Instead of faith we choose dogma. Instead of looking to the world and passion of human life we look to the dead letter of the law. Instead of Jesus, Christians choose politics. Humanity--like that of Christ--with all its earthiness, tends to be looked to last when we consider the stuff of faith. I think this is a huge mistake. It is part of the dupe of all dupes.
A few years ago when I learned of the doubts that Mother Teresa reportedly had in her life I was concerned. Now at this point in my life I am no longer worried about it so much. Doubt is part of belief and I actually would seriously question the faith of one who claimed to have never doubted.
Indeed our world offers us a great deal to be doubtful about, though often it is in a negative and unhealthy way. Unfortunately sometimes the public expression of our faith, our religion, also offers us plenty to be doubtful about. Whenever certain quarters of Christianity begin to demand fanatic following; when so-called faith begins to demand ideological or political allegiance; when it overlooks the experiences of real-life people caught up in real-life struggles, then how can we help but feel a temptation to doubt and even to walk away in despair?
It's really no coincidence that I write this post on the eve of Independence Day after a long hiatus from blogging anything but an occasional homily. For me the greatest enemy of true Christianity is and always has been the idols we place before having faith in that which truly should be the ground of all we believe: the Holy.
We make our idols now not in the form of wood and stone, but in the form of nation, party, and ideology. We tend to elevate our ideals to the level of the things that are sacrosanct in the faith. We set aside the deeper and harder to grasp realities of belief for more concrete and graspable ideologies. We replace the word of faith with the notions of state and freedom. We place our banners and flags next to our shrine and our altars too often have become the soapbox of mere political wrangling or the places to honor and elevate ideas that are in no way equal to the mystery symbolized by those sacred places.
True belief makes certain demands or challenges on our part and we are better off by taking them. To be faithful we remain courageous when faced with challenges and doubts. We admit that we may not always have the answers. Faith asks us to take a position that might put us in a dangerous spot: it asks us to stand for truth in a time when eyes have become blind to it.
Faith demands that we have a vision of a world where there is fairness, peace, and justice, and in faith we work to bring those about. Faith demands that we take a position that may be unpopular because it doesn't lend support to the idols or the idolaters or to their ideals. Belief demands that we explore the texture of humanity, which never really comes in a neat and clean package, and that we look squarely at those things that tend to challenge us most; that is, at those things which cause us to be most fearful and most doubtful. Faith demands that we leave the idols and ideologies behind for the reality of life as we live it. Faith asks us to be honest about our deepest doubts, and faith opens a world for us where we can finally touch that which is most real.
It turns out that our greatest threats to faith, and our greatest threats to freedom--if that is what concerns us--is our all too easy willingness to accept an imitation of the real thing. We have to be like Thomas: we have to reach out and touch the humanity that has experienced the cross. We touch it by making contact with each other and especially with those who suffer. We recall that the all-in-all of our believing walked among us to teach us not to be Pharisees, scribes, or even good citizens of Rome. He came to have his hands, feet, and side pierced and he asks us to touch his humanity, and nothing aside from this will do.