Faith in things unseen

Nine years ago, at the beginning of April, three of my siblings came for a visit and to do a bit of skiing. One evening, after a day of skiing, as we enjoyed some pleasant conversation, a sister asked, “How long have you been married?” to which I replied, “April 27th it will be 40 years.” Looking intently at my wife, she said with great sympathy and compassion, “Oh, you are a saint!” To which I could only nod my head in complete agreement for it still absolutely amazes how anyone, especially the love of my life, could have so steadfastly put up with this irascible, often unpleasant, obstinate, cynical human being. While it still amazes, I am and will always be grateful to God for his precious gift of her; she is much more than I deserve, she has made me whole.

The doubt of Thomas

Once upon a time—isn’t that how all good tales begin—in the spring of 1955, shortly before my eighth birthday, I was blessed by the Holy Spirit through the Sacrament of Confirmation. While I have little recollection of this now, I have a certificate from the parish attesting to the fact that I was indeed confirmed at such a young age.

I no longer can recall why I chose Thomas as my Christian name, yet, looking back on it now that more than sixty years have past, I must admit it could only have been by the grace of the Holy Spirit, for I could not have chosen a more appropriate name.

Thomas—derived from the Aramaic Te’oma, meaning twin, also answered to the Greek Didymus, which also meant twin. So, Thomas was probably a twin, perhaps to Matthew.

While I have no twin by birth, I was born in June under the sign of Gemini, the Twins. I suspect that Thomas was a Gemini as well, as we both seem to share the same or similar traits: moody, inquisitive, honest in belief yet slow to believe, logical and thoughtful, subject to despondency, obstinate, often disagreeable and quarrelsome. Peter even complained that Thomas was “mean, ugly, and always suspicious.”

Yet the better the disciples knew Thomas, the more they liked him; they found him superbly honest and unflinchingly loyal, perfectly sincere and unquestionably truthful. He was a natural-born faultfinder and a real pessimist. Man do I relate to St. Thomas!

I was born and raised in Missouri, the “Show Me” state. The state animal is the mule, representing the inherent stubbornness of its citizens. I am not sure how, but Thomas must have been a Missourian.

He earned the doubter moniker because he always looked on the gloomy side of things. You should recall how, in John 11:16, when Jesus decided to return to Judea to raise Lazarus, the disciples tried to talk him out of it because the Jews had but recently attempted to stone him there. This is where we first meet up with Thomas.

Remember what Thomas said—here I cannot help but hear the voice of Eeyore from the Winnie the Pooh tales—saying in that resigned, woe-begone, less-than hopeful tone: “Oh well. I suppose we simply must go with him and die!

If Thomas was anything, he was practical, and he had an inquiring mind. He was not afraid to ask the tough questions, questions that others were either too afraid or embarrassed to ask.

At the Last Supper, after washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus begins to speak of his impending death and ascension into heaven. From the comments made by the disciples it is clear that they haven’t a clue about what Jesus is telling them, and yet, no one except Thomas speaks up. Thomas says, “Jesus, I haven’t the slightest clue what you are talking about. How are we expected to know the way when we don’t have any idea where you are going? So, can’t you just tell us where you are going?

Is it any wonder Thomas reacted as he did when Jesus appears to the disciples and he isn’t there? Thomas reacts as we might expect, he stays true to his character. Surprisingly, Thomas’ reaction isn’t all that different than when Mary tells the disciples the same thing. With doubt and perhaps some fear. But, unlike the others, Thomas declares firmly and unequivocally: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” He puts conditions on his faith, he demands hard evidence, indisputable proof that Jesus has risen.  He said “show me” just as any respectable Missourian might say.

However, when one makes statements as vocal and as uncompromising as Thomas, one must be prepared to eat crow. He knew when he was beat. He knew when it was time to shut up and bow down. When Jesus appeared to him a week later, he was convinced not only that he had risen from the dead but that he was truly God.

Thomas discovered Christ in his unbelief. He refused to believe without entering the wounds, and in this he was right, for “faith must be found as much in the wounds of life as in the glories. And from the wounds, a faith might most amazingly emerge.”1

Thomas was blessed with the opportunity to actually see the risen Lord. Although, as Jesus reminds him, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” That includes us, my dear brothers and sisters. That includes us.

There is a subtext to Jesus’ comment that while Thomas became a believer in the seeing, those who do not have the joy of seeing offer something far more splendid in their act of sightless faith. We are told that Jesus did other signs. The ones scripture records are meant to help us believe that Jesus is the Messiah. That belief, that faith, is finally felt and expressed not in sheer joy alone, but in arduous trial, in the plague of worry or doubt, in the grip of fear. These lacks, these wounds, these trials make faith shine all the more and the hearts that hold such faith more precious than gold.2

His hardheaded insistence on the facts resulted in the others calling him “doubting Thomas.” Doubter though he was, a man slow to make up his mind, he was born with a thirst for honest inquiry and one who dearly loved a fact—yet once doubts were resolved, his loyalty was simple, fixed and unshakable. When Thomas saw nothing but disaster ahead, he nevertheless remained steadfast in his devotion to Jesus, more courageous than the other disciples.

Although Thomas loved Jesus unreservedly, he feared the dangerous situations in which Jesus so often placed himself and his disciples. His practical nature drew him to pragmatic but often pessimistic conclusions. Thomas had always belonged to Jesus. Yes, he was irascible, cynical, and perhaps a bit overly pessimistic, but when he was presented with undeniable proof, he sank to his knees in total surrender to his Lord and his God.

While Thomas had a skeptical mind, he was more importantly a genuine seeker of truth, for when proof of Jesus Christ’s resurrection was presented to him, he not only believed, he acknowledged the divinity of Jesus.

He asked questions because he sought the truth. Doubters, while lacking in faith, by expressing their doubts, express their honesty.

We too often presume that faith, like love, will make everything somehow easier, even effortless. We tell ourselves that if we really believed in and loved God, we would never doubt, but in the words of Saint Peter, “rejoice with inexpressible joy.”

Yet, that is not the way either love or faith works. “Perhaps a parent’s greatest love for a child appears more in the hard times than the happy times. Perhaps a friend’s trust … is more deeply felt when inclination is otherwise than when it seems effortless.” Admittedly, that “inexpressible joy” is part of our Easter faith, but our faith is revealed in sad and troubling moments as well.

We each hold a bit of the “Doubting  Thomas” within ourselves—moments of doubt and uncertainty, times when our faith falters, when we are faced with serious problems, when we are afraid of what lies ahead. But then, so to were the disciples afraid, they locked themselves in, out of fear; they were confused and unsettled, not knowing what lay ahead. Faith is not the absence of pain or sorrow or loss. It is, rather, the bearing of our pain or sorrow or loss in faith. “Faith does not take away the wounds; it transforms them. In faith, flaws are not obliterated; they are refined and purified.”

Even though we have never seen our risen Lord, let us strive to make our faith in God and Jesus as strong and true as Thomas.

Amen.

Homily #119
Second Sunday of Easter (A)
Acts 2:42-47
1 Peter 1:3-9
John 20:19-31

 


1 John Kavanaugh, SJ, The Trying of Faith, St. Louis University Center for Sunday Liturgy.
2 John Kavanaugh, SJ, The Trying of Faith.

Deacon Chuck

About the author: Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator. Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin. He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is "Colloqui: A journal for restless minds", a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: http://deaconscorner.org. Comments are always welcome and appreciated. He is the author of two books: "The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence" which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and "Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories" which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love. He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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