BREAKING DOWN THE BARRIERS OF SKEPTICISM
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Rev 21:9-14; Ps 145:10-13,17-18; Jn 1:45-51 ]
We are all conditioned creatures, whether we admit it or not. This explains why not all of us see life and people the same way. We are conditioned first and foremost by our knowledge of the situation. We have limited understanding of what we know in life. Some of us who are trained in that specialty will have a wider understanding of the subject matter. So the depth of our knowledge will influence the way we look at an event. But knowledge alone will not suffice to convict us because whilst knowledge can give us understanding, it is the heart that engages us totally; mind, body and soul. So what usually dictates our response to life situations is very much influenced by the experiences we have had in life, from conception, to birth, childhood, and throughout life. Positive experiences make us more receptive, whilst negative experiences make us prejudicial.
So right from the onset, we must recognize that we look at life and events with our limited world view. No one has a complete view of life and the world. So in all humility, we must accept that we do not know everything or have experienced what others had. This is true especially with respect to our understanding of other religions and traditions. That is why we must be careful about passing judgments on people who have different religions or who come from different traditions. We can only claim that the Catholic Faith is the true Church, but we cannot deny the claims of others because we are not in that tradition or in that religion and have not undergone the same religious experience or lesser still, a proper understanding of their religions.
Indeed, we need not look too far. Even within the Catholic Tradition, there are tensions among the different spiritualties that are permitted in the Church. There are those who advocate the Extra-Ordinary Rite of the Mass, claiming it to be the true and authentic mass. They insist on reception of communion by tongue and kneeling down. At the other end of the spectrum, we have those in the charismatic renewal who celebrate the Eucharist more freely, with greater vibrancy in songs, worship and even bodily expressions. Then, we have the “ordinary” Catholics who belong to the Vatican II tradition, who are averse to praying in tongues, resting in the Spirit or exhibiting bodily expressions in worship on one hand; and the restrictive and ritualistic worship of the Tridentine mass on the other.
But in truth, who are we to judge which is appropriate or not, or which is the best way to encounter God deeply? We can insist on the rubrics and the traditions. But the truth is that those who experience God in their own tradition would remain convinced that theirs is the best form of worship. And those who are outside of these traditions would look at such people and judge them to be queer, conservative or too sentimental and expressive. But if we are humble enough to put aside our prejudices and humbly allow ourselves to experience God through these different traditions and spiritualties, then perhaps, we could appreciate better where those advocates of their tradition are coming from. It is close-mindedness and prejudice from our limited background that hinder us from opening ourselves to new experiences and new ways of encountering God.
Today we are called to break down the barriers and to widen our scope of life. We find inspiration in the person of Bartholomew, whose other name was Nathanael, in the gospel. He himself was skeptical of Jesus when Philip told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, the one about whom the prophets wrote: he is Jesus son of Joseph, from Nazareth.” The immediate reaction of Nathaniel was swift. “From Nazareth? Can anything good come from that place?” Nathaniel came from Cana, four miles away from Nazareth. It appeared that Nazareth was not an outstanding town and the people there were frowned upon. Perhaps it was the place that housed a Roman Garrison. Perhaps the people were not that educated and morally upright. So, too, Nathaniel had a poor image of that village and those who came from there.
But Philip helped him to overcome his narrow judgement of Jesus, who came from that village. He invited Nathanael. He said, without forcing him, “Come and see.” It was an open invitation with a gentle nudge from Philip. We, too, must initiate the invite when we want to help people to be open to other traditions and experiences. We must take the step to welcome people to our Church, our movements and our spiritual tradition. Without initiating the invite, those who are skeptical would remain outside the circle because they feel threatened or suspicious of those within the tradition. Having a friend to invite us to experience what they experienced, is the first step.
Secondly, those invited must take the courage to respond with docility by keeping their skepticism aside and holding off their reservations. That was what Nathanael did. He accepted the invitation to go and see Jesus. He was courageous to find out for himself so that he could clear his doubts. He did not stay from afar and continue to denigrate Jesus, but with humility he went to check it out for himself. We must do the same.
Thirdly, those who accept the invitation must be affirmed and encouraged. We must make them feel loved, welcomed and accepted. This was what the Lord did. He said of Nathanael when he came to visit Him, “There is an Israelite who deserves the name, incapable of deceit.” He affirmed Nathanael’s goodness in his sincerity and integrity. Indeed, such was the character of Nathanael. He did not put on a pretense when Philip told him about the Messiah he found. But at the same time, he was ready to find out for himself. When we give credit and recognition to a person’s aspirations, pains and struggles, we help him to drop his defences in opening himself to the Lord.
But that was not all, Jesus offered Him encouragement in his search for God. When Nathanael said, “How do you know me?”, Jesus replied, “Before Philip came to call you, I saw you under the fig tree.” In saying this, Jesus was recognizing Nathanael’s sincerity in searching for God. Sitting under the fig tree is a symbol of a man deep in prayer. Jesus affirmed the genuine desire and hunger of Nathanael. He could identify with him and articulate what was in his heart. By so doing, Nathanael’s heart opened to Him.
When we are able to reach out to the person and touch his heart, we will then enable him to open his mind to see greater things and come to faith. This was the consequence of Nathanael’s warm acceptance by the Lord. His response to the Lord after meeting Him in person was his confession of faith. “Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel.” When his heart was opened to the Lord, his mind was able to see more than what others could see in Him. Jesus replied, “You believe that just because I said: I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that. I tell you most solemnly, you will see heaven laid open and, above the Son of Man, the angels of God ascending and descending.” Indeed, only those who have faith in Jesus could see Him as the mediator between God and man.
Today, like Jesus who is the bridge from God to man and man to God, we too are called to be the bridge for others to come to know and experience His love. Like the psalmist, we are called to make known the glorious splendour of God’s reign. “All your creations shall thank you, O Lord, and your friends shall repeat their blessing. They shall speak of the glory of your reign and declare your might, O God. They make known to men your mighty deeds and the glorious splendour of your reign. The Lord is just in all his ways and loving in all his deeds. He is close to all who call him, who call on him from their hearts.” Indeed, as the bride of the Lamb in the New City of Jerusalem, we are called to radiate the glory of God in our lives so that we can show forth His glory in our lives, just as the apostle Bartholomew did after he encountered the goodness of the Lord. He is among the twelve foundation stones of the city walls.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
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