Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe
Last week I indicated in my homily that only the eye of love can see the truth of the Resurrection of Jesus as did Mary and John at the empty tomb. This week, we see that the eyes of love must also become the eyes of faith.
Nine years ago when Fr. Joel invited me to come to his assistance in California for my retirement, I immediately answered: “I’ve got the heebie-jeebies about that!”. Two and a half months ago when Fr. Joel told me he had applied for Our Lady of the Sierra in Oakhurst, I was honest with him and told him: “I’ve got the heebie-jeebies about that!” Now, nine years ago, my family and friends told me to take the opportunity to dare to make a change in my life. Two months ago, people from here and there were telling me that I would like it in Oakhurst. You see, I was a doubting Thomas. “Seeing is believing” for me in these situations. Now I know that coming out west was a great decision. Now I know that coming to Oakhurst is truly a blessing. So why do we have heebie-jeebies? Why do we doubt Christ in the events of our lives? Maybe Thomas can help us understand this.
Thomas struggled with not seeing Christ. Secondly, the wounds of Christ were real to him and the death of Christ was a real experience for Thomas. Finally, Thomas could not understand that Christ would ever return to forgive his disciples for not trusting in his word.
Thomas doubted first because he could not see. Do we struggle with Thomas about not seeing Jesus in our lives? After all, we have had 2000 years of history which repeated the message given to Thomas by the other disciples: “Jesus is alive, we have seen him.” Yet, we all struggle with that transition of seeing not with the eyes of the body but with the eyes of the soul.
Some will say, concerning religion and faith: “prove it to me, then I will believe,” or “I cannot understand it, so how can I believe?” Believing, it once was said, is allowing something that seems not to exist to be. Believing has to do with life: to allow life to exist where we cannot see it. So we allow Christ to live in the heart of the Church, in the person of the Pope and our priests, in the mystical body of the faithful gathered with us in worship, in the sacraments we celebrate, in the Holy Eucharist, in the lives of those who hurt us. It is knowing that Jesus is present in our breathing, our living, our good works and our love for one another. Whenever our lives move toward sharing life with others, there is the presence of Jesus calling us to become one in his care and mercy.
If we cannot see the presence of Jesus in these, then we are surely restraining the power of faith in our lives and silencing the action of the Holy Spirit promised to all those who believe in Christ. Like Thomas we need to be where Jesus is. But this time we do not wait for Christ to come to us. He is among us already, but we need to make our hearts present to him in docility, trust, love and prayer. He will come to all who present themselves to him. Spiritual sight will transform our heebie-jeebies into belief.
Thomas also doubted because he knew that he wounds of Jesus were a sign that Jesus died. If he could place his hands in the wounds of Jesus and feel their scars on this resurrected body, then he would believe. Isn’t it true that we most struggle with seeing Jesus when we are more tormented by the wounds of life then by the promise of hope? We pray with greater difficulty when we suffer or are in pain. When life seems marred by numerous trials that seem greater than our ability to cope, it is then that we have to work hardest to recover the hope of new life.
Scars have a way of helping us remember the reality of human suffering. Those scars mark our bodies, our minds, our soul. They imbed themselves upon us very much as I remembered my mother’s struggle with multiple sclerosis. Much of her body was impaired over a period of decades of her life by the crippling effects of her paralyzing sickness. When mom lay in the casket after her death, my sister remarked that they had place her most disfigured hand on top of the other which held the cloth used for the anointing of my hands at my ordination to the priesthood. She thought that it was heartless of the funeral director to have allowed this. I responded by reminding her that this most disfigured hand was the sign of her glory. Sclerotic paralysis was the way to new life for her. This is the best sign that she has merited new life. It reminded me of the words of my spiritual advisor when I was in the seminary: “show me a priest and I will show you a suffering mother.”
Our sufferings are not pointless. They leave scars not of dishonor, but of glory, that allow us to find new hope in the crosses we have to bear. Put your hands in the wounds and believe that Jesus is walking with you there.
Finally, Thomas was not the only one who had difficulty dealing with the death of Jesus, never mind his resurrection. Most of the other disciples had abandoned Jesus in his last hours. The experience of life’s difficult moment in their journey with the Master sent them reeling into searching for comfort in other choices of life. Some denied him as did Peter. Some ran away for fear of suffering the same judgment given to Jesus. Some returned to their boats or to their homes as the disciples returning to Emmaus. Why would a Master want to return to disciples who had mostly ran away from him at his most difficult hour?
When Jesus appeared to the disciples, he offered them not regrets, but peace, forgiveness, love, healing. No wonder we have learned to celebrate this second Sunday of Easter as the Divine Mercy Sunday. One of the best manifestations of Jesus’ resurrection is the forgiveness he brings into our lives. Without this forgiveness we would have nothing to look to but eternal death.
The first sign of new life in Jesus is his gift of peace through mercy. The first ways in which we reflect our joy in the resurrected Christ is to seek and bring mercy for each other.
Yes, we can all see the resurrected Jesus through faith. We need to look through the eyes of faith and see him living among us. It was his wounds that achieved all this just at it is our sufferings that bring us to the other side of death with Christ. His resurrection is best noted in the mercy with which he moves among us. So let Christ live: deepen your bonds with the church and her sacraments, transfer your wounds into the living wounds of Christ and most of all bring forgiveness wherever you enter. Let Christ be seen through you: do not disbelieve, but believe. Happy are those who have not seen but believe.