Friday Focus: Focus on Faith
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe." A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe." Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe." Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. John 20:19-31
Lucky Thomas, he literally got hands-on proof to bolster his faith. We will have to wait a little longer for that sublime experience. Until that time, Jesus tells us we are blessed because we believe in what we do not see. But before we congratulate ourselves for a pious achievement, we should understand that our faith is entirely a gift from God. It is a grace infused in us, not a virtue generated by us. Our job is to cooperate with God’s grace, to nurture and protect our gift of faith. That does not mean faith should be hidden and hoarded. For faith to live in us, we must live openly, confidently, joyfully in faith. Jesus did not go to the cross for us to live timidly as closet Christians in an increasingly secular and cynical world.
Let’s use this lesson of Christ’s appearances in the upper room to probe the nature of faith and its impact on our lives. Faith was never meant to be an affirmation of some frail, static body of beliefs, incapable of surviving a collision with empirical evidence. Our dynamic, vibrant faith welcomes scientific revelations from Darwin to “The Big Bang.” As pioneer anthropologist and theologian Teilhard de Chardin explained: “Faith has need of the whole truth.” We welcome scientific breakthroughs as further proof of the endless wonders of creation and the endless glory of the Creator.
But faith is not an intellectual exercise. It is not an abstraction for theologians to parse. Faith is a fire that burns within us, fueled by God’s grace. We must tend the fire or be left in the cold ashes of indifference. Constant fidelity is the ideal of faith. But few of us achieve it. We are human. We get tired. We get distracted. We are sinners. We serve our pride and our appetites. We stray from our faith. We may even deny it. But faith is not our creation. We did not will it into being, anymore than we willed ourselves into being. Jesus is ever ready to enter into the upper room of our neglect and rejection. But Christ will not coerce us into belief. We must truly work out our own salvation. Ever since baptism, when Christ claimed us for his own, saving grace has lived in us waiting to be worked out.
“Out” is the operative word. No matter how humble or reserved our character, we were never meant to tip-toe through life keeping our faith a closely guarded secret. In word and deed our faith must be proclaimed. And not just on Easter, Christmas and the occasional Sunday… that’s not faith. That’s casual observance of tradition. True Christian faith is all-pervasive. It shapes our personality. It governs our conduct. In all things, we must put faith first
The disciples came together in fear; they went out together in faith. Conviction replaced confusion. They drew strength from Jesus and shared it with each other. That is the social model of our faith community to this day. The light of faith does not burn uniformly in all of us, all the time. That is why we come together in need and in plenty. We support each other in prayer and fellowship. We instill and reinforce the habits of faith in our loved ones. We share our faith and we see it flower all around us. Faith builds on faith … it is the ultimate virtuous cycle.
As Paul teaches us: of “Faith, Hope and Charity”… Charity is the greatest of all. But it is “Faith” that comes first of all. This is not a random ranking. As St. Ignatius of Antioch explains: “Faith is the beginning and the end is love. God is the two of them brought into unity.”
So, thank you, Thomas. Your doubts made possible this lesson in faith. Thank you, Jesus. You have died and risen once again within us. Thank you, Father. Every day you give us the grace to increase our faith and to live in your love, as we joyfully journey home to you.
Easter Focus: Case Closed
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him." Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him." When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, "Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, `I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"; and she told them that he had said these things to her. John 20:1-18
For the Romans it was a useful lesson to discourage other trouble makers. For the Sanhedrin it was just punishment for a blaspheming pretender. For his disciples it was disillusionment and despair. For his mother it was indescribable pain watching her boy destroyed. It wasn’t supposed to end this way. And of course it didn’t.
He is risen. Love has triumphed over evil. The message has not been muzzled. And the messenger walks among us. It did not all end on the cross. It was only the beginning. He is with us in worship this Easter morning. We are risen with Jesus. And we share his victory over death, through a lifetime of Christian witness and beyond. This is no poetic illusion. It is as real as life gets. Anyone who has returned from a life of darkness will tell you what a blessing it is to live in the light of The Resurrection… to rejoice in it ...to share it.
In “Peter Pan” there is a very effective scene where Tinker Bell is expiring and can only be revived if the children in the audience believe in fairies. The risen Christ is no Tinker Bell. He is and was God before all time. He will reign beyond all time. That reality is not dependent on our belief. We, however, are another matter altogether. In Christ we are saved. Reject him and we are on our own. But even then our case is not closed. God calls us to him constantly, to live in the Resurrection … to choose eternal life over death.
God made us, knows us and loves us in our imperfection. The frailty of our faith is no secret to him. Few of us are living saints. None of us is sinless. The diaries of Mother Theresa reveal her dark night of the soul; surrounded by suffering, questioning God’s love and very existence. Yet she continued on, driven by a will to believe, struggling toward the light. On Easter morning the light of the risen Christ beckons brighter than ever. This is a time to banish our doubts, to burnish our beliefs, to reconnect with baptismal grace and recommit to live in and for Jesus.
Easter is the time we say “yes” to Jesus, to live in our hopes not our fears. No matter how many times we fall, we are a resurrection people. No matter what our condition, Jesus wants us for his own. It was not in the power of the Romans or the Sanhedrin to close the case on Jesus. It is not in the power of the world, the flesh or the devil to close the case on any of us. That power is in our own hands. We can rise with Jesus or choose to sit out the Resurrection. Let’s throw open our tombs. Choose life. Choose love. Choose joy. Choose Christ. Alleluia! He is risen.