“Ask a Priest: Is It a Sin to Doubt Church Doctrines?”

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Q: Is it a sin to doubt? I have difficulty with some doctrines of the Church and often find myself doubting “their” authority. Is that a sin? I have read what their position is and why, but I still find it hard to believe. I just don’t feel any emotional contact to God/Jesus, so I have to go with logic and often times the logical answer for me just isn’t the religious message. – S.C.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It is good to distinguish between a difficulty with the faith and a doubt.

Difficulties are not uncommon. We are, after all, dealing with more than a little mystery when it comes to the things of God. John Henry Cardinal Newman famously stated, “Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt.”

Doubt is in a different realm. A number from the Catechism is worth quoting here:

2088 The first commandment requires us to nourish and protect our faith with prudence and vigilance, and to reject everything that is opposed to it. There are various ways of sinning against faith:

Voluntary doubt about the faith disregards or refuses to hold as true what God has revealed and the Church proposes for belief. Involuntary doubt refers to hesitation in believing, difficulty in overcoming objections connected with the faith, or also anxiety aroused by its obscurity. If deliberately cultivated, doubt can lead to spiritual blindness. [end quoted material]

Note that “doubt” is treated as sin. One reason why doubt is a serious matter is because it is dealing with things taught by God through his Church. If we don’t believe the Church, in effect we are questioning Christ himself, for he said, “Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me” (Luke 10:16).

But let’s step back for a moment.

Perhaps a good way to handle a difficulty about the faith is to ask ourselves a few questions.

Does it make sense that the Church, after 2,000 years, would have made a mistake on a point of doctrine?

Does it seem plausible that the Holy Spirit would let the Church commit an error for so long a time, only to reveal the truth to me in 2019?

Is it a wise assumption to think any one of us has more wisdom than the Church on this or that point of doctrine?

The Catholic faith is not unreasonable. It might be beyond the powers of normal reason to grasp, but it is not against reason. God created both faith and reason, so in strict terms there is no incompatibility between the two.

It is good to recall that our powers of reason are not perfect. We have inherited original sin, and one of its effects is that it darkens the intellect. Faith can shed light into this darkness.

Faith opens a broader horizon. The Catechism in No. 157 says:

“Faith is certain. It is more certain than all human knowledge because it is founded on the very word of God who cannot lie. To be sure, revealed truths can seem obscure to human reason and experience, but ‘the certainty that the divine light gives is greater than that which the light of natural reason gives.'”

It is also good to remember that someone is out to trip us up: the devil. He lurks in the background and loves to sow confusion in us. He knows how to play on our sense of self-sufficiency – our sense that we can figure out everything for ourselves.

In the face of a difficulty we should make an act of faith, ask the Holy Spirit for guidance, and then do more research into a topic.

Here, we need to be careful about where we are doing research. The Internet is full of sites that misstate the Catholic faith. It is important to go to reliable sources: papal documents, the Catechism, the Church Fathers, and the writings of solid theologians. Through studying sources like those, we can truly resolve many of our difficulties and strengthen our understanding and our faith.

Other factors could be involved. You mention that you don’t feel any emotional contact with Our Lord. Religion isn’t based on emotions. But it does help to think of your Catholic faith as your relationship with Jesus.

Jesus, who suffered and died for love of you, only wants the best for you. That is why he gives you the Church, its sacraments and teachings, and his own Mother to help you. This is a man you can trust.

Also, it helps in the face of doubt to step back and see how one’s spiritual and moral life and habits of prayer are going. Sometimes a person’s faith can start to weaken because of laxity in following the Commandments or in neglect of prayer.

Or sometimes a person simply exposes himself to the wrong kinds of books or websites or TV shows. Many media are laced with anti-Christian, anti-religious ideas, sometimes in subtle ways. All these can weaken a person’s faith.

It might help to cultivate your devotion to Mary. She is a great intercessor. She can win you the grace you need to make the acts of faith that are so pleasing to her Son. You might like to begin that cultivation with one of our Marian retreat guides, such as Welcoming the Word.”

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