A Catholic Monthly Magazine

The Mystery of Faith

Fr Kevin Bates sm

Now and then we hear stories of parishioners and others whose workmates and friends are astonished that they go to church regularly and that they actually believe in God, in what the Church teaches and stands for, and further, that they claim some kind of relationship with God through Jesus.

The presence of faith bewilders many people. The presence of faith is very confronting to those in whose lives faith plays no part. They are often people, generous in their own way, with a sense of what is right, just and true, and for whom God has no part to play in the equation of their lives.

We will perhaps hear them reaching for arguments that discredit the possibility of faith in order to shore up their own view of the world. Sometimes they will look on people of faith with admiration. Sometimes they will be hell-bent on discrediting with logical argument, everything for which a person of faith stands.

When Church people are exposed as being flawed, inconsistent and even evil in their actions, then some people seem all too ready to condemn the whole Church as being fraudulent and meaningless. Our sin at this time is certainly on public display for all to see and such perception is very understandable. As well, for those who profess no faith, faith is something beyond belief!

For people who profess belief in God, faith is sometimes a comfort, a support, a reassurance that life has some kind of ultimate meaning. For people who make faith central to their life’s story, this faith will also involve suffering, doubt, questions and darkness.

Rear view of young businessman looking at faith door

How can we be sure there is a God? How can the stories in the gospel possibly have some truth in them? They seem so far-fetched. What if my life of faith-filled living turns out to be a big mistake? What then? Am I sure what I really believe?

These and similar questions are pretty-much universal for us as we bump into life’s dilemmas, as we are confronted by the more significant sufferings that life brings, as we grow older and are left wondering about the things we believed so easily when we were younger.

It’s all right to believe in a loving God on a good day, but what about when things are going badly for me? God doesn’t seem so user-friendly then!

Some of our great mystics have referred to this experience of questioning and doubt as “darkness of faith,” or “the dark night of the soul.”

Some kind of ‘dark’ experience is the lot of every believer at some time or another. The great saints attest to this and tell us that to grow in our faith, we need to go through this experience which somehow purifies, refines and reshapes the world of our faith. This experience calls us to move from our control tower, our head, to listen to the deeper truth hidden in our heart, “the mystery hidden for all ages” as St Paul would call it.

This mystery of faith requires more than some kind of intellectual assent. Our parishioner Chris O’Brien who died in 2009, wrote in his book that towards the end of his life he had decided to “put aside my questions and simply trust.”

Jesus on the Cross does the same thing after crying out to God in anguished abandonment, then surrenders himself into the hands of the mystery who is God.

This surrender is no passive despairing surrender, but a gentler trusting embrace of the mystery of love that is at the end of the day, beyond words and deeper than any suffering.

When we limit our view of things to the limits of our own intelligence and point of view, faith is not possible. When we dare look beyond, then who knows what life and love are waiting there for us?

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