Saturday, April 14, 2012

"I Will Not Believe" Would Have Been a Very Bad Ending

Often enough, I've heard people say things like, "Thank God for doubting Thomas because I'm a doubter too."  I think that's a bad perspective to have.  We want to imitate Thomas not in his doubting, but in his believing.  The good news of the Gospel is that Thomas came to believe.  It would be a sad story indeed if St. John the Evangelist had recorded Thomas' last words as being, "I will not believe."  That would be quite the disappointing end to the Gospel.  None of us would feel like exclaiming, "Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ," if that were the end of the Gospel.  What is so beautiful about the Gospel for the Second Sunday of Easter is that Thomas came to Faith.

So often in life, people say platitudes that mean absolutely nothing.  One such platitude is, "It doesn't really matter what you believe, as long as you believe something."  (Vomit here).  It does matter what we believe.  The substance of our Faith is as important as the act of believing the substance.  What we believe shapes how we act.  What we believe can save us.  If you were getting married and the person you were marrying said, "Well, I believe that marriage doesn't require fidelity," then I'd suggest you put together a new search committee.  Believing matters. If it didn't, then Jesus wouldn't have bothered going back to that upper room a second time.  After all, ten of the eleven remaining disciples were there and they believed.  If believing wasn't such a big deal, he could have let Thomas believe whatever he wanted.  But no, Jesus goes back to that upper room so that Thomas would come to believe.

And what did Thomas say when he sees Jesus there?  Did he exclaim, "Jesus, it's you!  My old friend!  You're a dead man who has been raised from the dead!"  If Thomas had exclaimed this, it would have been understandable.  That's what he saw.  He saw his old friend who had died, now alive.  But, if that was what Thomas exclaimed, then St. John could have saved himself a page from the Gospel.  No, as the early Church Fathers teach us, Thomas saw one thing and believed another.  He saw his old friend risen from the dead.  But he believed something much greater.  He looked at him and said with Faith, "My Lord and My God."  That's why Jesus went back to that room a second time.  He wanted Thomas to believe.

That's what Jesus wants for all of us.  He wants us to have greater Faith.  It matters what we believe.  Jesus wants us to see with the eyes of Faith.  He wants us to look at what appears as bread and wine and to exclaim, "My Lord and My God!"  He wants us to look at a man in the confessional wearing a purple stole and see the Divine Mercy of God.  He wants us to see an aged man in Rome and see the Vicar of Christ on Earth.  This is what Faith does.  Faith matters. 

Sometimes, people talk like it is cool to be a doubter.  It isn't.  Imagine if your spouse said, "I believe my wife about most things."  Or, "I believe my wife, 90% of the time."  I'm guessing the car ride home from that party would be quite interesting.  Well, when it comes to matters of Divine Faith, a totality of Faith is so much more important.  We sometimes talk about Faith as though what it really means is, "I concur with this because it agrees with my way of seeing things."  That's not Faith. 

I don't know if you've ever had this experience, but I have.  And sometimes, I've done it to others.  Let's say, for example, you are looking for something.  Somebody decides to help you and they open a drawer.  You say, "I already looked in there."  They answer, "I believe you, but I'm going to look anyways."  That always infuriates me (and I've done it to others).  What they are really saying is, "I don't believe you enough not to check it myself."  Well, when we refuse to believe until we have exhausted every ounce of research, double checking, and consultation, that's really not Faith.  Faith is a gift that accepts God's word as true.

We believe first.  We seek to understand what we believe, but understanding doesn't precede Faith.  Thomas didn't understand what was going on in that upper room.  He just believed that Jesus was God.

Pope Benedict XVI has declared the coming year--beginning in October--as a Year of Faith.  It is an opportunity for all of us to deepen our Faith.  He has spoken a lot about focusing upon the encounter with Christ.  Faith arises from a personal encounter with the Lord Jesus.  These past few days, I've been trying to clear off my desk and to think about all of the projects, meetings, and details that are filling up my life.  And, as I did so, I thought, "I need to focus on Faith this year."  I don't know what that means exactly, but I know that my desk is pretty full right now, but Faith trumps all of the rest of it.  "And the victory that conquers the world is our faith."  That's what the First Letter of St. John says.  We have to aim at being victorious as a Church.  And the only way to be victorious is for pastors like me to focus upon Faith.  How am I going to do that?  I'm not sure yet.  But, I'm going to get busy figuring it out.

Jesus came back to the upper room a second time, so that Thomas would believe something far beyond his natural capacity.  Jesus wants us to believe too.  The reason we read that Gospel is because Thomas became victorious that day when he passed over from a doubter to a believer.  Jesus wants us to believe so that we can be victorious.  Let's believe and win the victory.

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