Tag Archives: Doubt

Staying Strong

beach-768587_640There is something about making an extra commitment to spiritual growth, however small it may seem, that magnifies itself over time.  Any extra time spent in prayer, fasting, adoration, scripture always brings forth more fruit in our lives, whether we realize it at first or not.  And when we truly make an effort to grow closer to God, even if we miss a day of a novena or fall asleep part way through a scripture reading before bed  (even Peter, the rock on which the Church was built, wasn’t able to remain awake with the Lord as he prayed!) God know our desire to grow closer to Him and our lives are changed in some way because of it. Particularly when we are joined with others in a group prayer, retreat, etc. to draw all of us closer to Him. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them”  Matthew 18:20

Our entire lives should be based on growing closer and closer to the Lord and helping others to grow closer to Him as well that we might all be with Him in Heaven after this life here on earth.  And even the little things, the “sprouts” as a friend calls them, can come to bear great fruit over time.

However, in the midst of the joys of our spiritual growth, there is one who wants to halt our progress.  One who despises the very idea of us growing closer to the Lord and will tempt us to give up, to fall down, and to turn the other way.  In these moments of spiritual growth, we cannot fall into thinking that we are above the temptation of the devil.  In fact, it is in these moments of becoming closer and closer to Christ that we may find ourselves tempted even more.

I noticed this in my own life yesterday.  I am currently partway through a 54-Day Rosary novena with a wonderful group of people.  Already I have noticed wondrous blessings.  I have seen the seeds of my prayers begin to “sprout”.  And just Tuesday morning I received some wonderful news in answer to a prayer regarding my health and fertility.  While I am not yet pregnant, this little “sprout” of faith filled me with joy and thanksgiving to see God working in my life.

The joy I felt on Tuesday was momentarily taken away on Wednesday.  You see, Wednesday morning I found out that due to circumstances beyond our control, it appeared that we may need to wait another month in our struggle to conceive.  This may seem like a minor thing (after all in the grand scheme of things what is one more month?) but I assure you it hit me hard.  I cried.  I was angry.  I was frustrated.  I was confused.  All the blessings I had experienced even just one day earlier no longer seemed like blessings.  Instead, they fueled my frustration.  Why would God give me this “blessing” only to show me the next day that it wouldn’t even be worth it?  The past several years of trying, the multitude of tests, the surgery just last month, why did any of it even matter? These were the thoughts that raced through my head throughout most of the day.  It wasn’t until much later that I stopped to actually think about what I was doing and I felt ashamed of my behavior.

How could I doubt in the Lord?  How could I have possibly twisted the wondrous blessings I had been given so far into something to throw back at God?  How could I be angry with the Father who loves me just because His wondrous and Almighty plan didn’t fit in perfectly with what I had decided my own time frame should be?  How in the world did I go from being so joyous and thankful to this?

I went to bed trying to focus on the blessings and trust in His plan rather than my own.  I woke up feeling rested and rejuvenated.  When I said my prayers this morning, including my Rosary novena, it hit me.  Just like that I had allowed the temptation of the devil to sneak into my time of spiritual growth.  Surely I could have resisted better.  But such is the nature of humanity.  We fall prey to such temptations  at times.  Instead of remaining strong, I fell into the temptation to doubt my Lord.  To refuse to look at the blessings He has given me and to instead focus on what I thought I wanted instead.

I gave into the temptation and allowed myself to momentarily slide backwards.  But oh how I am blessed!  Through the support and strong faith of my loving husband, through my prayers and sincere desire to grow closer to Him, and surely through the prayers of my brother and sisters in Christ who are praying alongside me, I realized what I was doing.  And I chose to stop.  I could have continue to fall backwards.  To give further and further into temptation.  To stop the novena, to give up on my prayers, and to let anger, jealousy, and fear control me.  But Mother Mary heard my prayers and gently pulled me from my brief fall backwards and directed me once again toward her Son.

The devil is real.  He despises when we grow closer to our loving God.  And the closer and closer we get, we might find ourselves facing temptation more and more.  We must not give in!  And if we find that we have failed, we need not despair!  No matter what setbacks we may face, we can always turn our steps back towards the Lord!

Prayer is oh so very powerful.  But we need to be mindful that God is not a magic genie.  We do not say the “magic words” of a prayer to have our wishes instantly granted.  No.  Prayer is a loving conversation with Christ wherein we open our hearts to Him, thank Him for all He has given us, and ask for His guidance in our journey to be more like Him.

So if in your own spiritual journey you find yourself tempted to give up when your prayers seem to be “unanswered”, whether it is during a novena or retreat or simply in your own prayer life, stay strong! Pray for the strength to remain focused on Christ and pray for each other as we continue on this journey toward Heaven.  If you feel yourself beginning to slip, ask the Lord to create a clean heart within you that you might resist temptation and remain close to Him.  Stay strong in faith and trust in the Lord and He will never leave you.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely on your own insight.” Proverbs 3:5 

Walking on Water

“After he had fed the people, Jesus made the disciples get into a boat and precede him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds.  After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening he was there alone. Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them walking on the sea. When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified.  “It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear. At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught Peter, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”  After they got into the boat, the wind died down. Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”  (Matthew 14:22-33)

387px-Brooklyn_Museum_-_Saint_Peter_Walks_on_the_Sea_(Saint_Pierre_marche_sur_la_mer)_-_James_Tissot_-_overallBeing out at sea tossed by the waves with the wind howling all around, the disciples are understandably afraid.  Seeing the Lord walking out on the water does not immediately alleviate their fears but instead terrifies them even more as they mistake Jesus for a ghost!  Peter wants proof that this man walking on the water towards him is in fact Jesus. Peter wants to trust God.  He asks for proof that this really is the Lord.  And when Jesus replies “Come,” Peter follows His instruction without hesitation. Peter does trust Him!  He trusts in Jesus so much so that he leaves the boat to go out onto the water with the wind whipping around him.

Peter’s faith in leaving the boat is quite strong.  But once He takes His eyes off of Christ and sees the wind whipping around him, he begins to panic and sink.  Even in his moment of doubt and panic, he still trusts in the Lord’s saving power, “Lord, save me!”

What makes this Gospel reading so relatable to me is that I can feel Peter’s struggle within myself.  I feel within me the desire to fully trust, to completely give it up to the Lord without any fear or doubt.  Being completely honest, there are times when I am too afraid to even leave the boat, let alone calmly walk on the water.  I see myself time and time again giving into the fears and doubts when I take my eyes off Christ and try to reason things out for myself.  I want to walk out on that water.  But, like Peter, I have a hard time keeping my mind off the winds and waves that surround me.

Peter, despite his flaws, was given the keys to heaven and was the rock upon which Christ built His Church (Matthew 16:17-19).  Despite his doubts, despite his denial, despite his fears, he still trusted in the Lord and the Lord saw the faith that was in Peter’s heart.  Even though Peter panicked while out on the water, in the midst of that panic he still called out to the Lord.  He knew his own trust was weak.  But as he felt himself starting to sink, he did not thrash about and try to save himself.  Instead, he called out to the Lord who immediately reached out His hand to save him.

We will all face fears and doubts in our life, just as Peter and the disciples did.  When we find ourselves scared to leave the boat, we need to pray for help in trusting the Lord.  We need to take the leap and jump out of our comfort zone to follow Him when He calls to us.  And when we find ourselves faltering and about to sink, we need to realize that God is always there by our side.  He will not leave us to drown.  Rather than relying on our own understanding to solve the problems and fears we face, we need to call out to God to save us and steady our steps.

God is always there even when we are too wrapped up in fear and doubt to realize it.  He knows our hearts, knows our desires, knows our fears.  Oh how I would love to have faith so strong that I would leap from the boat and stroll out without the slightest of doubts. Let us pray that our faith might grow and be strengthened so that not only do we jump willingly out of the boat but that we stay on top of the water, eyes focused on Christ, fully trusting in Him despite the winds that rage about us, knowing all the while He will always be there to catch us if we fall.

Image: “Saint Peter Walks on the Sea” by James Tissot

Beyond the Doubt

In the Gospel this Sunday we read the familiar story of “Doubting Thomas.”  How Jesus appeared to the disciples in the upper room when Thomas was not with them.  How, upon hearing the disciples recount had they had seen the Lord, Thomas did not believe them.  How he demanded visible proof, to see the Risen Lord and to touch His wounds.

Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them.  Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”  Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:26-28)

Despite the reputation Thomas has as a doubter, he was certainly not the only one to doubt.  Throughout Jesus’ life, they all took turns doubting. 

When the crowds of 5,000 were gathered and grew hungry the disciples try to urge Jesus to send them off for food. But Jesus instead replies “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” (Mt. 14:16-17)  They did not immediately believe that simply because Jesus said He would feed them, it would happen.  They doubted.

Later that evening out on the boat, Jesus calls Peter to walk out to Him on the water.   But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Mt. 14:30-32)  Peter doubted too.

But in both of these instances, the doubt is replaced with a renewal of faith. When the 5,000 are fed, the miracle is so wondrous that twelve baskets are leftover!   And after Jesus catches Peter and they are safely on the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (Mt. 14:42-43).

If we stop reading at the doubt, we miss out on so much!  If the familiar story of the feeding of 5,000 ended with doubt, we would hardly pay it notice.  Jesus was speaking to crowd, they grew hungry, Jesus wanted to feed them but the disciples thought it impossible.  The end.  Or what about Peter?  He began to doubt and sink in the water.  And that’s it?  No.  We must go beyond the doubt.

Throughout our lives we may be faced with doubt.  But we cannot let our stories end with the doubt!  We need to look past the doubts that the devil tries to weave into our minds.  We know that Jesus is Lord!  Let us pray for our faith to be strengthened so that when we are faced with doubt we can look past them and, like Thomas, cry out with all our hearts, “My Lord and my God!”

The Verge of Broken

It’s the point right before a breakdown.  The point where you are still holding it all together but your mind is racing and you just don’t know how much more you can handle. It might be a hectic schedule, lack of sleep, deadlines, financial woes, relationship problems, or any number of things.  You deal with them as they pop up but they don’t seem to fully leave.  Instead, all these problems, the big and the small, pile up on top of each other until the weight is so great that just one tiny pebble of worry or a single grain of doubt will send you crumbling beneath it all.   It’s the verge of a complete meltdown.  The verge of feeling completely broken inside.  And the devil loves it.

The devil loves to see us piling on worldly trouble after worldly trouble.  He likes to see our lives become so hectic that we neglect time with God in prayer. He wants to watch us become so weighed down by it all that we feel broken.  Like a failure.  Like we aren’t important.  Aren’t needed.  He waits for us to tip over the edge and go crashing down.  And then he swoops in with his evil lies.  Lies about how we’ve failed.  Lies about God abandoning us.  Lies about where to turn next.

But there is One far greater than the devil and that is our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  He doesn’t fill us with lies or drag us down, but instead lifts us up.  Instead of waiting for us to fail and watching us crumble, He reaches out His hand to us to help us through it.  To show us where to turn next.

One place we can always turn is the Table of the Lord.  Through the astounding miracle of the most Holy Eucharist at each Mass, we are experience the True Presence of Christ.  Not a symbol, but truly and wondrously the Precious Body and Blood of Our Lord. What an amazing gift we have been given!  Despite our sins, despite our failures, our Lord died for us.  Through Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament and through Holy Communion, we are able to spend time with Christ in a very real, very personal, way.  This time spent with God through the Eucharist is the lifeline that pulls us from the edge.  By attending Mass weekly and participating in this most sacred Sacrament, we renew our spirits and are pulled back to His arms.  The Eucharist is love, peace, and healing.  We may feel like we are on the verge of breaking, but our God will not let us fall.  We are never so broken that He cannot heal us.  

Life is full of troubles.  Some big and some small.  God does not promise us that this life will be easy.  But He is there for us through it all, waiting to relieve our troubles and lighten our load.  He comes to us through the wonder of the Holy Eucharist to fill our spirits with His love, His hope, His joy, and His peace.  The Eucharist contains a love so pure and so strong that it chases away the fears, the doubts, and all the troubles the devil wants us to dwell on.  Jesus cleanses our spirits, renews our minds, and refreshes our souls. The devil wants to break us down.  But the Lord wants to lift us up!  Our God wants to relieve us of our worries and troubles that weigh on us.  Our loving Father rescues us from the verge of brokenness and fills us with His wondrous and everlasting love.

True Faith

When it comes to faith, we are all on a journey.  Everyone struggles with faith in one aspect or another at some point in their lives.  And we all constantly strive to have a deeper faith in God. Sometimes it can be difficult to know where to focus our faith when we have reached a rough spot.  Whether it is an answer to prayers for a loved one to be well, for work, for food, for relief from financial troubles, in times of hardship we seem to be desperate for answers from God.  Jesus tells us that if we have faith even the size of a mustard seed we can move mountains (Luke 17:6).  We are also told by Our Lord that if we ask, we shall receive (Luke 11:9).  When we look at these verses, it can be easy to fall into thinking that is we do not get what we want, maybe our faith isn’t strong enough.  Or worse, it can sometimes cause people to doubt the very existence of God. 

When we begin to see this pattern of doubt in our faith, we need to remember what Jesus taught us to do when we are faced with temptation.  Jesus, too, was tempted.  Sometimes it is easy to think of temptation as something that is more concrete or physical.  It is easy to identify temptation when it is something like the temptation to steal, to lie, to gossip. But the devil can tempt us to doubt.  This is what we see when Jesus was tempted in the desert.  Jesus is tempted by the devil to throw Himself down and trust that angels will save Him.  Jesus answers this temptation by saying, “It is also written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” (Matthew 4:7).  When we are praying for a specific answer, do we put God to the test?

There was a story in the news this past week about a pastor who handled snakes. (read the article here: http://www.kansascity.com/2012/06/01/3637443/veteran-snake-handling-pastor.html)  In Matthew 16: 17-18, Jesus tells us that those who truly believe will drive out demons, speak in tongues, pick up snakes with their hands, and drink poison but not be harmed.  With these verses as his motivation, this pastor took his congregation to a park area and began to handle a poisonous snake.  The snake bit him and the man died. This man had faith in God.  But he was also testing Him.   

When we are facing tough times, it is important to pray for a strengthening of true faith.  Faith not only in what we want, but faith in God’s perfect timing. We may believe that our prayers need to be answered in a certain way and at a certain time.  And God has told us that we can ask and we will receive an answer.  Our faith needs to be strong.  Not so we can test God and guarantee we get the response we want.  Our faith needs to be strong enough so that when we ask God for something, when we knock on His door, we are willing and open to what may be on the other side.  We need to pray for the faith to ask God, and then receive His answer with the knowledge that God’s plan is far greater than our own. 

1 Corinthians 13:13 tells us that “These three remain: faith, hope, and love.  The greatest of these is love.”  Why is the greatest love?  Because love is what makes faith and hope even possible.  God is love.  Only by loving the Lord, Our God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind (Matthew 22:37) can we experience the fullness of the faith and hope that comes from Christ alone.  When we open up our hearts to God, when we empty out our souls to be filled by Him alone, when we focus our minds on prayer and praise to our Loving Father, we allow the Holy Spirit to move within us and to fill us with a deeper faith.  A true and living faith to believe and trust in God in all circumstances and to trust that His plan for us is greater than anything we could ever imagine.

Was Judas Doomed to Betray Jesus?

In recently discussing the scripture surrounding Holy Week with my sister, we got on the topic of Judas.  Why did he do what he did?  And did he have a choice?

Judas was one of the 12 apostles of Christ.  He was one of the people closest to our Lord.  So why did he betray Jesus?  When we look at the time leading up to the crucifixion, we see a lot of turmoil.  Riots had become commonplace events.  Those in power were struggling to prove to Rome that they had control of the events taking place. Jesus had already attracted negative attention by those who disagreed with His beliefs or who felt threatened by the power He held.  In Luke 22:1-6 we read:

“Now the feast of the Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was drawing near, and the chief priests and the scribes were seeking a way to put Him to death, for they were afraid of the people.  Then Satan entered into Judas, the one surnamed Iscariot, who was counted among the Twelve, and he went to the chief priests and the temple guards to discuss a plan for handing Him over to them.  They were pleased and agreed to pay him money.  He accepted their offer and sought a favorable opportunity to hand Him over to them in the absence of a crowd.” 

In Matthew 26: 14-16 we read another, shorter account of Judas approaching the authorities:

“Then one of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What are you willing to give me if I hand Him over to you?’  They paid him thirty pieces of silver, and from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand Him over”

Let’s move ahead a bit to Matthew 26:20-25:

“When it was evening, He reclined at the table with the Twelve.  And while they were eating, He said, ‘Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.’  Deeply distressed at this, they began to say to Him on after another, ‘Surely it is not I, Lord.’ He said in reply, ‘He who has dipped his hand into the dish with me is the one who will betray me. The Son of Man indeed goes, as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed. It would be better for that man if he had never been born.’  Then Judas, his betrayer, said in reply, ‘Surely it is not I, Rabbi?’   He answered, ‘You have said so.'”

There are several key points in this passage.  The first I would like to look at is this: each of the Twelve asks if they are the one who will betray Jesus.  Here is the difference.  One after another they all ask “Surely it is not I, Lord?”  Judas asks the question in a different way.  He asks, “Surely it is not I, Rabbi?”  The other eleven refer to Jesus as Lord.  They verbally acknowledge that He truly is their Lord and God.  Judas has not fully given himself over to the fact that Jesus is Lord.  He instead refers to Him as Rabbi.  The term rabbi means teacher.  While Judas holds Jesus in great esteem, the fact the he is the only one who approaches the question with the word Rabbi rather than Lord, alludes to the fact that Judas had doubts.   When we begin to doubt God,we open up space in our hearts for the devil to enter in.  Judas had doubts about Jesus.  He also had a deep love for money.  He chose to go to the authorities in the midst of political turmoil for the promise of money.  The doubt he had, coupled with the fears he probably held over what would happen if he was associated with Jesus, opened up room in his heart for Satan to enter in.  And he did.  Once Satan entered into his heart, he made the arrangements to betray money.  He let Satan control his actions and gave into the worldly pleasures of money.

So now that we have looked at what may have motivated Judas, the next question is, did he have a choice?  Some people read the passage of the Last Supper and think that because Jesus could already tell that Judas was going to betray Him, there was no out.  That Judas was doomed and had no choice but to betray Jesus.  I do not believe this at all.

When we talk about God, one of the words we often use us omnipresent.  The word omnipresent means always present.  God is always present.  Jesus is God and therefore is also always present.  This does not only refer to being everywhere in the present.  God is not restricted to our human confines of time.  He is present in the past, in the present, and in the future simultaneously.  The future is not set in stone because we all have been given free will by God.  He does not know who among us will fall to sin.  He knows what choices we may face and what potential consequences may follow.  But ultimately the choice is ours.  So Jesus knows what will happen if Judas goes through with his plan because he is already present in the future.  It’s a lot to wrap your mind around and we will never fully comprehend God’s omnipresence but keeping that in mind allows us to see the choice that Judas had more clearly. 

When Jesus says to the Twelve, “One of you will betray me,” He is speaking in reference to the fact that one of the Twelve already has.  Judas may not have gone through with his actions yet, but in his heart he had already betrayed Jesus by going to the authorities to arrange for His arrest.  When Jesus stated that it would be better if the betrayer had never been born, I do not believe He is saying that Judas should have never lived because his sole purpose was to betray Christ.  No.  I believe He is issuing this as a warning.  I believe He is saying to Judas in that moment, I know what is in your heart, I know what you have planned, if you go through with this, you will be filled with such sorrow and grief at what Satan will have done through you that you will wish you were dead.  Of course this is merely my interpretation, but I think it makes sense.  Judas still had the choice.  Jesus had to die for our salvation, but it could have been accomplished with another had Judas chosen differently.  I think we see another clear example of the choice Judas had in John’s account of the discussion surrounding who was the betrayer in John 13:26-27

“Jesus answered, ‘It is the one to whom I hand the morsel after I have dipped it.’  So He dipped the morsel and [took it and] handed it to Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot.  After he took the morsel, Satan entered him.  So Jesus said to him, ‘What you are going to do, do quickly.'”

Jesus says clearly that the betrayer is the one who takes the morsel after Him.  He then hands it to Judas who takes it.  Judas did not have to take the morsel.  He just heard Jesus say whoever did would be the betrayer.  And if we combine this with the passage with the other Gospel accounts, we know Jesus had already warned Judas that if he goes through with this he will wish he was never born.  Mark’s gospel even places the two statements right next to each other in Mark 14:20-21. 

Judas had already let fear, doubt, and greed open him up to the power of the devil.  In his heart, he had already betrayed Jesus.  Jesus knew this and knew that Judas was learned in the teachings that stated the Son of Man would be betrayed by a friend (Psalm 41:10.)  He knew that Judas probably felt he had no choice at this point.  And so he warned him.  And when he offered the morsel to Judas, Judas was filled with doubt and fear and allowed Satan to again enter into him.  Once the devil was inside him, he takes the morsel to finalize his intent of betrayal.

Jesus loved Judas.  Even when Judas comes to Jesus in the garden to arrest Him, Jesus greets him Friend (Matthew 26:50.)  Jesus came into the world to save us all.  He doesn’t want any of us to fall to sin.  He gave his very life to save us from sin!  Certainly He did not do this only to condemn his friend to sin without any chance of redemption.  Jesus, because He is God, is omnipresent and knew what God’s plan was.  He knew what was in the heart of Judas and knew that Judas was being used by Satan.  He tried to warn him but his heart was hardened and his will was weakened.  Judas knew after seeing Jesus condemned that what he had done was wrong. Matthew 27:3-10 tells us that he regretted his actions and even tried to return the money and tell that Jesus truly was innocent.    So filled with grief and remorse, Judas ran away and killed himself.

The story of Judas is a sad one.  It is easy to look at the story in brief and say ‘Oh Judas was a terrible person he betrayed Christ.’ But when we look at it more closely we see a man tormented by fear and doubt who succumbed to the devil.  We see a man who, even though he was warned, went through with the betrayal as Satan worked through him and despised what he had become enough to kill himself.  How many times do we doubt God and His will for our lives?  How many times are we afraid and do not place out trust completely in God?  How many times do we turn to money and material things instead of focusing on heavenly treasures?  How many times do we open ourselves up to the devil?  Certainly we have been warned.  We know what is good and what is bad.  Judas was unable to shake the hold that the devil had on him.  We have the chance to choose for ourselves what path we take.  We have to remain strong in the Lord.  We must heed the warnings we have been given and strive to place all our trust in the Lord so that there is no room for the devil in our lives.  The devil is very real and will try to steer us away from God.  Through prayer and faith in the Lord, we can resist his temptation and live with our Lord in heaven for all eternity.