Dear One and All,
It hardly seems a week since we celebrated Easter Sunday! The Scripture Readings during the week have been highlighting the Resurrection appearances of Jesus, and also linking it to Pentecost. Today, we are faced with the meaning of faith, as demonstrated in doubting Thomas. Maybe we see something of ourselves in doubting Thomas….and that may not be a bad thing. Let’s come back to that later!
Unlike Thomas, we have not seen, and yet we are asked and expected to believe. At least that is what it looks like on the surface. In reality, that is not so. I can get all the proof I want that Jesus is alive and well, and living in me, if I myself am alive and well, and living in him! We are living two thousand years later, Pentecost has happened, and the message of the gospel, and the person of Jesus has been debated and written about in almost every language on the globe. What signs do I want? What signs do I need? What signs are there all the time?
Faith requires a generous dose of humility, and a large amount of common sense. Every time I buy a car, every time I go to Hospital for an operation, every time I board a Jet, I continue to make acts of faith in someone or in something. Without faith, I would end up doing nothing! No one would get married if they didn’t have faith in themselves, and in the other person, which is galvanised in and through the love which binds them together.
Faith will always be accompanied by doubt. If there were certainty, there would be no need to have faith. However, it seems to me that if we confine ‘faith’ just to the realm of ‘belief’ we can run the risk of underscoring it’s fullest meaning. Biblically speaking, ‘faith and vision’ so often go together. In this context, it would seem that faith is an internal graced moment which enables a person to see! See what? To see the saving hand of God at work, we instinctively and knowingly have no doubts about the authenticity of God’s signature. That being the case, we can then say that faith is an essential ingredient for Salvation. We have to see and respond to the saving hand of God, in order to experience salvation, or another way of saying it is:- th experience of ‘being saved’. Jesus compares faith to a tiny grain of mustard seed, that continues to germinate and grow, and ends up as a large tree. Just as the Mustard seed needs moisture, nutrients, and sunlight, to bring it to fullness of life; our faith too needs nourishment, light and the fine mist of life-giving love to bring it to fullness. Remember the story in the Gospel about the man being lowered down through the roof by his friends, so that Jesus could heal the sick person? Jesus said, “ seeing THEIR faith” he healed the man. So it would seem that the friends of the man were “faith-intercessors” for him. They could see in Jesus the saving hand of God at work, so that is why they carried the man to Jesus. On the other hand we see Jesus living His faith in seeing the faith-response in the people who caried the sick person to him. How many times have we been carried in intercessory prayer by others to Jesus? Look at all the times when we have carried people in prayer to the Lord? We do it all the time; it can become a ‘faith-filled habit’! We do this for the very same reason why the friends of the sick man carried him to Jesus. It would appear that the faith of the community can be so contagious, that people can ‘catch’ faith; this would have been felt during the Easter Ceremonies in your own Parish Communities; and at those times when the Anointing of the Sick is celebrated within Mass, and when quiet achievers in the Parish, go about living the Gospel, without demonstrating it in neon lights. It is seen daily when two or three gather together in the name of Christ, and share ‘life’ and Eucharist. It is seen daily in and through the hidden faith-life of people who are the “quiet achievers” in our community. I know a very faith-filled Hairdresser, who goes to the homes of the elderly, and does their hair. This is a task which is coated and infused with loving faith in other people. I know that the people whom she visits get ‘lifted up’ and know that they are needed because of not only what she does for them and with them, but because of the Good News person that she is. It should never be within the nature of a Christian to advertise the good that they do because that would deminish the good that they are! A subtle difference there. Through the experience of “faith” we get “insight”, that is, the God-given grace to see within life-situations, Liturgies and prayerful stillness, the saving hand of God alive, and well.
Finally, like Thomas, we are all called to enter into the woundedness of Christ in His people; when we dare and are game enough to enter into the wounds of God’s people, it is then we can say not only from our hearts, but from every fibre in our being: “My Lord and My God!” There are no other words to describe it; except those inarticulate groans that St.Paul speaks about in his letter to the Romans, when the Spirit comes to our aid and in and through ‘wordless’ stillness, speaks volumns of the spiritual conversation taking place in that moment of grace.
Now, you have probably thought that I had come to an end, well it’s not that easy, because we now have to situate all that I have said in the above, within a context. The context is given to us by St.John, and his community who put together the Fourth Gospel. As a song in The Sound of Music goes, ‘let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start…’ The opening sentence in today’s Gospel sets the scene for this dramatic and didactic account of the Risen Lord, not only applicable around 100AD, but for all times and seasons.
Before we dive into God’s Word, let’s remember that the events portrayed are not supposed to be read like an article in the Newspaper. No way; this story has a very deep, spiritual meaning which in the overall presentation, is really an invitation to the hearer or reader to respond; a faith response would fill the bill.
In this account of Our Lord’s appearance, John and his community see the Resurrection of Jesus as the beginning of a new creation, a new world order. Evening time, in Biblical accounts generally means that a revelation of God is being manifested, and in this case the passage is also a Cathehesis, so that we too will come to belief, or have our belief renewed. Now, in the Book of Genesis we see and feel the story which teaches us that God creates! Not just a once and for all occasion…..God continues to create. Just as there was darkness over the deep at the beginning of the world, our God in Christ, steps into that darkness, and enables the new life of the Spirit to revive within the New Israel that Jesus who was nailed to the Cross, became the new Adam….the new genus of humankind. So, let’s look at the details, and see what we can learn from them. The disciples were gathered together out of fear, not joy. They were in a closed room, somewhat like a Tomb.What does Jesus do? He stands among them…not at the door, or next to a wall, but is among them. This is a similar situation like the Transfiguration on Mt.Tabor…….the action took place not on a high rock, but among them. The apostles were in the Transfiguration, not viewing it from afar.
Jesus offers the gathered disciples an Easter gift; Peace! What kind of peace is it? It seems that it is Biblical Peace where all is at one with God, as it was in the Garden of Eden, before the Fall from Grace. Jesus shows them his wounds…..notice that immediately the fear within the group is transformed into Joy! With this Easter Gift, comes a responsibility, not only to the group in the room, but to all people in the mega group…..the Church! Jesus, sends them out, as the Father had sent Him out….but they needed more internal energy to live out that command. Notice that Jesus, breathed on them…..let’s sit with this understanding….he breathed on them. In the Book of Genesis, it says that God’s Spirit, God’s Breath hovered over the darkness of the deep. Here in the Johannine account, it is made clear that THE BREATH which revived him at the moment of Resurrection given by His Father; that life-giving breath is given to the Church….the new Israel through the Holy Spirit.
What a personal and intimate action? Jesus breathed on them! Who has breathed on us? As babies our mother especially breathes on us; so does our father. When we are hurt, sad, crying or fearful, someone comes close to us and their breath, their love, gives us strength. With this intimate gift, comes and intimate responsibility….to forgive sin. Was Jesus speaking about Priests in the Confessional? Most certainly not! In the Letter of James to all Christians he makes it clear that we are called to confess our sin to onenaother. This is nothing new; we do confess our sin when we apologise and say ‘Sorry’ for what we have done. Sacramental confession was a much later development. However, who is to say that when we truly have a contrite heart, and confess our sin to someone else, that it is not a Sacrament? Food for Thought……..
Now, Act 2 of this drama has Thomas in full view…..he missed out on the action…..just like us. He wants more than just to look at Our Lord’s wounds, Thomas wants to put his finger in them. Now, let’s not get carried away with a medical examination……this is a Catechesis. What will it teach us? Notice that eight days later…..another week of development within the community, and growth, one might say, goes by….Thomas becomes a new creation in the very next encounter with the Risen Lord. When the Lord comes into the room again, the disciples were still gathered….but fear is not mentioned…..their faith is somewhat like a seed as I talked about earlier on. The seed that is buried in the darkness of the soil takes root first before it pokes its head above the soil. THe same can be said for the growth in faith – insight!
Jesus again offeres His easter gift of peace…then turns to Thomas and invites him into His woundedness! This is totally mind blowing! Jesus is saying to Thomas, and all of us that we will find the Risen Lord in the woundedness of His people at all times. Here is a fundamental teaching of the early church; it is within the mission entrusted to us that we find Christ. That mission has to begin in ourselves. If we are in touch with our own brokenness, that will be the password/gateway to find the Risen Lord within His people. That actualisation of this faith means that all arrogance, all seeking places of honour, and any desire to be greated as general managers instead of servants is the pathway as we travel as companions to the ends of the world in Mission. Anything to the contrary, as personal ambition, social climbing and the pursuit of power and glory within God’s Household can be cancerous to the sentiments in the Lord’s Prayer….especially…’ Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.’ Therefore a major thrust of the mission entrusted to us is:- bringing Heaven to earth!
May God Bless you and your families, and may we never forget each other in prayer. Fr.Kev.