Confession - "I believe; help my unbelief"
Happy St Patrick’s Day!! To read about the amazing life of St Patrick, please go to my post on 3/17/07 under the “archives” section of this site.
Anon: “I don’t understand something from today’s Gospel (Mk 9:14-29) . The father of the boy says, ‘I believe; help my unbelief.’ I thought there were two kinds of doubt- doubt with the desire to believe (but NOT belief) and then the refusal to believe. I thought the opposite of faith is doubt. So can one have faith and doubt at the same time? I think my challenges in faith come from a genuine lack of understanding rather than doubt, so I can say, ‘I believe; help me in my understanding of You.’ But I don’t see how I could say that I believe then ask for help for my not believing. I don’t understand.”
Anon, one can have (general) faith and (specific) doubt at the same time. I think we all do! With the exception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, no human being has perfect faith in Jesus Christ. I come across people on a regular basis who express belief in Christ, but not in the Eucharist…not in Confession…not in the Church. Or, we might have faith in all of these things but still doubt God’s power in specific situations. Lent is a season that helps to reveal those areas in our lives in which we still have doubt.
We should all say the words of the boy’s father to our Lord when we turn to Him in prayer – “I believe; help my unbelief”. In order to understand how he made this statement, it’s necessary to show what he said just prior to it. He approached our Lord with the request to heal his son. He said, “if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us”. Jesus immediately calls him out on his doubt: “If you can! Everything is possible to one who has faith”. The man shows his (general) faith in Christ by coming to him, but reveals that he still has some (specific) doubt that Christ can heal his son. “If you can” reveals the doubt. This is similar to those who might pray, “God, if you are there” or “God, if you can hear me”. They make an act of faith by turning to God, but there is some doubt.
The father gets a second chance and takes full advantage: “I believe”. This is a strong statement of faith in Christ in front of a large crowd of people. He then makes a humble admission that he has doubted: “help my unbelief”. This is similar to those who go to Confession. They make an act of faith in Christ by going there, reveal all of the times they have failed to believe fully in Him (through sin), and ask the Lord to help them. Just as Jesus drives out the demon from the young boy because of the father’s faith, so does He drive out evil from the penitent because of his/her faith. In both instances, He rewards faith even though it’s imperfect faith. He gives His Grace to those who ask for it, especially those who humbly pray, “I believe; help my unbelief”.
The following are excerpts from a column (5/12/06) by Archbishop Jose H. Gomez about faith, specifically in regards to this Gospel passage. Please click on today’s title for the full column.
…Faith, for us Catholics, is a theological virtue, that is, a virtue that man cannot acquire by himself; rather, it is given by God. But human beings are free, and can either accept or reject faith, increase or lessen it.One of the most revealing passages of the Gospel that refers to this reality can be found in St. Mark, when a father brings a demon-possessed son to Jesus, because the apostles had not been able to heal him.
The father tells Jesus: “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us!” Jesus said to him, “‘If you can?’ All things are possible to him who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father cried out, “I do believe, but help my unbelief.” (Mk 9:22-24) The cry of the father reveals what all of Catholics should say: “I do believe, but help my unbelief.”
We certainly have faith, but must always enrich and strengthen it. The urgent need to strongly practice our faith daily, in moments of trial and need, demand from us an ongoing effort to be men and women of faith. The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has just published in English and Spanish, begins with the words that contain the real beginning of our being Catholics: “I believe — we believe.”
“I believe” because our faith is a personal and free act. “We believe” because our faith is not individualistic, but a reality lived, nurtured and strengthened in community.
In fact, as The Compendium of the Catechism explains in its first paragraph: “God the Father sent his Son as the Redeemer and Savior of mankind, fallen into sin, thus calling all into his church and, through the work of the Holy Spirit, making them adopted children and heirs of his eternal happiness.”
God has called each one of us to salvation by name. But in order to fulfill this design of salvation, he has called us to his church, that is, to the community of the faithful.
As the passage from St. Mark shows us, asking Jesus to “help my unbelief” has practical consequences: our faith has to be fed and nurtured through prayer and study.
As I said before, with the new Compendium of the Catechism, Catholics have a great tool to nurture and strengthen our faith. During these days of Easter, in which the faith of many is shaken or affected by new “codes” and “gospels” which distort the truth about Jesus Christ, let us ask our Mother Mary, the woman with an unbreakable faith, to help us overcome our lack of faith and become strong men and women of faith.