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Go beyond the shadow of doubt and find life

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By Fran Salone-Pelletier, Religion Columnist

 So often we have allowed doubt to cast a shadow on our faith. We let it tinge credence with incredulity, casting the gloom of uncertainty upon the grace of certitude — causing distress and dismay to dog our steps and burden our spirits. We are shaken, but not to the core. To try to dismiss doubt summarily — banishing it to the darkest corner we can find — does no good. Somehow it surfaces when we least suspect and we are, once again, ill at ease.

I would suspect that, instead of dismissal, we need to confront doubt head-on. We need to go beyond the shadow of doubt and enter its darkness. We need to let it shake us to the deepest, most central, part of our being — and ask the age-old question of disciples: “What are we to do, brothers and sisters … what are we to do?”

The answer is simply profound and startlingly serious. Our task … our vocation … the goal of our life is to re-form ourselves into Jesus, the Christ … be baptized into his name … and allow the holiness of his spirit to gift us with new life. If we refuse, if we do not enter Christ’s sheepfold through the gate of radical change and try, instead, to climb in another way, we are no less than thieves and marauders!

What a harsh message! It even seems to shout exclusivity when Christianity is called to be a religion of universality, until we take a second and closer look. That inspection reveals a radical inclusivity. Once the “shepherd of the sheep” entered the gate of humanity and reopened it to the critical presence of divinity, only he … only the Messiah of humanity … is the gatekeeper. Only the Christ can command or reject admission!

Contrary to most gatekeepers whose task is to keep people out, Christ seeks their entry. He wishes to attain and maintain an intimate, personal relationship with those who are his. Like a shepherd who tends his flock day and night, in good weather and ill, Jesus the Christ “calls his own by name and leads them out.” [Jn. 10: 3]

Christ does the calling ... and the counting and the leading! Our sole … our soul’s … task is to go beyond the shadow of doubt and find the substance of God’s dominion. The only “leading” we need to worry about is that which comes through following.

In my parochial school youth, the religious sisters always admonished, “When in doubt, don’t.” Their advice was sound for young people who are not yet honed in the sacrificial fires of wisdom. As we make our choices and grow in “whole-iness,” we also learn to recognize God’s voice in the midst of all doubt. We learn not to follow the call of a stranger — no matter how enticing or pietistic the invitation may be.

One of my daughters once told me about a difficult situation that challenged her parenting skills. As I listened to her story, I heard maternal words of wisdom, as well as the anguish beneath them. I heard the voice of a mother who was trying her very best to be the sheepgate for her child. She asked her daughter to remember always the feeling in her heart that came when evil doubts tried to rob her goodness. “Remember that feeling in your heart,” she said, “and never do what that feeling tells you not to do.” In her own way, she was telling her little one to be attentive to the voice you recognize — the voice of God residing in you — and flee quickly from the strange sounds of all who would do you harm.

Go beyond the shadow of doubt … and find life.

This is the process of a lifetime. It requires our putting up with suffering for doing what is right. In fact, it calls for such passion. We are in a line of martyrs that stretches back before Christ and forward to eternity. Christ suffered for us in this way to exemplify our following in his footsteps. “He did no wrong; no deceit was found in his mouth. When he was insulted he returned no insult. When he was made to suffer, he did not counter with threats. Instead, he delivered himself up to the One who judges justly.” [1 Pt. 2: 22-23]

There is no doubt about the Christian lifestyle, about godly living. There are no shadowy places to hide or pretend. In full Sonlight, dimness vanishes. All is seen clearly. Christians are people who do no wrong. They speak without deceit in their mouths or hearts. When insulted, they return no insult. Nor do they counter any suffering with threats or desire for retribution. Instead, the people of God deliver themselves up to the One who judges justly — and pay no heed to those who demand vengeance and desire injustice.

Jesus modeled the way for all to go beyond doubt’s shadows to find love, light, life, and truth. As it was not easy for him, so shall it not be easy for us. However, we have the assurance of his lead and need, no longer, wander in the wilderness. At one time, we were straying like sheep looking for pasture in dangerous places. Uncertainty plagued us. Now we know that salvation rests upon our return to the shepherd. In him, with him, and through him, we are secure and safe. He will find the best place for us to feed. He will do the foraging for us. We have only to enter through him, follow, and be fed.

Going beyond the shadow of doubt brings us to the shalom of sanctity. There we taste and see how good God is. There we realize the divine presence that has always been with us. Going beyond the shadow of doubt is re-creative. It takes all fantasy out of faith and sharpens it to a faithful edge. Going beyond the shadow of doubt allows us to rest in awesome wonder in this truth: “Only goodness and kindness follow us all the days of our life; and we shall dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come.” [Ps. 23:6]

When we continue going beyond the shadow of doubt we achieve what God has always wanted, what Christ came into our world to accomplish. We have life — and have it to the full.

 

Fran Salone-Pelletier has a master’s degree in theology and is the author of “Awakening to God: The Sunday Readings in Our Lives,” religious educator, retreat leader, lecturer and grandmother of four. She can be reached at grammistfran@gmail.com.