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THE BISHOP'S CROZIER: Belief and Unbelief
Bishop James R. Golka

THE BISHOP'S CROZIER: Belief and Unbelief

By Bishop James R. Golka

I do believe, help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

In the March 15 issue of the Herald, “The Bishop’s Crozier” asked a question that has been asked for 2,000 years — a question that Jesus himself asked: “Do you believe this?”

“This” means Jesus, Easter, and hope itself. As we celebrate the Easter season, do we believe that Jesus Christ came to die for our sins and rose to give us hope?

As I reflect on the question, I think of the mural of the Transfiguration which was painted by Raphael and hangs in the Vatican museum. (The image also hangs in the church in which I was baptized, the cathedral in Grand Island, Nebraska.)

The three synoptic Gospels (Matthew 17, Luke 9, Mark 9) and the Second Letter of St. Peter (2 Peter 1) all share the account of Jesus’ Transfiguration. Mark’s account of the event, however, draws unique attention to the question of belief.

This passage in Mark’s Gospel is a rollercoaster of emotion. Peter has just declared that Jesus is the Christ.  Following this, Jesus shockingly predicts his passion and death.  Jesus then challenges us to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him.

The next event that Mark records is Jesus going up to a high mountain and being transfigured, a magnificent foreshadowing of his resurrected body, and of our resurrected bodies. This glorious Transfiguration stands in stark contrast to his recent prediction of his suffering and death.

Then what? As depicted in Raphael’s (and others’) famous painting of the Transfiguration, Jesus came down the mountain and was greeted by a crowd. Out of this crowd steps a father whose son is possessed by a mute spirit.  The father says to Jesus, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us” (Mark 9:22).  Jesus replies, “If you can! Everything is possible for one who has faith” (Mark 9:23). The father responds, “I do believe, help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). How often is this our response when Jesus tells us, “Everything is possible for one who has faith”?

The Gospel for Divine Mercy Sunday, from John 20, also touches on the question of belief in recounting the episode of “Doubting” Thomas. Remember, Thomas is one of the apostles who had walked with Jesus.  He heard Jesus speak about his coming death and resurrection.  And yet, when the other apostles report that Jesus is alive, he proclaims: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands . . . I will not believe” (John 20:25).

This unbelief on the part of “Doubting” Thomas is incredibly disappointing, but this scene is worth deeper reflection.  How would we respond, how do we respond, when we are in the place of Thomas, when we “will not believe” because God has not proven himself to us?

If we desire to respond with faith, we must first realize that faith is not something we do solely on our own.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that faith is “both a gift of God and a human act . . .”  God invites, we respond.  It is a “virtue given by God as a grace, and an obligation.” (CCC, glossary entry for “faith.”)

Faith is freely given by God; we do not merit it. But what is our obligation? It is simply this: to accept this gift, to accept the grace that gives us the strength to believe in God. This is often difficult. So what will help us to grow in faith?

First, we ask God for the grace to believe, crying out as the suffering father cried out, “I do believe, help my unbelief!” Don’t delay that prayer; pray immediately with whatever words you have.

And then, we trust.

And what might happen if we abandon ourselves to that trust?  Consider what happened to the two men from the Gospels. The father whose son needed healing? His son was healed!

And “Doubting” Thomas? When he encounters the risen Jesus, he utters what has become one of the most beautiful and simple expressions of faith: “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). Church tradition suggests Thomas’ faith carried him further than any of the apostles; as far as India, possibly as far as China. Ultimately his faith was strong enough that his martyrdom won for him eternal life with Jesus.

“Everything is possible for one who has faith.”

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