Acts 5:12-16; Revelation 1:9-11a, 12-13, 17-19; John 20:19-31
There’s a lot of skepticism in our world these days. We are skeptical about the war in Iraq: Is it a war against radical Islamic fundamentalism or is it a war between Arab and Western cultures? Is our political process for the election of our presidents fundamentally flawed? Just what is the role of our nation’s Supreme Court and our Constitution? Has globalization doomed the future of American jobs? Will what we have known to be marriage be radically morphed into a variety of mere civil unions?
This skepticism is more than simple doubting or questioning. Skepticism cuts into reality itself. As he conducted his trial of Jesus Christ, Pontius Pilate asked, “Truth? What is truth?” That was not the question of a person who is genuinely looking for an answer. That was the question of a skeptic. Questioners are less radical. One asks a question because one has faith that there is an answer. A question is a quest for truth; a genuine questioner has faith that there is an answer. Doubting is somewhat stronger. A doubter is an agnostic. Skepticism, however, borders on cynicism. A skeptic has set faith and hope aside, believing in nothing. There is nothing positive in the skeptic’s position. For him there are no certainties.
Ironically, skeptics and doubters make daily acts of faith. When they board an airplane, for instance, they’re making acts of faith in the pilots of that plane, in the engineers who designed it, and in all others who have manufactured and maintained that airplane. So also they make acts of faith in their friends and in those they love. For in order to say “I love you” and really mean it, one must believe in the beloved. Love and belief are two sides of the same coin. I can declare “I love you” because I believe in you, and I can say “I believe you” because in a certain way I love you. Acts of faith fill our daily lives… they are the stuff of our friendships and our loves. Yes, skeptics and doubters make daily acts of faith.
And they are reasonable acts of faith. Faith is ultimately based on credible evidence. Faith is an act of reason. I believe someone because I have seen that it is reasonable to believe in them on the basis of what they have said and done. That is no less so when it comes to the eyewitnesses who have told us about Jesus. Their testimony is reasonable and credible. With them I believe in Christ Jesus… and that is a reasonable thing to do.
Around us are some who seek to deny that Jesus Christ ever existed. For them, He is a myth. Others live as if Jesus Christ doesn’t matter. They ignore Him. They are joined by some who profess to be Christians but who nevertheless live their lives as if Jesus really doesn’t matter. Still others actively seek to discredit Christianity in general and the Catholic Church in particular.
It is in this context that we are confronted with today’s gospel account. Once again meet Thomas the Doubter — the apostle from Missouri, so to speak; the “show me” state.
Presumably you who hear this homily are not skeptics. I doubt very much that any genuine skeptics would be coming here to Mass! But I suspect that many of you, like me, are questioners – those who are on a quest, a pilgrimage, seeking the Temple of the Truth. To be honest, some of you may be doubters. I know that I have had my doubting times, wondering if it’s all true, wondering if the reports of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and the other writings found in the New Testament are reliable and trustworthy.
Who among us has not wondered whether or not God hears our prayers? Who among us has not had moments when we wondered where God is for us? Who among us has not felt the weight of Jesus’ words as He hung dying on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Thank goodness we encounter Thomas the apostle every year at this time. Thank goodness the Church repeatedly sends him to us so that with him we can ponder, quest, and find Jesus of Nazareth who, in His resurrection, has become for us Christ the Lord. Thank goodness it was Thomas who cried out: “My Lord and my God.” Note that those words were not previously spoken by any of the other apostles. Those words fell from the lips of Thomas the moment he lost his doubts and met the reality of Jesus risen and standing before him.
“What happened?” we ask. Don’t we ask that question whenever we’ve been absent from an event in which others were present? It’s a perfectly legitimate question – even a proper question. What transpired in our absence is something we want brought to us.
Problems arise when we delve into what was seen. What was seen? How was it seen? From what perspective was it seen? Through what filters was it seen? All of these are problematic; all of these are in play when we, in our quest for reality, penetrate through what was seen into the reality underneath what was seen.
“We have seen the Lord”, said the other apostles to Thomas. What, we need to ask, did they see? How did they see?
The answers are not simple. Evidently, however, they employed the word “see” at a deeper level than simply reporting what they saw with their physical eyes. Evidently they saw Christ, encountered Christ, and engaged Him in relationships that were at the spiritual level. Evidently they saw Him with their inner vision as well as with their ocular vision. Eventually, at Pentecost, they and Thomas as well would be brought to live in Christ’s living Presence, inspired by His Holy Spirit, the Spirit who raised Him from the dead. That same Spirit would raise them up into new lives… lives that would change them and our world forever.
What happened on Easter Sunday morning and thereafter? We could take doubters to the tomb and they would find it to be empty. But what would that prove? Nothing — except that the tomb was empty. They would not see and encounter the risen Christ.
What do non-Christian historians tell us about Jesus of Nazareth? Nothing much beyond the fact that He was from Nazareth, that He was a descendent of David, and that He was crucified in Jerusalem. Historians cannot, however, bring us to encounter the risen Christ.
The answer to the question “What happened?” is found in the lives of all who, down through the centuries, have encountered Christ as He has come to us in others who share our humanity.
What was “seen” is not as significant as what is known to be ultimately true. The reality of Christ resurrected from the dead is found in the lives of those who, touched by the Holy Spirit, have encountered Christ in His presence to them, in His power given to them, and in His love shared with them. Because of them I know what happened after Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Because of them I know that the tomb is empty and that Jesus Christ is out and about working elsewhere.
What a blessing it is that Thomas was among the Twelve. What a blessing it is that the gift of the Twelve has, down through the centuries, eventually come to us. What a gift it is that God’s Holy Spirit has been manifestly at work throughout our Church’s history. What a gift it is that the faith of the Church is a gift we can receive and rely upon today, tomorrow, and throughout the days of our lives.
Christ is truly risen. Alleluia!