Among the most influential books I’ve ever read was a small one by the name of Lightning Meditations, written by the late Monsignor Ronald Knox, a mid-20th century English convert to the Catholic faith. In this little gem of a book filled with short and easily digestible chapters, he expressed his views on the bible and the teachings of the Church in a refreshingly new and different way. He did that with regard to the Gospel passage we just heard again today.
Msgr. Knox was sure that Jesus was not scolding Thomas for not believing in his resurrection, as we might have been assuming that he was. He felt that Jesus was merely stating a matter of fact: namely, that there are two categories of believers: those who find it easy to accept mysterious, unexplainable religious teachings and accounts of supernatural happenings told to them on good authority. That doesn’t make them gullible fools who would believe you if you said you saw a cow jump over the moon; but their respect for authority is so deep and trusting that it just doesn’t occur to them that what is proposed for their acceptance could be either false or deceptive.
I imagine that this is the faith that most of us were raised in. It certainly was the faith imparted to us in our parochial schools and from the pulpits of our parish churches. We learned that it was not our place to question or waver the slightest bit in our belief.
But then, Msgr. Knox went on to say, there is another category of believers, and these are the good people whose inquisitive minds are constantly looking for proof of absolutely everything. For them, Knox reminded us, religious faith can be extremely difficult and appear to them as a kind of intellectual suicide.
They are not sinners or infidels. They are not being obstinate in their refusal to believe or impertinent in entertaining their doubts. That simply is the way they are, and we can only praise them for their integrity. There are countless persons of good will in this category. I know a lot of them.
Msgr. Knox assured them that there is a special reward reserved for them, who have to throw back their shoulders and trudge forward in a faith they find in some ways so hard to hold on to. Often enough — need I tell you? — I find myself among them. The Church has never claimed to be infallible in everything it teaches, and she acknowledges that there is great wisdom among the people that comes also from the Spirit of God and sometimes is closer to the actual truth than what the official teaching in a matter of faith or morals may be at a particular time. It is the duty of authority to tap that wisdom and eventually make it available to all. Good bishops do precisely that.
In such a case, the sincere, faithful, patient doubter renders an important service to the whole Church because often faith grows under the stimulus of honest doubt.
But the point here is that belief cannot be forced or commanded or imposed; either we believe because we see reason to, or we do not believe because we see reason not to. We must do our best always to be open to the truth, whatever it is and from wherever it comes. But, in any event, our baptismal commitment means that we will be faithful to Christ in the community of the Church, where we will try to resolve our doubts with open hearts and minds, with humble prayer, with respectful attention to our appointed teachers, with trustful sharing, and above all, with charity to all and fidelity to the Eucharist, which, more than anything else, makes us one.