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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Fr. Bob Warren's Week Reflection: Second Sunday of Easter 2017 A Doubting Thomas

Second Sunday of Easter 2017
A Doubting Thomas
A small child looks at a stove. It has been turned off but is still quite hot. She has been told the word several times — "hot." It does not really mean much, because it is only a word — a sound that signals something Mother does not want her to do — so she reaches out, touches the stove, and instantly jerks back trying to rub away the sharp pain. She says clearly and unmistakably "hot." Suddenly, "hot" means something. It is no longer a word, a mere sound, but an experience and the experience will be internalized and remembered. The warning need no longer be repeated. Why couldn't the child have known this beforehand? Why wasn't her mother's experience and warning enough? Why must an idea be tested by one's own experience? This is not just the characteristic of a child. Not many of us accept someone else's reasoning very easily. We are quite capable of doing our own thinking and testing. Parents are often confounded by this problem especially with maturing children who seem to have an insatiable desire to try things for themselves rather than to depend upon the word or experience of their parents.
I have always felt sorry for Thomas in our Gospel. His fault was what we, in our scientific age, would call a virtue. He needed evidence he could test for himself and we see him move impressively from disbelief to genuine faith when Jesus appears and offers him the proof he has asked for: "put your finger in my wounds and your hand in my side." The Gospel does not say that he did this; in fact the Evangelist implies that he did not. Without touching Him Thomas cried, "my Lord and my God."
But you can say, "so what?" "What is the big deal?" After all, Jesus risen was standing in front of him. Thomas could see his hands, why did he need to touch Him? He had as much proof as the rest of the disciples a week before. But seeing is not always believing. The cry of Thomas goes beyond the evidence. Yes, he had seen the risen Jesus, but still a chasm stretches between seeing someone risen from the dead and exclaiming "My Lord and my God!"
A few weeks before, when Thomas had seen Lazarus walk out of his tomb, he did not call him "my Lord and my God." St. Paul says that no one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit. Nor can one say Jesus is God save by the Holy Spirit. In the Gospels, we hear Jesus called Rabbi, Messiah, Prophet, King of Israel. Now you hear Thomas address Him in the same language Israel used to address Yahweh, their God. Thomas utters the title reserved for God alone, "my Lord and my God." This language is used only for divinity. At that critical moment, Jesus would have said to Thomas what he said on a similar occasion to Peter, "Blessed are you for it was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you, it was my father in heaven."
You and I obviously live in a time that does not see the risen Christ face to face. It is not that Christ is removed from us — remote from us — far from it. He is present in the word and in the broken bread. He is present — as he promised — where two or three are gathered in His name. If we love Him, He told us He and his Father will make their home with us. The problem is that we cannot see Him, we cannot touch Him as we see and touch so many others we love. And this tests our faith. There may be times when all we experience is His absence.
But never having seen the risen Christ, we still exclaim on bended knee — "My Lord and my God!" No wonder Christ said, "blessed are those who have not seen but yet believe." The Christian story does not end with that exclamation. Matthew's Gospel lays a frightening warning on the lips of Jesus: "Not everyone who says to me Lord, shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven but the one who does the will of my Father." Not everyone who confesses "my Lord and God" will be saved. For all its unparalleled importance, sheer faith is not enough.
St. James asks us, "what does it profit you to say you have faith but not works? Can faith alone save you? If a brother or sister is Ill clad and in lack of daily good and you say to them, go in peace, be warmed and filled without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?"
Faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. A living faith is a loving faith that forces you out of your small self to help the hundred hungers of the Human Family. In your own life's journey, you will meet thousands of women and men, people of all kinds.
The Christian question is not what will you see with the eyes of your body but rather what will you recognize with the eyes of your faith? Will you be able to see divinity in humanity or will seeing keep you from recognizing? Will the grime and the grit blind you, will the cancer or Alzheimer's, the ugly and the spiteful — all those very human things that make for difference and indifference, for hostility and hatred — prevent you from recognizing your risen Lord, not only in the broken bread but also in the breaking heart, the broken body, the broken mind?
Your faith is not merely a matter of mind and memory. The creed you will shortly confess does summarize much of what you accept about God's word — a maker of heaven and earth, a God man crucified and risen, a spirit, the giver of life. But to come alive to your creed, your faith must move beyond brain and lips. Faith is your whole person given to God. Living faith is an act of love.
My friend, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, our hearts too will burn within us — not only when the scriptures are proclaimed, not only when common bread becomes the Body and Blood of Christ but also when we recognize the risen Christ in those around us.
Many things on this earth are precious, some are Holy. Humanity is Holy of Holies. Because you believe in the Christ you have not seen, you will learn to love and serve the Christs you see every day and they are sitting all around you.
Fr. Robert Warren, S.A.
Yours in Christ,
Fr. Robert Warren, S.A. Signature
Fr. Robert Warren, S.A.
Spiritual Director
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