Is it Just Thomas Who Doubts?

“Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

-John 20:24-29

In reading through the Gospel for this Second Sunday of Easter, John portrays just a glimpse of some of the confusion that took place shortly after Jesus had been crucified, and had risen, though it was only known to some. To the misfortune of Thomas, he was not with the rest of the disciples when Christ appeared to them the first time. Because of this, when Christ did appear, and the disciples told Thomas after the fact, he easily remained unconvinced of the story. What a terrible person, right? Not so fast- if we are truly honest with ourselves, and know the context and calamity that had befallen them, we may not be so quick to judge poor Thomas in such a light. If we are mindful of our own challenges, maybe he begins to reflect some of our own experience.

In fact, maybe “Doubting Thomas” isn’t the only one whose faith can be slow to believe…

Admittedly, our Catholic faith is not something that is easy to digest, especially in the context of today’s culture, even when we compare it to the time of Christ. We encounter all kinds of evils, questions, confusion, chaos, hurt, suffering, and many other stumbling blocks along our faith journey. It simply isn’t easy to say that our faith makes sense, for example, when an attack takes countless innocent lives- and yet our faith calls us to charity and forgiveness. It isn’t easy to say our faith makes sense when the Bible says God is always there, and He seems to have left us “in the dark.” It isn’t easy to say our faith makes sense when we are called to extol our brothers and sisters to virtue, when it would simply be easier to simply focus on ourselves or let well enough alone.

Christ speaks not only to Thomas’s heart, but to ours, when He says that those are blessed who have not seen and yet believe. If faith were easy, it would have no reward. If gold is not tried with fire, it remains impure. So too is our faith. In some ways, Thomas has been called to a greater task. Maybe he could have had more faith; perhaps he was doing the best he could at that time. Regardless, so many times we can easily identify with Thomas in removing God’s way for our own, because ours makes more “sense.” Maybe we want Christ to come and show us Himself in the different situations that occur- perhaps then would we be able to exclaim, “My Lord and My God!”

In the end though, that is not what Christ has called us to. Christ is, instead, calling us to a great task, and that itself we may not be able to currently see. However, with our eyes of faith wide open, we trust that, one day, we may see by the light of Christ Himself, not only in faith but in His full glory. It is in this way that faith will help us make “sense” of it all, through Christ Himself.

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The End and the Beginning

Stained glass window in St. Joseph’s Chapel at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in Saint Louis, Missouri.

Resurrexit sicut dixit, Alleluia!

He has risen, as He said, Alleluia!

One of the greatest moments of the Liturgical Year for Catholics worldwide is the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday. Having celebrated the triumphant entrance into Jerusalem, the Last Supper on Holy Thursday, and Christ’s Passion on Good Friday, the entire world waits in what could be best described as a pregnant pause. Christ has given His life up for His people- and the world waits in silence, curious at what could happen next.

What happens next is truly extraordinary- for the final blow to be dealt to death- ultimately, that Christ rises and destroys the bonds of death. No longer is man ultimately doomed by the fall of Adam- He has been freed by the new Adam who, instead of falling into sin, rises into glory. The Messiah, as promised throughout the Old Testament, has come and died for His people. This new Adam and does not fall into doom as the old did by a tree, buy mounts a tree to save man. This is where Christians derive all of our hope. Man is no longer doomed because of sin- but has hope because Christ has taken upon Himself that sin- sins that we could not atone for ourselves, when we, as finite beings, have sinned against the infinite creator.

That said, this is not the end of the battle for us personally. We must make choices in daily life as to whether we are going to live in the glory of Christ’s Resurrection, or continue to live in the darkness of sin. This manifests itself in large ways, such as whether we decide to partake in the sacramental life of the Church; however, it also manifests itself in the small things too- whether that is something as supposedly inconsequential as the gossip that we should have avoided in conversation. No matter the weight- our lives should be manifestations of that glory that Christ has enabled us to partake in. Just as if we were switches, we have the choice and freedom to chose for and against- Christ has suffered, died, and risen for our sake- we must never forget that and must work hard to continue to live out that message of hope in the offering of our own lives.

That I May Preach There Also

Simon and those who were with him pursued him, and on finding him said, ‘Everyone is looking for you.’ He told them, ‘Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.'”

-Mark 1:36-38

We have all heard the common adage “the squeaky wheel  gets the grease.” To a certain degree, that plays out in our everyday lives, whether it be at work, at home, or even in the garage for that matter. It is true that the more obvious a problem is to us the more likely it is that we are going to solve it first. If a pipe in a home is dripping slowly, the repair may be put off for a long time. However, if there is a profuse trickle or something of that sort, a trip to the hardware store may be in short order.

That is not the particular message that Christ is relaying in the end of this passage however. Christ is not limiting His own presence and ministry to those who are calling out to Him, or to those needs that may not be as pressing in His ministry. He is also not limiting His ministry to those to whom he has close physical proximity. Instead, when Simon comes looking for Christ to lead Him back to the people of that same town, Christ responds that, actually, He and the disciples need to move on. Has He adequately taken care of the people that He is actively leaving, however?

Surprisingly, even with others still looking for Him, the answer is yes. What He is doing is serving as a good model for evangelization. One of the major problems that the Church has encountered over the past few centuries is that it has often and inadvertently limited its range and mission to those inside the doors of the Church. This has become a problem that manifests itself, not only in evangelization, but even in view of a parishioner’s life, who often limits religious engagement to that place that is actively calling for his or her participation in worship.

We are certainly not called to limit our worship to Church during Sunday Mass. We are not called to limit our evangelization to ourselves. We are called to take up Christ’s Gospel message and permeate our entire life with it. To truly live an authentically Christian life, we need to carry the Gospel to others, especially outside the Church. This is what Christ is showing us in the Gospel message for this Sunday. If we are only seeking those who have already been found, for the most part, what happens to the others that have wandered off or never been invited into the fold of our Church to participate in our worship? What happens to those who are in dark places, and have not even heard word of the Light that is Christ?

We are not self-evangelizers strictly, nor are we limited to those who have it mostly figured out and know God in a real way. Even in our own lives, while we certainly have our daily conversions to the Lord, we need to be assessing whether we are bringing our own evangelization to those who have not heard the message, especially those who are in even more desperate need than we find ourselves. We must not limit ourselves to evangelizing those who are actively seeking, but we need to be seeking those who have never been sought. Thus, we must move on to the nearby villages ourselves, and continue to seek for all of the rest of God’s children.

 

The Woman Caught in Adultery

“Then Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you? She replied, “No one, sir.” Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, [and] from now on do not sin any more.”

-John 8:10-11

One of the fundamental lessons that I remember learning as a young boy was that actions had consequences. If I broke one of my belongings, it would no longer work. If I flattened a bike tire, I had to save up enough money to buy a new one. If I didn’t eat dinner, I could expect to miss out on dessert as well. These aren’t uncommon lessons that I learned- they are essential to man’s nature as a social being, and one with a free will.

How does the story of the woman caught in adultery fit into this idea though? It could certainly appear that, at first glance, the woman that had committed a serious sin, especially by practice of the Israelite community- and one that merited death. Jesus was well aware of this practice to stone such a woman in His time- why does He act against that particular drive? Why does it appear that he is taking away the consequence of her action?

It seems that there are two fundamental lessons to be learned here. First, we are not the best judges of our own standing in comparison to others or to God. Jesus’s invitation to the leaders of the community to allow the first one of them without sin to cast a stone at her. What was the meaning of this? Perhaps, it was a wake-up call to them. They could have been in worse sorts than she was herself, in some sense. However, it seems to make sense that Jesus wishes us to treat others with mercy and compassion, similar to what we enjoy ourselves. This is an easy lesson to hear, but it is certainly harder to apply. For example, the next time you are cut-off in traffic and desire to enact vengeance upon your fellow motorist- can you say that you are above them in your own morality, let alone an immaculate driver? If you catch someone in a lie, does this make you better than them because you weren’t? To go out on a limb here, it is likely not to be the case. It is important to remember our own need for mercy when we deal with others; otherwise, what place do we have to ask for mercy ourselves? It really seems to be a mistake to start pitting ourselves against others and feeling superior. That is not the true meaning of mercy, and there is certainly a high probability that our evaluation has come up short.

I do not desire to get into a political discussion, but I recently found an excellent example of this when I came across an article on Facebook decrying the fact that President Trump had spoken at the March for Life, because as the article purported, “he is not a pro-life politician.” I am not going to address the validity of that particular claim, because that is not my point; my point is that if we feel that we have the grounds to start casting stones in an accusatory way, we really have to evaluate our own situation more closely. Are truly the most worthy spokespeople of the pro-life message we claim to be portraying? Have we lived up to the pro-life message of the Gospel ourselves, in a way that fully respects the dignity of every human being? Have we always built our neighbors up in a pro-life way(even if just in the perception that others have of them), or have we torn them down in some way that we truly didn’t respect their life and dignity? We cannot start to think we have it all figured out in comparison to another, or we will find ourselves in a very proud and dangerous place- prone to very hard falls, and a false sense of self-righteousness. To do this is not mercy as Christ teaches- it is arrogance. It doesn’t give another a second chance, even when we know we need second chances ourselves. I do not say this to say we shouldn’t ask if a person is truly pro-life; I say this to warn against a cavalier attitude that will not give a person the chance to change to a pro-life stance; maybe his stance has changed, and maybe it hasn’t. He said it has- and that is the hope- and the point. The woman in adultery certainly desired to change- are we to throw stones regardless of that change?

As with many things, this lesson also comes with a very important caveat, and it is seen at the very end of verse eleven above- “Go and from now on do not sin anymore.” What this means is that Jesus is not giving out “free passes” to anyone who desires to sin. He is giving chances to do the right thing- and so many times, it is far more than two chances. Such is the case for our neighbor to be sure, even if they have in some way wronged us or wronged someone else. We aren’t necessarily called to let everyone off the hook, but we are called to be merciful in whatever circumstances we find ourselves in- and hope for positive change in them, but also pray for positive change in ourselves. We cannot abuse our chances and expect to always get off the hook- nor should we. This gospel is not saying that we should- it is saying that we should be mindful of our own state and God’s forgiveness for us, before we begin to tear others down. Otherwise, it is at that exact moment that we have begun a fall that could be worse than the one we have placed ourselves above. This ultimately will send us away from Christ in shame, as the Pharisees were sent away, rather than in freedom, as was granted to the woman that was caught in adultery.