Uncertainty Searching for Certainty
How many times do we hear that this period of pandemic brings us face to face with incomprehensible uncertainties? We yearn for a “normal,” yet our “new normal” continues to be imbedded in uncertainty. So Catholics might take comfort in that July 2020 marks 150 years since the promulgation of the dogma on Papal infallibility; hence profound certainty for many: the Pope can declare infallible truth. Although the dogma involves uncertainty (when and under what circumstances infallibility comes into play), nonetheless, this is a dogma of certainty and certainty is what many crave at this moment. Even pious Catholics yearn for the certainty of physical consumption of the Eucharist rather than a livestreamed eucharistic celebration with Spiritual Communion. Certainty is a highly valued commodity in a time of uncertainty.
But this time of uncertainty is teaching us valuable lessons. An important one contradicts our yearning for certainty. COVID reminds us that we are truly frail beings. Some of us may live an illusion of comfort and security, but ultimately, uncertainty is what defines our lives. Illness, disability, death inform everyone’s life. Even more significantly, uncertainty dwells at the core of our faith. It is because “we see in a mirror, dimly” (1 Cor. 13:12) that we believe rather than know; we have faith—not science. Because of our faith, we recognize that we only bear the “firstfruits” and so “groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption” (Romans: 23). We do not live in the end times, but we are an eschatological people: we wait in uncertainty of the end, while in hope of the coming glory.
And we wait—in uncertainty. Yet this isn’t to be decried. St. Paul says: “I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me” (2 Cor. 12:9). Uncertainty is a manifestation of our weakness and frailty. It’s a space to learn the divine presence in us and for us. The ascetics have consistently taught that recognizing our frailty is to admit our complete dependence on the Spirit. Could this be the time to recognize our need for God, to surrender the mirage of control we have created in our lives and in the Church? Don’t we desperately need to recognize that we’re on the way to glory, not there already? And doesn’t that mean that we need to rediscover the Spirit moving within us, through whom we can come to truth, not with certainty but with patient anticipation? Are we able to recreate a Church that rests in anticipation, rather than certainty?
For too long we have succumbed to the temptation of certainty. Yet, the experience of not knowing, being unsure, is what opens us to God’s gift of Love: A Love that calls forth love. Love is always tenuous, uncertain, yet real. COVID is a reminder that, as we rush to our churches, rush to receive the Eucharist, we dare not ignore the man on the side of the road, left for dead. In wanting to proclaim the Gospel, we dare not forget that we have no greater claim on the truth than others. In rebuilding our Church, let’s remember that we are sinners, even though called to holiness. Whether we are traditionalists, conservatives, liberals or progressives, bishops, priests, religious or lay people, if we discard our penchant for speaking with certainty, we will hear each other more clearly and recognize we share the same Spirit. If we can embrace our frailty, we’ll be able to rejoice in gifts that the Spirit hosts in us. We can allow ourselves and others to journey in hope, sometimes journeying well, sometimes not so well, but always moving toward the Light. Nobody has all the answers; nobody possesses the Truth. He is the Truth and His Church is built on the one who three times denied Him! So, let’s remember the words cited by Pope John XXIII in Ad Petri cathedram: “In essentials, unity; in doubtful matters, liberty; in all things, charity.” And as Paul said: “the greatest of these is charity” (1 Cor. 13:13).
Myroslaw Tataryn is professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University, Canada, and a Ukrainian Greco-Catholic priest.
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