A Crisis of Faith

ThomasFaith is an interesting thing.  I guess it is like a vitamin or a locked door.  We believe it is at work but aren’t necessarily interested in testing it out, so to speak.  In taking a daily multi-vitamin I may fathom great things going on in my body, defenses being shored up and repairs taking place, but I don’t really want to be faced with an illness or disease to see if the vitamin can truly withstand such an onslaught.  Or I may lock my doors at night and sleep better because whatever is “out there” won’t get past my locked door and be “in here” with me, but I don’t ever want to see that handle being jiggled from the outside at two in the morning.  Faith sometimes seems like those things.

My grandfather died on May 22, 2008.  I could literally go on and on about the amazing man that he was but will suffice it to say that he lived his life as a Polish Catholic father of 8, grandfather of 20, great-grandfather of 30, and great-great grandfather of 1 in such a way that if faith in Christ and His one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church will beget eternal reward in heaven, well, then, grandpa is enjoying the presence of Christ. 

But I didn’t rejoice.  My grandfather represented everything good that a man should be; he was a hard worker, often working three jobs to make ends “meet” and send his children to parochial schools; he cared for his beloved wife the last ten years of her life which were lived as an invalid and he was already 70 years old when her final decline began; he loved and supported kids and grandkids that left the Catholic Church, always witnessing to his own Catholic faith by attending daily mass and caring for others; and it has to be said that he gardened and grew tomatoes like no one’s business!  He had 15 filled salt shakers because summer meant going to grandpa’s, grabbing a salt shaker from the kitchen, and heading to the garden to grab a tomato fresh off the vine! 

His last Christmas, at 91 years old, saw him in a suit and tie at our breakfast table, thanking my sister for the beautiful time together and blessing each and every one of us with his words but also with his presence.  My grandfather was known for always saying “thank you” and the time was approaching for me to say “thank you” to God for allowing me to have been Norbert’s first grandchild.  But I just couldn’t get to that point.  As each day slipped by and life slowly slipped from him, I began to question my faith in earnest. 

Seriously, I thought, shouldn’t I have been jumping up and down with joy that my grandfather would soon be in the company of Christ?  I may not be allowed to judge but I felt fairly confident, knowing the trials and tribulations of my grandfather’s earthly life, that his purgatory time couldn’t truly amount to much.  This was a man who in his 70’s was still carrying his wife to the bathroom because he was adamant that it was his job and no one else’s.  Sylvia was his “duchess” and he treated her as such until her death.  Indeed, my grandfather sacrificed material goods his whole life to provide for the family God gave him as neither him nor my grandmother would consider anything other than pro-creating as they were expected to.  It wasn’t about vacations or cars but about God. 

And as they say, there’s the rub.  I consider myself a faithful, faith-filled, Catholic woman and yet wasn’t rejoicing in grandpa being called back home.  Why is that, I wondered?

Then I received, in the midst of this, a mammogram report.  Yes, the dreaded report that says you have to head back for a second round of diagnostics.  And my heart sunk.  Again, no jumping and singing, “Maybe I’m going home!”  Instead, my immediate pleas for healing began, even though I didn’t know if healing was, indeed, even necessary.  In other words, fear set in and then the sincere question about my faith.  Could I proclaim myself as a faith-filled woman and still dread a bad doctor’s report or my grandfather’s death? 

Can we be faithful, believing Catholics and still experience the fear or sadness of such things?  I have a good friend who had an extended family friend recently die.  Upon this woman’s death bed, still conscious and able to talk, she shared her enthusiasm for Jesus and had no apparent, outwardly indications that the end of her life was bringing her fear. Maybe I don’t have the faith of this woman but surely I have faith the size of a mustard seed.  Why, then, no jumping for joy? 

As I shared this feeling with a dear colleague she gently reminded me that faith doesn’t remove grief, it gives hope in the midst of it.  She is right, of course, and I can now chuckle at myself when I realize that as I questioned the reality of my own faith, it was in many different conversations with Christ.  After all, who else could I ask?  Who else would answer because who else knew what existed in the depths of my heart? 

Much was made in the secular media about Mother Teresa’s doubts and what was essentially called her “crisis of faith.”  Without giving credence to such reports, my personal experiences have made it easy for me to see how even, or maybe even how much more so, a woman like Mother Teresa would experience such feelings.  Her faith was tested on a daily basis.  But I would suggest that if the depths of her faith weren’t enough, she never would have been able to go on with her work.  So she may very well have lived in such a way that the testing of her faith begat the questioning of her faith which, in turn, strengthened her faith.

So while our faith isn’t something we necessarily want tested, we often find that when tested it shows us who we are.  Our faith gives us hope in the midst of our fears and our sadness; but faith also makes our joys that much more gratifying.  Ultimately, our faith fortifies us for life’s journey.

We would love to have you share your thoughts below on this article-The Editorial Team

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About the Author

Ms. Cheryl Dickow is a Catholic publisher, author, columnist, and speaker. To invite Cheryl to speak at your event, contact her by email (link below) or call her at 248-917-3865. She is the author of the exciting new book Our Jewish Roots: A Catholic Woman's Guide which focuses on the joy found in connecting with our past. Our Jewish Roots, along with other excellent Catholic books, is available through her website (link below). Cheryl has a Master’s Degree in Education and lives in the beautiful state of Michigan with her husband and three sons. Cheryl is a contributing writer to the "Today's Catholic - Women in Faith" category at the Integrated Catholic Life.

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  1. Cheryl-good article! In this challenging economy and with the uncertainty of our country’s future, many have experienced the crisis of faith you have described. Very thought provoking-thanks for writing this.

    God bless-


  2. As a nurse with many years experience, I have witnessed death many times; however, my dad’s death was the first time death became personal. As I watched dad slip away in the final hours, the nurse in me stopped being clinical and the daughter of our Lord began questionning. I held no bitterness towards God but I questionned the final earthly hours and moments of my dad’s soul. The gift I received from God while I kept vigil at dad’s bedside was the realization that there is nothing more important than my relationship with my heavenly Father; at the end of my life, this is the only relationship that endures. How I live my life now will determine what happens to my soul when it’s my turn to die. My pastor said that watching a loved one die can be one of the most faith-affirming events of our life. I understand exactly what he means.

    About a month ago, I too received some challenging news from my doctor. The nurse in me wants to continually rationalize possible outcomes but I know this exercise is futile. I have come to identify with St. Paul and his affliction that the Lord chose not to remove because His grace is sufficient. With the help of my spiritual director, I have chosen to place my hope and trust in God who only wants the best for me.

    St. Therese tells us that “everything is grace” – everything is a gift from God to sanctify us. Events, diagnoses, crises which test our faith are among God’s greatest gifts because it is these blessings which give us the best opportunities to run to our Father and allow Him to love us.

    Terry McDermott

  3. Terry,

    It is truly a profound sharing that you’ve graced us with as the two “sides” of you had to reconcile which would come out on top, so to speak: the nurse or the daughter of the King.

    Life is so much like that, maybe more so now than ever before, in which the many facets of our personhood compete but there can only be one true. clear winner: the one made in the image and likeness of God!

    Thank you for this understanding,

    Blessings and please know that you are in my prayers.

  4. Cheryl’s article shows the very human side and fragility of faith. When 9-11 happened my son who was a seasoned traveler at the age of 11 became very afraid of flying. Many people tried to counsel him including a few compassionate pilots. Nothing seemed to help. However, one day he received a letter from his grandfather. He had written a very nice letter by hand to my son that was all about blind faith. That letter in a few short pages summed up the definition of faith. This article reminded me a lot of that letter. Thanks for sharing. Jeff W

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