Over the past few weeks, I’ve received several voicemail messages that begin, “You are immediately indicated regarding your tax filings, (long pause), from the headquarters which will get expired in the next twenty-four working hours.” The voicemail goes on to describe the many criminal penalties that will accrue to me if I do not call the phone number mentioned in the message.
From the first moment I listened to it, I had reason to doubt the authenticity of this voicemail. I wondered whether it was the headquarters, the tax filings, or the notification that would expire “in the next twenty-four working hours.” I was quite certain, however, that this message was from no agency of the U.S. government; our government doesn’t work twenty-fours a day.
I doubted the authenticity of the “tax filings” voicemail because of the clumsy use of English vocabulary and the convoluted (Yugoslavian, I’m guessing), grammar. Today’s Gospel reading says that when Jesus appeared to the Eleven in Galilee, “they worshiped, but they doubted.” (Mt. 28:17) What reason would the Eleven have had to doubt Jesus? Or themselves? Their doubt might seem strange, but it was important enough that the Gospel author included it in the text of the Gospel.
The events that cause doubts in our minds are worth examining, because those doubts can spring from a wide variety of sources. The Eleven knew that Jesus had been crucified. They had been too cowardly to remain with Jesus during his crucifixion, but they had been told about what had happened. Perhaps, they doubted that he had been raised from the dead, despite the fact that he had shared with them predictions of his passion and death. (Mt. 17:9) They might have doubted his forgiveness for their lack of faith. Perhaps, they doubted their senses or their ability to carry out his command to evangelize. These, and any other causes of doubt, can be reduced to one source within the hearts of the Eleven.
In all our relationships, we reach junctures at which the relationship seems to become stagnant or conflicted. Students have the experience of being bored with school. Employees and volunteers can feel “burned out” regarding their work. Spouses, relatives, and friends can begin to avoid spending time together. These experiences are necessary and inevitable; they indicate that it’s time for the relationship to change, grow, and strengthen.
Feelings of boredom, discouragement, or avoidance in a relationship are indications that one has outgrown the existing structure of a relationship but is afraid of moving on to a new level of intimacy. All change is daunting, even change for the better.
The Eleven “worshiped, but they doubted.” (Mt. 28:17) Their relationship with Jesus was at a turning point. It was time for them to become leaders rather than followers only. Jesus commissioned them to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19), and they were understandably afraid of the new task and the new responsibility. It was time for their relationship with Jesus to change, but they were legitimately afraid of that change.
The reluctance on the part of the Eleven should offer us both encouragement and guidance. Sometimes, it seems that God asks too much of us. At times, we might be afraid that following God’s will would require too great a sacrifice. Sometimes, we are reluctant to repent of our sins because our sinful behavior is so familiar and enjoyable. Often, we resist the experience of conversion or growth in faith because of our fear of the unknown.
These sorts of feelings are unavoidable and necessary; they are signs that it’s time for change. If you are perpetually late for engagements, it means something is asking for change in your life. If you are reluctant to forgive someone, it means the relationship needs to change and grow. If you are bored in prayer, doubtful about your faith, discouraged about some aspect of your moral life, or afraid to venture into a new charitable activity, those feelings are indications of the need for, and the direction of, change in your life.
It might be the case that you are here at Mass worshiping but doubting. That isn’t a problem; it’s an invitation to a new encounter with God. Perhaps, there is something else in your life that’s asking for attention. Where do you experience boredom, discouragement, unforgiveness, resentment, or distraction? Those feelings point directly to something that needs to grow and change.
Jesus assured the Eleven, “I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Mt. 28:20) His words gave them the strength necessary to move past their doubts and fears. It is fortunate for us that they did so. Their newly found courage and faith led them to proclaim the Gospel; their faithful proclamation brought each of us to faith. This is the compelling reason to move beyond fear and doubt: doing so always brings greater joy and encouragement.
All relationships, including our relationship with God, are affected occasionally by doubts and fears. This is uncomfortable, but necessary. In order for a relationship to grow, it must change; the obstacles to that change are clear indications of the way in which a relationship needs to grow. In our lives, the strength to move past those obstacles to growth comes from the same source that strengthened the Eleven. When faced with doubts and fears about our relationship with God, we have only to listen again to Jesus’ words, “I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Mt. 28:20)