Can Worship be Mixed with Doubt? – Francis Alvarez, SJ

Matthew 28:16-20, Solemnity of the Ascension

In our Gospel today, the eleven disciples climb a mountain to meet the risen Jesus, and we read, “When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted” (Matthew 28:17). There was Jesus, flesh and blood proof of the resurrection, showing them that his promises had been fulfilled and that he was trustworthy. But there were the disciples – worshiping Jesus, but also doubting. Can worship be mixed with doubt?

In the most significant moments of our lives, doesn’t worship come with doubt? I recently celebrated the wedding of a friend of mine, and it was a real celebration. The bride and groom were radiant. They loved each other, and they wanted to worship God in gratitude for bringing them together. There was joy, there was laughter, but there was also fear. While they were confident in their decision, there was still some anxiety: Could they really commit to forever? Could they live out their yes for better and for worse, for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health?

I once visited a young mother about to give birth, and her excitement was overflowing. After almost nine months, she was about to bring a new person into the world. She could not wait to finally meet the baby who had been growing in her womb. But her excitement was tinged with more than just nervousness. There was trepidation in her voice as she confided in me, “What if I “break” my child? What if I make a mistake and screw her up for the rest of her life?”

In the most significant moments of our lives, our joy, gratitude, and praise are often accompanied by a measure of fear, anxiety, and doubt. While doubt casts a shadow, I think that doubt can also help us see more clearly. The doubt allows us to temper the romance with realism. Beyond the euphoria of the moment is the everyday living out of its consequences. Doubt can actually make us stronger in our commitment if we befriend our questioning and let this lead us to the realization that we cannot do things on our own.

How does Jesus see worship mixed with doubt? Jesus must have sensed his disciples’ fear and anxiety as he was about to ascend to heaven. But he does not reprimand or even just chide them. Jesus accepts his disciples where they are. This applies to us as well. We do not have to be 100% faithful and 100% holy in order to begin following Jesus. If we wait until we are perfect before offering ourselves to Christ, we will never take the first step towards him. We will always be unfinished projects before our Lord, but this allows him to continue forming us. And in the process of being molded, we become more intimate with our God.

While this may be comforting and consoling, it also comes with a challenge: Just as God accepts us as we are, we have to accept other people as they are also. We may want them to grow and be better, but we cannot wait for them to reach a certain level acceptable to us before we decide to love them. We are all unfinished projects, and we will remain unfinished until our final breaths.

How else does Jesus react to worship mixed with doubt? Jesus does not just accept us as we are; he blesses us with one of the greatest compliments he can give – he shares his mission with us. He trusts us and entrusts us with the building of his Father’s kingdom: “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-20a).

How can Jesus trust us worshiping but doubting disciples? We have failed many times before; we will fail many times more. We go to Confession, and not a day later, we fall into the same sins again. We go to Mass, but even as we line up for Communion, we judge the people around us by the clothes they wear. Shortly after receiving Christ, we find ourselves cursing and swearing in the parking lot as all of us get tangled in traffic making a beeline for the mall. We may look clean and spotless on the outside, but if people only knew what is lurking in our minds and hearts… but God knows what is inside us. And still he trusts us?

When doubt threatens to overpower worship, let us remind ourselves of one last promise Jesus gives us in our Gospel today as he ascends to the Father: “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20b). The unfinished projects that we are will never be abandoned or left alone. God will patiently continue to work on us and work with us until we are brought to completion.

Can you befriend your doubt? Can you trust that God accepts you as you are? Can you accept others as they are? Can you cling to God as he molds you and remolds you until you become a masterpiece?

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