The following is a transcript from the Raised Catholic podcast. To listen to the podcast, click here.
Today is episode 4: Is it Okay to Question?
If you were born and raised Catholic, you may have received and internalized a message about the authority of the Church and its teachings and even of its clergy and the message was this: they are not to be questioned.
And so, when you saw or heard clergy doing unthinkable things, even evil things, or you heard a teaching or a homily that just did not make sense to you in the context of a loving God, you quickly found yourself without a lot of options: stay and try to make some sense of it, turn off your brain, or leave the Church altogether. And lots of people did and do exactly that, and I totally get it. To be completely honest with you today, my decision to stay in the Catholic Church as a music minister is complicated and hard and it has been for years, and it’s sometimes a weekly or even hourly choice, especially in the wake of this hard week we’ve had. So, if you’re like me, let me just say, I get it.
But the question of whether we’re “allowed” to question is something I’d like to explore today in three parts.
1. If we are to remain in the Church or even on the periphery of the Church, are we allowed to question the Church’s’ teachings?
2. Are we allowed to question the Church’s clergy?
3. Are we allowed to question God? And if so, how do we do this?
Let’s start with the Church’s teachings.
If you have a set of dogmatic faith rules or teachings in your mind that has never wavered since childhood and which you plan to keep until your death, I will gently submit to you today, friend, that that’s probably not how a life of faith is supposed to be lived. “Because someone said so” is not a reason for an adult to do much of anything big, especially to live out your faith with your one human life, and that’s not to say that other people can’t guide us. They can and they do, thank God, but your faith is just that, yours. So, it’s important to know: how do we begin the process of questioning a rule or teaching that does not sit well within our souls? How do you arrive at what our Church calls a “well-formed conscience”?
Well, I’d say it takes honesty, first with yourself and then with God, to admit that there’s a teaching or a Church guideline or a homily or something you see in Catholic media that just does not ring true. For those of us raised Catholic, this can be challenging and take courage to face head on, but it’s always worth it. It may require research or reading, some work on your part, and it will always involve prayer and wrestling. I like to think about Jacob here in the Book of Genesis who wrestled with an angel until morning (some accounts say he wrestled with God himself) and Jacob walked away, not with a punishment, but with a blessing.
I personally think God loves our questioning. I think He receives our questions in much the same way as a loving parent would. He knows He has more information than us, but He sees our struggle and He would rather we go to Him than the alternative, which is tuning Him out and walking away. The biggest mistake we can make here is believing that the Church or the teaching or the homily is God, or is synonymous with God, and this brings us to our second part.
Are we allowed to question the Church’s clergy?
Well, there’s ample evidence to show that the Catholic Church’s clergy not only may be questioned, but that in many cases, they must be. The sexual abuse of children, and the coverups that followed; these were made possible by a spirit of clericalism, that is as defined by the Association of U.S. Catholic Priests “an expectation, leading to abuses of power, that ordained ministers are better than and should be over everyone else among the People of God.”
Clericalism is dangerous but it also can be like the very air we breathe as Catholics. Who among us has not met a priest who openly believes that they’re better or holier than “other people”? Maybe we even believe that, even though you’ll not find a place in the Catechism which states that priests are more holy than you, I promise! And clericalism is truly dangerous for the Body of Christ because according to Psychology Today, “It prevents healthy checks and balances and corrective feedback that is needed to maintain thoughtful and productive decision making.” And we see where that has led us, and leads us, still. So, my answer to the question, can you question the Church’s clergy: prayerfully, respectfully, and unequivocally: yes.
Okay last one, is it okay to question to God? Well, I’ve done it and maybe you have, too. I’ve yelled at God out loud. I’ve written heated letters to God. I’ve sat in churches and prayed, seething with anger. In our lives, there can be so much that just does not make sense, and we want God to change it, fix it, and we don’t know why He won’t. In this particular kind of questioning, we’re raw and vulnerable, and it’s hard but it’s important to know we’re never ever alone in it. I have felt the healing presence of God absolutely viscerally near me in these questioning times. And I know for sure, friend, He won’t leave us, there’s nothing we can do that will separate Him from His children. So, I guess the bottom line when it comes to questioning an almighty, all-knowing, all-powerful God of the universe is, He can take it.
When it comes to questioning, Theologian Paul Tillich may have said it best: “Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.” In other words, it’s critical and necessary for our growth, so fear not, friends.
Before we wrap up, I want to let you know that I have a few recommendations for you in the show notes if you’d like to go deeper on the topic of questioning, and I hope you’ll check those out. In my experience, the people who question the most and really dig in develop the most authentic, fruitful lives of faith that I’ve been privileged to know and I wish that for you as well.
And before I pray for you today, just a reminder that if you like this podcast, subscribing, rating, reviewing, and sharing with a friend – these are all helpful ways to bring it to others who might like it too, and I appreciate all of that, so thank you in advance.
Okay friends, let us pray in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, amen. God, we thank you for the gift of faith, for the questions and for the answers, for the work and for the journey. We pray that you’ll give us illumination for our path today, light for our road, mentors and help as we move forward into deeper relationship with you. Thank you for your unbreakable love for us as we wrestle and ask and listen and respond in love. And God, please bless each person listening today and their dear ones too in the name of Jesus, amen.
Friends, thanks for listening. We’ll see you next time.