April 19, 2020
Saint Patrick’s Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas
1 John 5:1-6
“Faith is not always security, but a risk. It is not always consolation, but a challenge. Faith is not resting, but being animated by perhaps a restlessness to see that God’s justice triumphs in our world. Faith is an effort of the soul, and in a sense, the soul never stops struggling against it in this world.” These are words written in the book entitled, Eternal Answers for an Anxious Age by the late Father Robert Paul Mohan, one of my professors at the Catholic University of America. In many ways they capture the mystery of faith that is being revealed in our Gospel reading from today.
The disciples experience the glorified Jesus in the setting of their being assembled in the upper room. In many ways, their initial gathering is prompted by the fear caused by the trauma of the crucifixion that has been perpetrated against Jesus. In their fears they have locked the doors. Yet, Jesus appears to them in their assembly and imparts peace to them with the same words that I spoke as your bishop to greet you today in the middle of our own fears and lack of certainty: “Peace be with you.” In the assembly of the disciples they encounter the risen Jesus and they receive His gift of faith. We are assembled today only in spirit, but with desire as members of the Church established by Jesus Christ — perhaps prompted in part by our own fears, doubts, and sinfulness — each locked in our own rooms. But, still we meet the glorified Jesus and receive again His gift of faith.
Thomas is not present among the assembled disciples in that first encounter with Jesus in which they receive the gift of faith. Thomas hears what they say but he is rigid in his explicit doubts regarding the truth of what they tell him. There might be many motives for Thomas’ initial rejection of the testimony of the other disciples. Perhaps it’s too difficult for Thomas to believe; perhaps Thomas has too much grief over Jesus’ death; perhaps Thomas is ashamed of his disloyalty to Jesus in abandoning Christ when He needed Thomas to be a loyal friend. Whatever the reason, Thomas simply does not desire to change. The important point for our consideration is that the other disciples do not abandon Thomas in his doubts. They don’t condemn Thomas or expel him. They remain with Thomas; they listen to Thomas; they witness to their faith in Jesus to Thomas. Yet, their faith might not be so certain because the doors of the room remain locked when Jesus appears the second time to them. The faith of the disciples assembled, as today’s Gospel describes, is not a private experience; it is the corporate experience of their communal identity as the Church. Our faith is not a private experience even though it is intensely personal; it’s shared in communion with Christ and each other in our life as the Church.
Thomas sets conditions before he will accept faith in the Resurrection of Jesus. These conditions include his stated intention to inspect Jesus’ wounds almost forensically. The disciples have been entrusted with the mission of mercy, the power to forgive sins. This entrusted mission has enabled them to be merciful and patient with Thomas, even in their own fears and doubts. Jesus peacefully encounters them again through the doors that their fears have locked. He mercifully agrees to meet Thomas’ conditions for faith and in so doing manifests their inadequacy. This encounter of faith with the risen Christ occurs in the presence of the disciples gathered together, as the Church. It is not an isolated experience even as it is personal.
Jesus shows Thomas His wounds and in so doing reveals to Thomas the wounds of Thomas. Jesus’ wounds are real wounds; they are not healed wounds; they are not scabby wounds; they are not bloody or infected wounds; they are glorified wounds in the mercy of the truth of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ.
Thomas has been confused about the order of things. He has thought that vision leads to faith; rather it is the sharing of Jesus’ gift of faith through works of mercy that provides authentic and true vision. It is the gift of faith that leads Thomas and each of the disciples ever more deeply into the mystery of the perfect mercy and love of God, the love that is revealed in the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus. The suffering of doubt is not a sufficient reason to be absent from the Church. This is true for Thomas and the early disciples spoken of in today’s Gospel; it is also true for each of us living the gift of faith today.
St. Bernard of Clairvaux writes, “Of all the movements, sensations and feelings of the soul, love is the only one in which the creature can respond to the Creator and make some sort of similar return however unequal though it be. For when God loves, all He desires is to be loved in return. The sole purpose of His love is to be loved, in the knowledge that those who love Him are made happy by their love of Him.” Love means sacrificing our preferences and our own will in favor of God’s as expressed through the Ten Commandments and the fullness of the Gospel.
The liturgy of these days of the Easter season includes readings from the Gospels that depict the initial appearances of the Risen Jesus to the disciples. Two of these accounts offer us an important insight in our own lives of faith. Mary Magdalene, who tradition and Scripture identify as being present at the Cross, recognized Jesus only when He spoke her name, calling her into her identity as redeemed in the present. She then attempts to cling to Him as she knew Him to be in the time before the crucifixion. It’s perhaps a type of nostalgia; “things were so much better with Jesus before the Cross.”
On the other hand, Thomas attempts to set criteria by which he can know Jesus but only on Thomas’ own terms set for the future — knowledge not born of faith but born instead of Thomas’ own false need to be in control. Each time, Jesus calls both Mary Magdalene and Thomas into the present moment, away from the past of sinfulness denied and away from the future feared, each of which does not exist in the reality of the present. We encounter Christ in the present.
Thomas set conditions for his decision to believe. Jesus showed how futile these conditions were for faith when Jesus shows Thomas His glorified wounds. This experience of Thomas in the loving presence of the disciples assembled together prompts in him the gift of the faithful cry, “My Lord, and my God.” The glorified wounds of Christ are manifested in the presence of the Church, present in that room almost 2,000 years ago and present today. The wounded Apostles, the wounded disciples are glorified as well in the wounds of Christ. What are the conditions that we currently set for belief in the Resurrection of Jesus? These are what we bring to Christ today.
Thomas hears; then he believes; then he sees. Thomas begins by thinking that seeing leads to believing. Yet, in encountering Christ in the gathered presence of the disciples whose testimony he has heard, Thomas comes to know that it is faith that leads to sight. I conclude with the words of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, “You wish to see, listen. Hearing is a step towards vision.”