Wednesday, 5/3/17 — Two Thousand Years of Answers

Let’s say you’re very young — four or five years old. You ask a question to your parent that seems like it should have an easy answer: “Why do you have to go to work every day?” (You love your parents, and don’t understand why they don’t want to spend every moment with you!) The parent starts trying to make an explanation: I need to make money. “But why do you need money?” You might ask. Well, so we can survive. “But won’t God provide for our needs? Didn’t Jesus say that?”

And what seemed like a simple question turns into a whirlwind for both sides of the conversation. The child struggles to reconcile these new truths with previous information, while the parent struggles to provide answers that will be factually correct and satisfy the child.

Worse, from the parent’s point of view, some answers may inspire more questions, or open the door to truths that may not be palatable to an immature mind: I work because we need money; God provides for us by making me able to work; I need to work every day because some day I won’t be able to work, either because I’m ill or old enough that I need to prepare for death, which is when I won’t be here at all for you in the flesh. And how does a simple question of “a why do I have to work?” drift inevitably toward thoughts of mortality?

This kind of situation came to mind when I reflected upon the Gospel selection from John from today’s readings. There, Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father.” The Apostle Philip responds by saying, “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.”

This causes Christ to reply: How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me is doing his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else, believe because of the works themselves.”

For quite a while, after first encountering this passage, I had a bit of a negative feeling toward Philip here. Jesus is making his relationship to the Father known; how could he not see that? I’ve heard that Jesus is the way and the truth and the life so often I don’t even question it; why does Philip? Jesus’ tone here seems a bit exasperated, a bit reprimanding. But as I’ve come closer to the faith, I realize that Philip’s attitude is one I’m much more sympathetic toward.

Put yourself in Saint Philip’s shoes. (Today is the Feast of Saints Philip and James, so it’s especially appropriate.) Jesus has made an amazing proclamation: “I am the way and the truth and the life . . .” Philip’s on board with this! He’s not scoffing. He wants to believe, to understand. He just wants to see . . . something. He may not even know what, exactly. Obviously the Father is willing to reveal himself in the presence of his only begotten Son, as proclaimed in the Transfiguration . . . so God is not unwilling to show more when the time is right. But, in this circumstance, Jesus realized that the lesson would be better proclaimed through his teachings.

Again, I’m reminded of the relationship between the parent and child I opened my reflection with. The child earnestly wants to understand, and is asking a reasonable question, but it’s one that opens up a larger world of questions and answers than the child is possibly ready for.

When I came into the faith, I did so with the (correct) understanding that just about any question I could have – about our beliefs, faiths, approaches, outlooks, etc. – would have an accessible answer. I literally purchased a book called Catholicism for Dummies that taught me the basics. Even if the answer to a big question is “it’s a mystery,” there would no doubt be countless writings that richly delve into that mystery. Questions about the Holy Trinity, Mary, the saints, the Eucharist, original sin . . . all of it has accessible answers.

But when the Apostle Philip asked his question, none of those easy resources existed. Jesus needed to explain himself to his followers both in a way they would understand and in a way they would be able to replicate and impart on others in the future. Praise be to God for the beauty of the Sacred Scripture! For with it, we have a direct link to the teachings of Jesus, and it’s worked with the Church’s Tradition to form the foundation of our faith for millennia.

The Catholic faith rewards questions. The Spirit often works miracles when the faithful try to understand and grow closer to God. You, by reading this very blog, are hopefully growing closer in your understanding of the wonders of God and your own spirituality. Thanks be to Jesus for his answers that have given us so much to reflect and grow on, all these years later . . . and thanks be to the faithful like Saint Philip who were brave enough to ask questions.

Today’s Readings: 1 Cor 15:1-8; Ps 19:2-3,4-5; Jn 14:6-14

About the Author

Despite being a professional writer and editor for over 15 years, Steven Marsh is more-or-less winging it when it comes to writing about matters of faith. Steven entered the church in 2005, and since then he’s been involved with various ministries, including Pre-Cana marriage prep for engaged couples, religious education for kindergarteners, and Stephen Ministry’s one-on-one caregiving. Steven lives in Indiana with his wife and son. Despite having read the entirety of the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, he’s still surprised at elements he rediscovers or reflects upon in new ways. The more Steven learns about the faith, the less he feels he knows; he’s keen to emphasize that any mistakes are his own.

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14 Comments

  1. Jesus, may we continue to see the in you in every area of our lives. Thanks Stephen.

  2. I sympathize with Philip, he happened to be asking the question on behalf of every one. Just as you said, it takes the grace of God to get indepth answers to some questions asked. May our Lord Jesus open our eyes and hearts to His teaching, Amen!!!

  3. Thanks Steve for your inspiring reflection
    May the Lord Jesus enable us to understand His teachings
    God bless you Steve for your good work

  4. Thank you Steven for this REFLECTION. We are in a mysterious world, where we are unable to understand certain things that affect our lives especially negatively: sickness, disease, evil attacks, poverty, the list is endless. Hence, the TENDENCY is to QUESTION the GOOD LORD for ANSWERS to our lives situations. I pray that when we ask these probing questions through JESUS, HE will be more than ready to enlighten us.

  5. Also thank be to you Steve, for learning how to use a computer and a blog to continue spreading Gods word.. reflection so to true to life

  6. I think this could serve to remind us that we tend to think in the natural world and not the spiritual world and to the seeming unsettled response from Jesus might be more like a thought towards hey we’ve been together for a while believe me! if not for that then believe because of the works but what ever you do Believe. No harm in bolstering faith as we travel from faith to faith, receive grace upon grace and move from glory to glory. Praise be to God and his Kingdom!!

  7. Thank you, Lord, for all the Saints who throughout the ages asked the same questions and had the same challenges of the faith that we do. I find myself wanting to do research on their experiences and challenges. Thank you, Steven.

  8. Steven, you are very insightful and a talented writer. Keep up the Good News.
    God Bless.

  9. And thanks be to God for writers like you who enrich our understanding of all that He has revealed!

  10. Despite the seeming hint of exasperation I wonder if Jesus wasn’t just stating the obvious in His honest and straightforward way? I say that because I believe He LOVES seekers, those who want and need more of Him, more of God. And our questions show that we are fulfilling His command to “become as little children”, asking in trust that we will receive an answer. Job is my favorite example of this! I love your reflections Steve and I love your Bio. as well. It shows your genuine humility and seeking heart! I always look forward to your thoughts!! Thank you for sharing them!

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