by Dan Loch
Sunday’s Gospel from John is packed! A bonanza for investigation and inspiration: The appearance of the Risen Lord. Peace be to you (Do not be afraid)! Sending the disciples. The giving of the Holy Spirit. The forgiveness of sins. Blessed are we who have not seen and have believed. Why John wrote his Gospel. And, most prominently and dramatically enduring, the disciple Thomas.
But first, the First Reading from Acts. It puts the cart before the horse. This idealized picture of the primitive church describes the evolution of the followers of Jesus in the 60-65 years since the time of today’s Gospel story. The fearful disciples of the Gospel have become the faith-professing. Now they are devoted to their community, to the breaking of the bread (the Eucharist), to prayer, – and to income redistribution! They “would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need.”
The Second Reading from 1 Peter, a hymn of praise, describes what God has done for believers, but says Christians will have to suffer “for a little while.” Its “even though you do not see him now yet believe in him” resonates with the Gospel’s “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” That’s them and that’s us.
In the Gospel, the disciples see the Risen Lord on Easter Sunday. Christ “sends” them to do the Father’s work and gives them the Holy Spirit and the power to forgive sins. Alleluia! Alleluia?? One week later they are still locked in the upper room and fearful when Jesus appears again. It took time for them to get bold for their faith. Good news for those who struggle with faith.
Even though Thomas refuses to believe them about the Resurrected Christ, the disciples do not throw him out of their group. I think they held on to him in the hope that he would believe. Really good news for those who struggle with faith.
Thomas, the realist, gets a bad rap and a bad rep. “Doubting Thomas” has become synonymous with his name and is the pejorative tag for anyone who doubts anything. Yet Thomas’ declaration of absolute, full-blown faith a few lines later, “My Lord and my God,” often goes under-appreciated. Thomas is the only person in the New Testament to proclaim that Jesus is God. Tradition says Thomas went on to proclaim the Gospel in Kerala, India. Yet what Thomas is remembered for is that he
In March, Florence and I saw the stage play “Doubt: A Parable.” It seems to be about whether Father Flynn is the sexual abuser of a young boy. We were motivated to watch the DVD movie version where Meryl Streep (strict, formidable, and utterly sure Sister Aloysius) and Philip Seymour Hoffman (personable, warm, but suspect Father Flynn) square off.
But “Doubt” is not about the possible clerical sexual abuse of a young boy. “Doubt” is “A Parable” that teaches a lesson. The play/movie is about the title word, doubt, in a world of certainty personified by Sister Aloysius. For her, Flynn is certainly guilty. That the priest seems innocent, that Sister James, who originally suggested Flynn might be an abuser, comes to believe she was mistaken, means nothing to Sister Aloysius.
She at least gets Father Flynn transferred (but he is promoted to a pastor). At the very end, in a shocking scene that whacks the audience like a hammer, Sister Aloysius breaks down in tears and cries in anguish to Sister James: “I have doubts…I have such doubts.” Some people leave the play/movie completely convinced Father Flynn is guilty and loudly arguing with others who are just as certain that he is innocent.
“Doubt” sticks a thought in my head like a driven nail: I am Thomas. After 17 years of Catholic education, when I was completely certain of my inherited, rote faith, I had doubts, I had such doubts. I am Thomas. In graduate school I decided I was too smart to believe in God. I saw no tangible proof there was a God. So I decided I was god.
After 19 years of being god, I again had doubts, I had such doubts. And I was finding out the hard way. Things were not working out. I hit bottom. Yes, I had stopped believing in God, but God had not stopped believing in me.
I am Thomas. AA was my lifeline, my resurrection appearance. I am Thomas. Teaching REACH was my seeing His hands and His side. Something inside me, some urging of the Spirit, prompted me to volunteer at Mass one September Sunday when the call was made for fourth grade REACH teachers. I re-learned my faith by teaching it to nine- and ten-year-olds for 10 years.
I am Thomas. In making the events, parables, teachings, and pattern of the life of Jesus, and later, at the REACH 10:30 AM Mass for seven years, the liturgical seasons, come alive for them, it all come alive for me, too. I am Thomas. My Lord and my God.
Sometimes I do not find it any easier to believe in the body of Christ than Thomas did. I resist and try to cast it out of my mutinous mind when I have doubts. I have too much to lose. I have gained so much.
Thomas had tangible proof. I am Thomas. When I live by faith, I discover tangible proof – in the community of our parish, in the way this parish reaches out in care and support to others, in the Men’s Meeting discussions, in the work of CONECT. These are proofs of faith like those in the First Reading, by “those who have not seen and have believed.” I pray each day: Lord, I believe; help my unbelief! I am Thomas.
Our wedding song sings through my mind: “Day by day, oh, dear Lord, three things I pray / To see thee more clearly / Love thee more dearly / Follow thee more nearly, / day by day by day by day.”