Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church


What the Holy Father doesn’t mean

September 22nd, 2013, Promulgated by benanderson

One of the unfortunate consequences of the interview is that it left open some ambiguities for those not well versed in the faith. I’ve read through it a couple of times now and have jotted down a few quotes which could be interpreted in several different ways (even considering settled Church teaching). In areas, though, where Church teaching is clear, we at least have some boundaries of what the Holy Father does/doesn’t mean. I thought it might be worthwhile to start with one particular section that I could see might be easily misunderstood. I’m guessing this could be the case because up until a few years ago, I didn’t have a good grasp on this. Let’s start with the quote:

The great leaders of the people of God, like Moses, have always left room for doubt. You must leave room for the Lord, not for our certainties; we must be humble. Uncertainty is in every true discernment that is open to finding confirmation in spiritual consolation.

This quote at first shocked me because to doubt divine and Catholic faith is a sin. As the CCC says:

2088 The first commandment requires us to nourish and protect our faith with prudence and vigilance, and to reject everything that is opposed to it. There are various ways of sinning against faith:
Voluntary doubt about the faith disregards or refuses to hold as true what God has revealed and the Church proposes for belief. Involuntary doubt refers to hesitation in believing, difficulty in overcoming objections connected with the faith, or also anxiety aroused by its obscurity. If deliberately cultivated doubt can lead to spiritual blindness.

It is a common misnomer today when people say things like, “there is no faith without doubt – the two go hand in hand”. Or some people might think, “well, I believe Catholicism because that’s how I was raised. I could certainly be wrong about all this. My Mormon friend seems just as sure of his faith, so there’s a decent chance I might be wrong to think Catholicism is true.” These are false and dangerous understandings of faith. So, that’s obviously NOT what Pope Francis is talking about. He is not talking about doubting the Catholic Faith. He is not suggesting that we should doubt that Jesus is Lord and that the Catholic Church is the one true way to salvation. No, that’s not what he’s suggesting at all. I’m not going to claim I know for sure what he does mean, but I’ll take a guess. I *think* what he means is in matters of our own lives (in discernment) that we should leave open the possibility that we might not know with certainty what God is asking us to do in certain situations. For instance a situation where a job opportunity presents itself in another state. Should you move your family so that they’ll be in a better position financially or do you stay put so as not to uproot them? I often hear people say something like, “I prayed about it and I feel at peace that I know this is what God wants of me.” I’ve rarely felt like that if ever (at least in matters outside of divine and Catholic faith), but I’ve left open the possibility that God does reveal such things to people. It sounds to me like that Holy Father is suggesting we be careful in situations like these not to confuse our own desires and intentions with God’s will for us. That’s just a guess and one way to possibly interpret what he said (and I could certainly be wrong about that ;-)). But the reason for the post is to make it clear that the Holy Father does not want us to doubt our Catholic faith.


5 Responses to “What the Holy Father doesn’t mean”

  1. avatar Dominick Anthony Zarcone says:

    I agree.

  2. avatar Jim says:

    Your assessment sounds pretty reasonable to me, Ben. I think that in this current matter of the Holy Father’s statements, it’s important to agree that we can ALL agree on certain common grounds.

  3. avatar DanielKane says:

    Any statement, on any matter be it religious or nuclear physics, can be taken out of context by persons formally ignorant of the definitions and nuances of the terms – as you have clearly pointed out.

    Likewise, (putting on my physicist hat) if you said that you banged your head and are seeing double and I replied “a CT would do you some good” (which is admittedly loose language – but we all speak like that). That does not imply that (a) radiation is good for your (b) the radiation will cure your double vision. Yet, this statement is correct – the CT will rule in or out certain pathologies (the good that I imply). As an expert in this field, I am always extremely careful with what I say.

    Going back to Francis. He remains a human in a supernatural role. All the human weaknesses remain in play. Thinking in Spanish and speaking in Italian (and then having a third party translate to English) is an exercise that is ripe for confusion. Which is why all the official stuff is in Latin.

    Posts like this are very important because the people of God need to be able to say “When Francis says “Faith” he means this…” in order to effectively preach the Good News.

  4. avatar Scott W. says:

    Sometimes it helps to look a pope’s deeds rather than his words. Under Pope Francis’ watch Australian dissident priest (I’ll give you two guesses on what issues), Greg Reynolds, gets handed his walking papers:

  5. avatar Diane Harris says:

    Ben raises a very important point, and I am not going to disagree with anyone else’s interpretation. I certainly agree that we can trust in the framework of our Faith as vital to understanding and to interpreting anything which His Holiness says to us. We don’t need so much to be re-catechized continuously on the points we know and already accept; rather, we need to build on what we know, use and rely on what we’ve been taught, and leave room for God to work.

    To me, the key bible phrase which I believe applies to this situation is in Mark 9:24, after Jesus tells the father of the dying child that all things are possible to him who believes. The father replies: “I believe; help my unbelief!” The father not only testifies to his own faith, but he also admits to the imperfection of his faith, the need to be deepened in that faith. If we all had 100% perfect faith in everything, where would be our growing in the Lord? Where would be the need to stay in this life, and keep giving ourselves over to what faith demands of us? To the extent we do not do everything faith requires of us, we must have doubt, or we would do all that is required, every time. If we have just the grain of faith, of the mustard seed, that is sufficient to build on, to move mountains. (Matthew 17:20. See also Luke 17:6).

    So the idea of leaving room for doubt, I believe, is not for the purpose of challenging our faith, or accepting our inadequacies, but of challenging ourselves to accept every single point, and then to commit to asking God for the help we need to accept at a deeper level, then deeper still. I think persistent doubt is a temptation to be fought against, not indulged, and that there is merit and reward in fighting against doubt and for deepening of faith. I am specifically thinking about the Eucharistic Miracle of Lanciano, when around the year 700, a Basilian priest was plagued by doubt as to the reality of the Consecration. But he prayed to overcome his doubt, which is quite different than indulging the doubt and challenging God to prove Himself. And the bleeding host is still adored, 1200 years later. For more on this miracle and other miracles, see

    Leaving room for such doubt leaves room for God to work, to guide our minds, to heal our hearts and to give us great gifts. If we are filled with the sufficiency of ourselves, claiming a “perfect faith” we don’t leave God much to do for us. This is how I understand these words of Pope Francis.

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