Monday, May 8, 2017

THOMAS THE BELIEVER: a homily for the Second Sunday of Easter, Year A, (John 20:19–31)

I am in Carlow at the moment and have no opportunity for proper preaching so this is a draft homily.

What it must have been like to be alive at that time, to be a believer just as the Church is beginning!  What drama there must have been as they struggled to deal with not only the horrific death of Christ but with the shock of His resurrection!  Remember orthodox Jews had no such expectation of a resurrection before the Last Day.  They did expect the Messiah, the Christ to herald a new Jewish Kingdom.  There world was turned upside down by the shameful death of our Lord upon the cross – that’s what the Jewish leaders intended!  Then they find the empty tomb.  Then He starts to appear to believers.  Peter sees Him, and the other apostles, then five hundred disciples.  There are many appearances.  This is just one of those.
Christ is not restricted by His humanity or the materiality of His body.  He could work miracles before but He still respected the laws of science and knocked on a door rather than walk through walls.  Now He does not even bother with that.  As Lord and Creator the Universe is His sandbox and as its Creator He can play with the laws He has decreed as a harpist plays with the strings of His harp. 
There is a playfulness in His sudden appearances.  They are in hiding afraid for their lives and He just shows up and confronts them with His reality.   They are incredulous so He gives the evidence of His identity – His wounds – proof of His suffering, His love, His obedience to the Father, of His resurrection.  He eats and drinks with them to show them that He remains truly human.
Peace is His first wish and gift to us – not just any peace but real peace, peace between us and God.  To make that peace effective He gives them, the apostles, the power to forgive sins or to retain them!  Our sins can be forgiven!  Any evil we may fall into can be wiped away if we repent and allow the Church to apply the healing salve of Christ’s grace in the Sacrament of confession.  His Sacrifice of Himself on the Cross, His offering of His eternal worship of the Father on our behalf, infinitely outweighs any and every evil we could commit.  His song to the Father corrects all our errors and makes us fit for the choirs of Heaven.  Our sins can not only be forgiven but they can be retained!  That’s not a fact that is often mentioned today! Absolution can be withheld if the penitent does not admit his guilt, or denies some article of the Faith, or for some other serious reason.  I have come across penitents who denied the sinfulness of their actions or obstinately denied Church teaching.  Any priest will do his best to bring someone around, to open even a tiny crack, to give a penitent the benefit of the doubt but there are times when one is confronted with obstinate refusal to face reality.  Let us not fall into that trap!
Thomas, the positivist, one who asserts that only those things that can be proved are worthy of belief, wants his experiential, measureable evidence.   He is much like many in the modern world that thinks it is being scientific and mature by demanding proof for everything it would rather not acknowledge.  Such people get stuck in their teenage years with a narrow understanding of science and knowledge and however highly educated they may get manage not to let that inner teenager grow up.  Growing up is hard and we have to face up to our responsibilities! 
Science can only deal with the material world, it cannot prove quite a number of things, rational beliefs that cannot be subject to scientific measurement or examination.
It cannot prove logical or mathematical truth since it presupposes them.
It cannot prove metaphysical truths such as the existence of minds other than my own, the reality of the world around me or existence of that world prior not only to my existence but to my present self-awareness.
It cannot deal with ethical judgments about right and wrong.  Science cannot tell us whether the Nazis were right or wrong in what they did to the Jews and other minorities in the concentration camps.
It cannot deal with aesthetic judgments on the beauty of anything.  Scientists can weigh and measure a painting and subject the materials to various tests but as scientists they have no more to say on its beauty than anyone else.
Lastly science cannot prove science!  Science not only assumes mathematics and logic but also many other concepts such as the constant speed of light between two points upon which so much cosmology is based.
Christ’s response to Thomas and His doubt is to present him with the tangible proof of His resurrection, His Real Presence.   Thomas still needs faith to see beyond Christ’s humanity to His Divinity and he is not found lacking.  He goes further than the other disciples and confesses Christ’s Divine personhood.  According to tradition he also went further than the others geographically and ended his days in India.
What proofs can we offer the doubters today?  What evidence can we present?  We must first know our Faith and hold to it.  We should also know how to present it in ways that are rational and reasonable.  I recommend one book: the Case for Christ which, although written by a Protestant, lays out the evidence for the reliability of the New Testament accounts of Christ.
We are also called to be the proof of the resurrection by living our faith.  No one will believe what we say if they are not convinced by what we do.  We must seek to be saints, really and genuinely holy, devoted to the will of the Lord.  The important thing is faith in Christ and His teaching and obedience to it.

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