2017 – Cycle A
Acts 2:452-47; Psalm 118; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31
Have you ever questioned some aspect of our Christian faith? Doubted as poor Thomas is forever branded?
Or are you afraid to question or challenge a Christian belief or Church teaching? Afraid that to question might be the beginning of that slippery slope toward lack of faith, toward losing your faith or trust in God?
Belief is not easy. Whether trust in God or assent to the creeds and teachings of our Christian community, it requires commitment, courage, reflection and discipline.
We no longer live in an enchanted world of spirits living in the woods and streams or constellations of stars, planets and suns governing our lives. We live in a world marked by scientific inquiry and skepticism, research and observation and proofs, which while offering its own beauty, power and mystery is still not a guarantee of belief as is seen in the rejection by many people of climate change and evolution. Yet the believer today is often accused of being irrational. If I can’t see it or it can’t be proven then it must not be truth. Are the revelations of science the only truth? And what of that intriguing question of Pontius Pilate, “What is truth?” But I’ve never seen an atom or a galaxy or the molten core of the earth and yet I believe in those physical aspects of our world. Does not beauty in nature, music and drama, art and dance, poetry and literature not reveal truth? A different truth than science but truth none the less. What of the truth in a life lived as fully as possible? …the truth in human suffering and joy? …the truth of an honest day’s work?
Christian belief is not easy, it requires commitment, courage, reflection and discipline.
As often as I stand at an altar and hold the plate of hosts in my hands or look into the cup of wine and over them say the words of Jesus, I stand at the edge of an abyss. I recall as a young altar boy of looking at the host in the monstrance during Benediction or kneeling for my requisite half hour during Forty Hours Devotion and desiring a little earthquake, a smidgen of lightening, a sign to be sure. But none ever happened because, unlike science, belief is not about proofs but about ascent. My ascent to a presence.
Is it any less of an ascent to the existence of an atom, to beauty that moves deep within me beyond my physical body, to the voice of truth spoken to me by a concerned friend that pierces my conscience and mind? Belief is called forth from us at many levels of life. Some beliefs we readily give ascent without question. Others beliefs we fear to question. Still other beliefs when too challenging we simply reject.
Maybe that is why the Gospel passage about Thomas’ skepticism and his desire for a grounding in which to root his belief is read every year on the eighth day of Easter. “Unless I see, unless I touch, I will not believe.” What is Thomas seeking? He is seeking what many of us seek, not faith but certitude. The spiritual writer Ann Lamott put it well, “the opposite of faith is not doubt, it is certitude.” Doubts and questions are human. Certitude is grounded in the sin of our desire to be God! Rooted in fear, certitude will not abide any challenges, insights, and other experiences. Certitude does not have the humility to admit it may not be able to embrace the whole Christian mystery. Thus certitude has no need of a community nor is it open to correction and conversion.
What then is the purpose be of the spiritual journey since God can be contained and understood as if under a microscope?
The message of the Gospel, our beliefs proclaimed in the creeds, the teachings of our bishop – theologians and councils over the centuries, the accumulated wisdom and experience of the Christian people, of saints and sinners, of monastics and religious can trouble us as much as console us.
A mature Christian is open to honouring this vast spiritual experience in which our life is confirmed and clarified.
A mature Christian unable to embrace fully the beliefs, teachings and practices that challenge them must first be willing to struggle with the teaching.
A mature disciple will in humility ask if there is something they have missed, some key element of the Christian story. Humility opens the door to correction and conversion from sin to Jesus. In this light, are people who say they have lost their faith, really lost their faith or are they the ones who have had the courage to ask questions but maybe haven’t been willing to fully enter the struggle of faith with humility?
That is why the community is essential for belief. The Christian community, and by community I mean, the centuries of people who have believed, questioned, reflected, lived the Christian virtues and forged through our common experiences what God has said and is saying to the community and the world, – this Christian community – is the sounding board, the support, the guarantor of truth, the voice of challenge and correction.
Thus Thomas apart from the community seeks certitude. Back within the gathered community, Thomas makes a profession of faith, “My Lord and my God!”