By Jenna Ebener
A reflection column
Over the past few years, countless things have happened that have resulted in me questioning certain things in the Church. I believe in the Catholic faith. I believe every word of the Nicene Creed. I believe in the Eucharist and that I am truly consuming the body and blood of my Savior. What I have started to question are things not sourced in God, but sourced in man, for the Church is ultimately led by humans. While God guides our leaders, they are human and, so, are fallible. We interpret things differently based on our histories.
I think the response to the COVID-19 pandemic showed how humans can come to different conclusions based on the same information. Even within the Catholic Church, I saw different degrees of protocols in every church I visited as I tried to find somewhere I felt safe. The varied response opened my eyes to how we can say we all believe the same faith, yet our interpretation of God’s teachings does indeed vary.
COVID is one example of the variation that happens in churches. While the structure of Mass is the same, each church has a different atmosphere based on the beliefs that are most important to that specific community. For example, some focus on hospitality and welcome every person that enters while others prioritize service through outreach. Even homilies, while focused on the same Gospel, vary drastically based on the speaker. I have heard messages on the same Gospel that focused on two opposite messages — one deacon preached to “abhor” certain people while another preached love. Would Jesus approve both messages? It is unlikely, yet both messages were preached during Mass.
Getting such mixed messages is confusing and heartbreaking. It would be wonderful if being Catholic meant I am certain of what to believe and how to act but I am human. We all are fallible humans interpreting God’s Word and teachings. Knowing this truth has helped me recognize that it is okay to question certain things. It is okay to dive into my faith and explore the reasoning behind why I believe what I do. I truly believe God wants me to question, especially when I see others acting in ways that do not add up with God’s message of love.
There are countless examples in the Bible that I believe support this message of questioning and discernment. When Jesus saw that the temple was not being used as intended, “Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there” (Mark 11:15). Job challenged God by asking questions, such as, “But how can mere mortals prove their innocence before God?” (Job 9:2). The book of Ecclesiastes is filled with questions for God. These are a few examples showing that it is okay to ask the difficult questions, for only then will I truly know my God.
The more I ask, the more I learn and the more I am affirmed in my faith. The Church and its leaders may not have all the answers but God does. He has given me countless sources of wisdom and the ability to form a well-developed conscience. The answers may come from unexpected sources but I truly believe that when I am genuinely seeking God as I ask my questions he will make the answer known to me. Even if the answer may not be what others expect, I believe God wants me to trust myself and to follow my heart. He makes my way forward clear. “For the Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
(Jenna Ebener, a graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, is a social worker at a school in Colorado for students with a combination of medical, cognitive and behavior disabilities. She relies on God every day to aid her on this wonderful, yet intense journey.)