For some months now, I have found myself questioning why I believe what I believe. It isn’t the first time in my life I have felt compelled to ask questions, and although the questions are not new, I know that the “answers” I seek are.
I was baptised into the Roman Catholic faith when I was six years old along with my family. I went along unquestioningly with all that I was taught, and when I was sixteen years old, I had my first deep encounter with God where I experienced Him give me unspeakable comfort during a very difficult time in my life. Then, when I was eighteen, I had another unexpected and profound experience of God speaking to me in prayer while I was at an important crossroad in my life. That encounter touched me so deeply that I remember thinking, “I don’t think I could ever doubt that God is real, and that He loves me.” I will never forget bursting into tears on the floor of my bedroom at the moment it hit me that the Creator of the universe had bothered to answer the questions of a little “nobody” like me – a random student feeling lost in life, shooting questions at God without any expectation of a response.
But it was when I was on the brink of turning twenty years old, half the world away and living on my own, that God’s invitation came to me in the form of this question: “Why are YOU Catholic, Ann?” It was a question that kept tugging at my heart. I knew God was inviting me to find out for myself – and to make my own journey of faith. It wasn’t enough to be baptised into this faith as a child, or to remain Catholic simply because I had been raised in this faith. I suddenly realised I needed to KNOW, for myself, why I am living out this growing relationship with Jesus Christ in the Roman Catholic Church.
That question set me on a quest of reading and studying. I entered into the world of Catholic apologetics and spent a small fortune acquiring books to read and digest. (This was in the late 1990s when internet access was via modem dial-up and Google was in its infancy.) I also used whatever electives I had in university to take courses in theology and church history at the St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto where I was a philosophy and psychology double major. Anyone who has started on this journey of learning about the Catholic faith would know how incredibly deep and wide the whole field of learning is, and how impossible it would be to ever come to a full understanding of what the faith is about.
All those things I had been learning affirmed me that I was indeed personally called to be part of God’s family within the Roman Catholic Church. In the meantime, even as I became intellectually convicted of being Catholic, my relationship with God was tested as it had never been before because I was unknowingly attempting to draw closer to God with a very distorted image of Him and I had traveled as far as I could have in the relationship because I could not trust Him enough to go further.
Exactly ten years ago now, I was drawn into a deep process of healing and conversion that brought me into a startling discovery that although I had already chosen to give my life to Christ, I did not really know Him (or God the Father, or the Holy Spirit). Learning about God is not the same as knowing him, and I was stunned to realise as God revealed Himself more to me that he was not the calculative, measuring, judgmental and disapproving God I subconsciously feared. Knowing about God’s unconditional love is a far, far cry from experiencing it deeply first hand, and that was what happened to me ten years ago. I had my first profound experience of the UNCONDITIONAL mercy and love of God.
Now, twenty years after God asked me “Why are you Catholic, Ann?”, I find myself being asked the same question again. But although the words are the same, the meaning of the question is different. I find myself asking, “What is it that I believe, exactly?” “Who is this God that I profess to believe in?” “What does it mean to be Catholic, really?” I find myself at a place where the answers that had carried me up to this point in my journey are no longer enough. I am once again looking for something deeper… I am seeking something more.
The closer I grow in my relationship with God, the more He reveals His heart to me, the more I realise I really don’t know him! Being in love with God is truly being in love with mystery. He cannot be grasped or understood, but He can be encountered, loved, and known by the soul in a way that the intellect alone could never comprehend. To be on the interior journey is to discover over and over again that I am earlier in the journey than I had thought I was. In the haste of my youth and zeal, I had sought to achieve spiritual maturity as quickly as possible only to learn there has been much false ground that I covered which must now be re-explored. Slowly now. Tenderly. With my focus not on some distant elusive goal of holiness but on the One who laughs and cries with me… the One who is patiently teaching me the art of being, and of being loved. The more I come to know this God I thought I knew, the less certain I become of many things I had once held firmly, but the more secure I become in who I am in Him.
So yes, I am learning to hold space for those who question their faith – including myself, and to encourage their questions because I know our questions do not threaten God. In fact, I am pretty darned sure that God is pleased when we have the boldness to question and wrestle with Him, because the Lover welcomes any engagement with the Beloved so that He can draw us deeper into relationship with Him. Oh and what a relationship that is!