Sunday, April 8, 2018

A Believing Thomas And An Evangelizing Joseph Reali

"Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written down in this book. But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name" (JN 20:31)

People often like to say, "I'm a doubting Thomas."  They say it a bit boastfully as if to say, "Believing it all is good for simpletons, but I'm an intellectual. I'm a doubting Thomas."  But this isn't good.  The Gospel today isn't encouraging us in the least to be "doubting Thomases."  It is encouraging us to be "believing Thomases."  Being a doubting Thomas is not something which we should boast about. It is something we should humbly confess and repent of.  St. John tells us today that the whole reason that he wrote his Gospel is so that we would come to believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that we could come to life through that belief.  

Now St. Thomas wasn't in that upper room when the Lord appeared, but see what happens.  The moment he returns, the other apostles announce the good news to him. "We have seen the Lord!" This is what disciples of the Lord do. They announce the good news to others. Why? So that others could come to believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that through that belief they could have life in his name. Now Thomas tells them, "I won't believe until I see him myself."  Now, if belief and what we believe wasn't so important, Jesus wouldn't have come back to that room a second time. But, in an act of great mercy, Jesus returns to the upper room. Why? So that Thomas would not remain unbelieving but would believe.  

We can kind of think, "Well, it's easy for Thomas. He got to see the risen Lord."  And that's fair. Now, I would have settled for just seeing the Lord's wounds.  I really wouldn't want to be sticking my hands in his wounds.  Kind of gross.  But, and this is important, Thomas sees one thing, but he believes something more. Thomas sees his old friend Jesus risen from the dead. Let's remember that Thomas had already seen a lot of extraordinary things. He saw Jesus raise Lazarus. He had seen him raise a young man and a little girl. So he had seen people raised from the dead. So, when Thomas sees Jesus, he doesn't exclaim, "Hey, it's my old friend Jesus who has been raised from the dead."  That's what he saw. But, he professed faith in Christ's divinity. He said, "My Lord and my God."  He came to faith in Jesus' divinity.  He saw one thing and believed something else.

St. John records this event so that we can come to believe. This is what Christians do. We announce to others the good news that Jesus is the Son of God so that they can come to believe and have life through that belief. Sometimes we hesitate to announce the gospel to others because we think of it as an imposition or something that is going to make their life difficult. But this good news brings life! And you are in a better position than I am to reach people who haven't heard the good news.  I spend most of my time in the upper room. I tend to interact mostly with people who have already heard the good news.  But you, you're engaged with people "out there." You study with them and work with them. You eat with them and socialize with them.  Jesus wants them to believe. He wants them to have life.

Recently, I heard of a young man named Joseph Reali.  (Write it down and look him up.) Joseph grew up in New York and was, from all accounts, an amazing young man. He lived and breathed football. But, at a certain point his grandmother was diagnosed with cancer and his family needed to take care of her. Without ever looking back, he gave up playing football so that he could help take care of his grandmother. He was a young man filled with charity.

Later on, his friends would say that he would go out to bars with them on a Saturday night, but on Sunday morning, he'd be knocking at the door inviting them to Mass with him. His motto was, "Eucharist, Confession, and Pray the Rosary." He was constantly inviting others to live a life in Christ. Sadly, he died suddenly at 26 years old from a heart condition. His family was shocked when thousands of people attended his funeral. They have been inundated with stories from strangers of how Joseph changed their life by sharing the good news with them.  This is what it is to be a disciple of the Lord.  It is to tell others, "We have seen the Lord!"  Why? So that they can come to believe in the Son of God and have life through that belief.

Today is referred to as Divine Mercy Sunday. It is an opportunity for us to receive mercy, but also to extend it. A great act of mercy is to share with others the good news.  St. John doesn't tell us why Thomas wasn't in that upper room the first time. Maybe he was out doing something important.  Or, maybe he decided that Sunday is his only day off and he didn't want to spend it in the upper room with the other disciples. Maybe he had a midterm to study for or a paper to write. Maybe he wanted to watch the Masters Tournament so he couldn't come to the upper room. Whatever the reason was, the other apostles announced the good news to him. "We have seen the Lord." And, the next week, Thomas was in the upper room with the community of disciples. And because he was there, he encountered the Lord.

There are many people outside of these walls who are not here today. They all have there reasons, but they need you to tell them, "We have seen the Lord." Don't abandon them or be cowardly. Share the good news with them. Be like Joseph Reali and invite them. Why should you do that?  You should do it so that they might come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and through that belief may have life in his name."

(If you are interested in seeing a short video about Joseph Reali, click the link below. I think I will be asking him to intercede for me).

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