Sunday, April 11, 2021
Acts of the Apostles 4:32-35
1 John 5:1-6
Second Sunday of Easter
Was it parental piety at home, or teachers in our early religious education classes? Maybe it was fire and brimstone sermons some priests liked to preach, but where did we get the idea that it was sinful to doubt any teaching of the Catholic Church?
Arguably the most original thinker in Church history, St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) defined theology as “faith seeking understanding,” whether by homespun, everyday reflection or with formal study. Faith is a dynamic gift of God. It innately drives us to theologize, to ask the ultimate questions of life more deeply, to make better sense of what it all means. We stagnate and risk superficial living when we think we’re done, there’s nothing more to learn about belief and unbelief.
Mature growth in Catholic spirituality never ends with Confirmation, the completion of baptism. If we are to become our best selves, it’s an ongoing search, a life-long journey into the Mystery of God with fellow disciples walking the way of Jesus.
As a young or older adult, do yourself a spiritual favor and get hold of “Introduction to Christianity,” written in the late 1960s by a world class theologian, Joseph Ratzinger, better known and loved as Pope Benedict XVI. The English translation of this classic is in the Communio Book series, available through Ignatius Press.
It’s not an easy read but very much worth the personal effort. Professor Ratzinger gives us a lengthy overview of secular thought to show how the 12, ancient articles of the Apostles Creed still have relevance.
He begins at the beginning of our challenging search: “Chapter 1, Part 1: Doubt and belief – Man’s situation before the question of God.” Ratzinger reassures us that doubt is inevitable. It’s part and parcel of our limited grasp of the complex data which impact us from all sides. It’s nothing we need deny or feel ashamed about.
Human nature strives instinctively for a bigger picture to tie together the details of our experience, which often seem contradictory. Faith offers us that bigger picture, but paradoxically, doubt can refine and actually strengthen faith this side of heaven.
It prods us not to suppress but to face our questions squarely and keep seeking clearer answers so we can better understand what faith entails. Doubt can also be preventive. It urges us to second guess any lurking decision to give up the struggle and settle for dysfunctional, escapist behavior, e.g., the whole bar room scene as routine.
We do well learning from Thomas the Apostle as John’s Gospel remembers him. He was a real person. Apparently impulsive, he misunderstood why Jesus chose to wait for news that Lazarus had died. He jumped to a hasty suggestion for his fellow-disciples. (John 11:14-16) He was off base, but no problem. They all stuck with the Lord, and the astounding miracle unfolded of a man’s resuscitation after his death.
Then, at the Last Supper, the upper room was tense with uncertainty. Jesus told those at the table that where he was going, they knew the way. Thomas did not, and wanted him to clarify what he just said: “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” (John 14:5)
Jesus identified himself as “the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father.” (John 14:6-7)
Thomas couldn’t hang on to this self-disclosure of a Godly mediator right next to him. Instead, he fled at the betrayal which soon followed. He was nowhere to be found on the way to Calvary and the horror of death by crucifixion. He was absent when the Risen Christ appeared to those assembled that first Easter evening. (John 20:24-29)
There was drama in the upper room a week later with Thomas present. Once again the Messiah, the Christ, appeared (New Testament Greek: “made himself known”) in his resurrected body. He bore the visible marks of his death, but now his humanity was fully transformed in glory, a state radically superior to resuscitation.
Jesus accepted the stern conditions Thomas required for him to believe that the crucified Nazarene was resurrected. He invited the doubting apostle to touch his wounds and see for himself first-hand. Humbled as much as awed, Thomas exclaimed reverently for all to hear, “My Lord and my God!”
The Lord asked if he came to believe because he saw. “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” Yes, St. Thomas struggled with skepticism into adulthood, but by the grace of Jesus’ victory, he persevered to martyrdom, evangelizing in India.
John’s Gospel considers him a hero, a determined work in progress. His profession of faith is a bookend of the text. “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us,” begins the Good News. (John 1:14) “My Lord and my God” is the fitting response of every brother or sister who meets the Word in their flesh.