As we continue to celebrate the season of Christmas, when we recall the great gift of the Incarnation, it is good for us to consider some ideas raised by Rose Murphy in her article in the December 26th National Catholic Reporter.
She is struggling with her faith. She rejects many teachings of the Church, yet still feels connected to the Church. While I certainly do not agree with her rejections of these doctrines, I want instead to focus on the nature of faith, reason, obedience, and journey.
Murphy writes this:
Impossible now to recapture that ardent, unquestioning faith I had as a child, and into adulthood: that Christ was physically present in communion, that I had a special guardian angel, that certain prayers chipped away at Purgatory time. Even after outgrowing those fantasies, I continued to keep a core faith in the larger Church tenets: that Jesus was the Son of God, that he died for my sins, that I was preparing for an afterlife where I would see God and presumably my parents and all those who had gone before me. Today all of that doctrine is hazy to me, not so much rejected as irrelevant. I know now that humans can never penetrate the idea of God; certainty is – and has always been -- an illusion.
It is saddening that she feels that the Real Presence in the Eucharist is a "fantasy" and "irrelevant." She believes that Jesus is the Son of God (which is probably most explicitly depicted in the Gospel of John) but does not acknowledge his Eucharistic theophany (also explicitly described in the Gospel of John in the Bread of Life discourse in Chapter 6).
Murphy goes on to say, "More and more, I see Christ as a rebel, an advocate for the poor, an agitator, an outsider who spoke truth to power and paid the ultimate price for it." While Jesus certainly is these things, Murphy is reducing Jesus to a human savior, much as the kind many of the Jewish faithful were expecting when Jesus came to overturn their expectations. However, Jesus turned out to be bigger than their (and our) conceptions of God.
Murphy still feels the tug of faith despite her doubts and rejections:
Intellectually, I can reject much of the Catholic Church, but emotionally it reels me in whenever I wander from it. I am still nourished by certain Mass rituals: the Prayers of the Faithful (with touching reminders of so much pain among my neighbors), the Sign of Peace and the communal grasp of another hand, the preparations for Eucharist, and the walk up the aisle to receive communion. Just what am I receiving? I know the act of communion matters to me, feeling the host on my tongue is significant, but I don’t know why.
I have sympathy for Murphy at this stage in her faith journey because this is the point I was at about ten years ago when I returned to the Church after almost a decade and a half in atheism. The Mass was like a magnet to me, even though I did not understand why. I went back to Mass before I believed in God again. I felt drawn. I have since come to understand that there is not a dichotomy between faith and reason, between the intellect and the emotions.
I moved from the place where Murphy is now to where I am today (and I still have far to go in growing closer to God), not by my own virtue, but by faith given to me as a gift which at some point I finally had the good sense to accept, even when I didn't fully understand the gift. And I never will fully understand the gift. The Eucharist is probably the supreme example of a matter of faith that is impenetrable through reason (whereas many other doctrines of the Church are very accessible to reason). Catholicism is a wonderful blend of mystery and sense, the spiritual and the physical.
Towards the end of her article, Murphy says that she sees "Christ as a symbolic son of God" and that "Receiving the spiritual nourishment of communion then becomes a reminder of so many people who lack food or the means to acquire it. " I cannot believe in such a small, banal god as that.
Because I have been on the part of the road of faith where Murphy is now, I know that God can bring her further down it. Tonight, when my children and I prayed a decade of the Rosary, I said a prayer for Rose Murphy to grow in her faith, to see that reason and emotion can lead her to embrace the Church's doctrines. May she pray, too, that we will grow further in our faith.