Counseling the doubtful

The Spiritual task of counseling the doubtful truly is a Work of Mercy, because it helps those who are living in the darkness of Spiritual uncertainty to see some light in their darkness. 

The parish and the diocese are essential elements in our carrying out this work. In 2012 at the Synod on Evangelization in the Vatican, bishops and other Catholics discussed how our message of hope could be shared with the people of this world. The military ordinary of Colombia, Bishop Fabio Suescun Mutis, offered remarks which are very timely for us in the Diocese of Fall River now. 

The Colombian prelate said, “The Particular Church (which is a Church term for a diocese or its equivalent) requires a pastoral plan to accomplish, in specific circumstances of place and time, the saving will of God the Father which was fulfilled completely in His Son Jesus.” 

Our diocese is now working to elaborate such a plan. Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., has mandated that every parish work on the first stage of this process this month and next by gathering information, from a central parish team and from survey results of as many parishioners as possible.

Back at the Vatican synod, Bishop Suescun noted that “the elaboration, practice and evaluation of the plan should be complete and commit the living strengths of the faithful community.” We need people to fill out these surveys so as to discover our weaknesses (so that we can work to correct them) and our strengths (so that they can be employed better for the spread of the Gospel). 

The will of our Heavenly Father is to bring all to Salvation through the agency of the Mystical Body of His Son, which is the Church. Over the last decade we have been saddened by the tremendous decline of the number of people within the boundaries of the Fall River Diocese who approach the Church for the Sacraments, Religious Education or to attend Mass. Thus, we need to diagnose the present situation so Christ, the Divine Physician, can work through us to bring healing.

Part of the problem may be doubts that people have about the Catholic Church. Doubts, in and of themselves, are not something foreign to the Christian experience. St. Paul himself wrote to the Corinthians about his own situation: “We are afflicted in every way possible, but we are not crushed; full of doubts, we never despair” (2 Cor 4:8). 

Pope Francis, in an audience on Oct. 30, 2013, spoke about the commonality of doubt: “Who among us has not experienced insecurity, confusion and even doubt on our journey of faith? We have all experienced this, myself as well. It is part of the journey of faith, it is part of our life. None of this should surprise us, because we are human beings, marked by fragility and limitations. Nevertheless, in these difficult moments it is necessary to trust in God’s help, through child-like prayer, and, at the same time, it is important to find the courage and the humility to open up to others, to ask for help, to ask for a helping hand. How often have we done this and then succeeded in emerging from our difficulty and finding God again! In this communion — communion means common-union — we form a great family, where every member is helped and sustained by the others.”

Unfortunately, it seems that for thousands of Catholics living in the Fall River Diocese the Church is not the place where they think that their doubts and challenges can be addressed. We need to find out why — which is why it is important that not just Massgoers answer the survey (your responses are crucial, but we also need you to invite your relatives and friends who do not go to Church to answer the survey, too). 

To be able to counsel the doubtful, we need to understand their experiences, so that we can apply Christ’s message of love to their particular circumstances. Pope Francis addressed this in his 2014 Message for World Communications Day. “Effective Christian witness is not about bombarding people with religious messages, but about our willingness to be available to others ‘by patiently and respectfully engaging their questions and their doubts as they advance in their search for the truth and the meaning of human existence’ (here he quoted Pope Benedict XVI).  We need but recall the story of the disciples on the way to Emmaus. We have to be able to dialogue with the men and women of today, to understand their expectations, doubts and hopes, and to bring them the Gospel, Jesus Christ Himself, God Incarnate, Who died and rose to free us from sin and death.  We are challenged to be people of depth, attentive to what is happening around us and Spiritually alert.  To dialogue means to believe that the ‘other’ has something worthwhile to say, and to entertain his or her point of view and perspective.”

In his apostolic exhortation on the Joy of the Gospel, Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis reminded us that we all have to work at this: “Today, as the Church seeks to experience a profound missionary renewal, there is a kind of preaching which falls to each of us as a daily responsibility. It has to do with bringing the Gospel to the people we meet, whether they be our neighbors or complete strangers. This is the informal preaching which takes place in the middle of a conversation, something along the lines of what a missionary does when visiting a home. Being a disciple means being constantly ready to bring the love of Jesus to others, and this can happen unexpectedly and in any place: on the street, in a city square, during work, on a journey” (No. 127).

A little further on (in No. 129) the pope spoke of “countries where Christianity is a minority.” That reality has already come to a few of the counties of our diocese. Pope Francis said that in those places “particular Churches should actively promote at least preliminary forms of inculturation. This is always a slow process of which we can be overly fearful. But if we allow doubts and fears to dampen our courage, instead of being creative we will remain comfortable and make no progress whatsoever. In this case we will not take an active part in historical processes, but become mere onlookers as the Church gradually stagnates.”

© 2019 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing    †    Fall River, Massachusetts