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Our Doubts are About Ourselves

Mary Jo Tully
Chancellor, Archdiocese of Portland

Dec. 15, 2013
Third Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 35:1-6a, 10
James 5:7-10
Matthew 11:2-11

When I was in college, a priest-professor must have worried about the tenuous state of his students’ faith. Again and again, he assured us, that faith to be faith has to be able to engage in doubt. Throughout the years, I have remembered those words and until recently I thought that the doubt about which he spoke was doubt about God. I kept waiting for that time when I wouldn’t be sure that there is a God or that I would waver in my conviction that God loves me. That day did not come. But there was a day of reckoning—a time when my faith had to engage in doubt, doubt about myself rather than God. It wasn’t the doubt I expected.

An accident, an illness, or just the process of aging may prompt an individual to look at life from a new perspective. Does my life have worth? Have I made a difference? Have I made the right choices? These are questions each of us needs to ask at times and sometimes we are not sure about the answers.

In today’s Gospel, John sends his followers to Jesus to ask a question: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Some have said that the question was being asked to direct John’s disciples to Jesus. I suspect that the reason for the question is more complicated.

Confronting our own mortality is difficult and John is in prison. He knows that he will die soon. He looks at his own life and begins to wonder. Through the years he has announced the coming of the Messiah. John's preaching was difficult and, for most, harsh. He called his public a "brood of vipers." He told them that unless they changed their lives they would be thrown into a fire that would not die. He focused on God's anger and vengeance. Perhaps this is the message he thought the Messiah would preach.

John has been called the last of the Old Testament prophets. I am inclined to think of him as a transition prophet. He preached a message that the Jews had been hearing but he preached with a new urgency. John’s main ministry seemed to indicate that a change was coming. In fact, it was already present. In the Old Testament the sacrifice of animals conducted in the Temple in Jerusalem was the way to cleanse sin. John proclaimed the need for repentance, baptism and confession of sins as the new way. And then—along came Jesus announcing a welcome to the prodigals, rejoicing over finding one lost sheep, talking to Samaritans. So John had his doubts. Was this the Messiah? And, more profoundly, has my life been without meaning?

Yes, faith must be prepared to engage in the doubts we have about ourselves. The answers to those questions are still found in the Paschal Mystery. They are found in the One who is always coming.

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