The Third Sunday of Easter
2018 – Cycle B
This is Part II of a continuing reflection of John 20:19-31 begun on the Second Sunday of Easter.
“Thomas, one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.”
We are reflecting as to why Thomas, that is, why many people, especially our young people, are leaving the Catholic Church and religion in general.
I spoke last week about the cultural issues of “choice” as related to our understanding of freedom in our society. This has led to a consumerization of religion, each faith tradition is just one option among many. So people go “spiritually shopping” or simply do not make a purchase. A second issue was the Enlightenment’s inversion of the community/individual relationship resulting in the autonomy of the “individual” overriding any sense of “community” with its inherent responsibilities to the larger body. This has resulted in younger generations being characterized as non-joiners. And finally the abandonment of the transcendent and a sense of mystery by a greater emphasis placed on the here and now, the observable, and the directly experienced.
Closer to home, family dynamics frequently play a role in young people leaving the Church as cited by the study I am referring to, Going, Going, Gone: The Dynamics of Disaffiliation in Young Catholics undertaken by Saint Mary’s Press of Minnesota and Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.
Disruptions in family life can negatively impact a young person’s faith. The interviewees in the study shared stories of divorce, long-term illness, and the death of family members, frequent moving, and other family issues that caused disruptions in their lives that affected their faith.
Diane lamented, “I was in fifth grade when my uncle died, he was in his 40s. How can something like that happen to someone so young?” Remembering that Thomas was called Didymus, which means “twin”; is his absence on Easter Sunday due to his mourning over the death of his twin sister? Are the experiences of Diane’s uncle and Thomas’ sister the reason for their leaving the community? What kind of Saviour are Thomas and Diane looking for? What kind of Saviour are you and I looking for?
Amy reflects on her personal experience, “When I reflect back, I think my initial doubts began with my childhood diabetes. I would always ask, ‘Why me? Why would God do that to somebody? Why would [God] let that happen to somebody who has been going to church religiously and doing everything they were supposed to be doing?”
Both young women are giving voice to the valid and ancient questions of evil in the world. While the Book of Job tries to address the question of evil and the “Why me?”, “Why my uncle?”, Why my best friend?” questions; a contemporary story from Elie Wiesel’s book “Night” is much more in consonance with our Christian theology of the cross. From his experience and reflections in the Auschwitz concentration camp, he relates the story of a young boy being executed by hanging. He doesn’t die quickly like the men and the question is posed, “Where is God?” Wiesel’s answer from deep within himself is, ““Where is God? This is where – hanging here from this gallows…” We Christians need to delve more deeply into our unique tradition of a God who does not release us from suffering but suffers with us. Jesus was 33 years old when he was executed. God dying in the flesh. There is good reason why the cross/ crucifix are at the center of our tradition. It is not decorative but enlightening about God and humanity.
What are your experiences and reflections on human suffering? How would you help a young person find their spiritual way through a family experience of suffering and evil? Consider again some of the the situations of suffering that affect our children and young people: divorce, long-term illness, a death in the family or among their friends, the fear instilled by the school shootings across our country, and frequent moving. Do you consider yourself sufficiently and spiritually prepared to walk with them?
Often companioned with the question of evil is the subject of prayer. Adam relates his family situation. “The original root cause [for disaffiliation] would have been watching my whole mother’s family, on my mother’s side, pray for my grandpa’s lung cancer. And everyone is praying for him, probably over 150 people. Personally praying for him and still there was nothing done to help him and that was my first skepticism.” When prayer doesn’t cause God to intervene, the study cites than prayer or belief in God was questioned and sometimes rejected as meaningless.
How many of us consider prayer a “quid pro quo” transaction? I ask and God gives. I go to Church and God is expected to give. I do what I’m supposed to do and God better give. Is that prayer as you understand it? How do you respond when God gives a different answer to your prayer than the one you were seeking?
Recall Jesus’ final prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross are not answered at all. Prayer does not treat God like some divine dispenser nor is prayer the means we use to pry open the fists of a stingy God. Consider Saint Monica who patiently prayed for 30 years that her son Augustine be converted to Christ. Consider Saint Teresa of Calcutta who prayed through the decades she wasn’t sure God even existed.
When the risen Christ appears to the disciples behind the locked doors of their fearful hearts, Jesus offers them and us three gifts. Jesus continues to identify with our sufferings. He eternally bears the wounds of his crucifixion and offers them to us as a reminder that he is with us in our suffering. Repeatedly he says, “Peace be with you.” And finally, he offers us the Holy Spirit. This is prayer in its essence: identification with Jesus, inner peace and solace and the needed gifts of the Spirit.
Parents, what did and do you teach your children about prayer? Do you pray as a family? Do your children see you regularly pray?
Note how human suffering and prayer are entwined. Can we begin to understand why our young people are struggling with these issues? Do we admit to them that we do as well? They are asking hard questions and looking for substantial and meaningful answers and when they are offered none, can we understand why they leave?
We may be disheartened by the departure of many people, especially our young people. So again I ask, not why they are leaving but why do you and I stay?
[Information, passages and quotes are from Going, Going, Gone: The Dynamics of Disaffiliation in Young Catholics, A Study by Saint Mary’s Press of Minnesota, Inc., Winona, MN. In collaboration with the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., September 2017.]