01May Second Sunday of Easter

Theme

Sharing, at various levels, emerges as a linking theme in today’s Scriptures. The earliest generation of christians were a sort of consecrated commune, with total sharing of all that they had. Their Eucharist was just the high-point of an already deep union, like an extended family, where each individual worked for the good of the family as much as for his own. Then from Peter we hear of the shared joy and faith of that first group of Christians. And in the story of Thomas we find that even a sharing of doubt can be healthy for the community. Belief and doubt are natural bed-fellows. After submitting to the requested test, Jesus very kindly pardons the initial doubt of the sceptical Thomas. We should never be afraid to question aspects of our faith, not so as to reject them but to understand them better.

Readings

Acts 2:42-47. As a sign of their faith the early Christians shared their possessions in community and expressed their unity in the celebration of the Eucharist.

1 Pt 1:3-9. Christ’s resurrection has removed the sense of hopelessness and despair from the lives of his followers; the proper response to his resurrection is hope, praise and joy.

Jn 20:19-31. The presence of the risen Jesus dispels fear and brings peace to his friends. They are to continue his life-giving mission through the gift of his creative Spirit.

Bidding Prayers:

– that the experience of Doubting Thomas may help to strengthen our own faith in the presence of Christ among us.

– that as St Peter urges in today’s epistle, our whole church and our local community may be renewed in the spirit of hope, praise and joy.

– that whatever trials and difficulties we have to face at the present time may serve to purify and not to depress or crush our spirits.

– that we may be a Christian people, devoted to loving and to sharing, and with “Alleluia” as our life-giving word.

Seeing Is Believing (Liam Swords)

When something strange or tragic happens, for example, the shooting of a president or prominent public figure, people demand an explanation. There is a call for a public enquiry. Usually a supreme court judge is asked to preside over this judicial enquiry. If what happened on Easter Sunday two thousand years ago were to happen today, there would be an immediate call for such an enquiry. Should it be reported that a human being had come back from the dead, it would be headlined around the world and demands would be made for all the facts to be brought out into the open.

With the facts as reported in the gospels we could easily visualise such an enquiry. The witnesses who claimed to have seen and met the risen Jesus would be called and thoroughly cross-examined. First of all his death would have to be established. This should not create any problem. It was a public event and there were numerous witnesses. His death was so brutal, it was surprising that he did not die even before he did. This could be testified to by impartial witnesses like the soldiers, the man who helped to carry his cross etc. Then there was the soldier who just to make sure he died, stuck a spear into his side. There was Joseph of Arimathea who put him in the tomb and the women who wrapped his body. About his death there could be no great argument.

His coming back from the dead is a different story altogether. Here the witnesses would be called one by one, in the order they made their extraordinary discovery. Mary of Magdala would be the first to take the witness stand. She discovered an empty tomb. The other women would corroborate this. There could be thousands of rational explanations of that. The only implausible one is that the occupant rose from the dead. Under cross-examination they would admit they saw angels. Imagine the laughter that would cause in a modern courtroom. Mary Magdalen would be forced to admit that when she met Jesus, she didn’t recognise him. It would be easy to demolish her as a credible witness, not to mention her dubious past which would be bound to be brought up.

Peter would be sworn in next, followed by John. Peter could be easily discredited. Any expert psychiatrist could demonstrate that both he and John had been deeply traumatised the previous two days. Their lives had been shattered. They had gone into hiding, fearing they might be next. The servant-girl would be found to testify that Peter swore three limes that he didn’t know Jesus while the trial was in progress. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus spent a few hours in the company of the risen Jesus, without recognising him. So much for the main witnesses.

Finally, Thomas takes the witness stand. He was the one who refused to believe all the rumours that Jesus had risen from the dead. He demanded positive proof. Nothing less than to put his hands into the wounds. Either he is committing perjury or he is telling the truth. He is the only credible witness that would stand up in a modern court. And because of this, he has got a bad press for almost two-thousand years. He has given the expression “doubting Thomas” to the English language and that is not a compliment. And he has earned this reputation unfairly for two reasons. Firstly, Christ submitted himself to Thomas” test. The second reason is given in the last lines of today’s gospel: “There were many other signs that Jesus worked and the disciples saw, but they are not recorded in this book. These are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing this you may have life through his name.”

Why blame Thomas? (Andrew Greeley)

Why blame poor Thomas? He knew what nerds his colleagues were! He thought of himself as a steady and reliable man and others as a bit flakey. Everyone knew that the dead would not rise again until the arrial of the world to come. Obviously it hadn’t come or the Master would not have died. Moreover, any of the others who were not present in the room at the time of the first appearance of Jesus would not have believed it either. Thomas might in later life say that he was set up for the purpose of the story, which was to assure those that had not been alive at the time of the resurrection that doubt and suspicion existed in Apostolic times. Would Thomas have said later that he never doubted again? Probably not. Doubt is part of the human condition. Rather he would have more likely said, doubt or no doubt, I never stopped believing.

Once there was a brilliant university professor who, after he received tenure, turned his attention to miracles, contacts with the dead, and near death experiences. Such events, he argued, were delusional wish fulfillments, ignorant superstitions. As a scientists and a scholar it was his job to denounce them and expose them. He wrote many articles and books about the Near-Death Experience. It was the result, he contended, of alterations of brain chemistry at the time of death. Once you were really dead, he insisted, you were really dead and that was that.

Most of those who had been through such experiences never heard of him. Those that did just shrugged their shoulders and said he’s never been there and we have. One day the professor was stricken with a massive heart attack. His family rushed him to the hospital. He died in the emergency room. But just as the nurse was zipping him up in the plastic body bag, he eyes flickered open and he began to breathe again. The doctors rushed back into the room and this time managed to keep him alive. Later, after surgery and complete recover, he returned home and back to his university. One day at lunch his colleagues asked him about whether he had encountered any of the Near-Death Experience phenomena – the long tunnel, the figure of light, the review of his life. Not all he said, nothing like that nonsense ever happened to me. After lunch when he was walking back to the faculty building, his closest friend asked him whether that was the whole truth. Not exactly he admitted. I experienced the whole thing. It was just my brain chemistry, nothing more. Why did the figure of light send you back? But the doubting professor refused to answer that question.

Humbly approach the Mystery (John Walsh)

Year by year, we observe the season of Lent, often, we might admit, with a kind of grim determination. But as the Masses during Lent pointed out, all this was by way of preparing to celebrate the mystery of Easter, with mind and heart renewed. And during this season following on Easter, what God is asking of us is to reflect on the glorious resurrection of Christ, and what it means for us. The fact that in doing so we are confronted with mystery should not put us off. Even in the domain of secular science, it is now admitted in the words of a great writer on the history of science (Jacob Bronowski: The Ascent of Man, p. 353), that “no event, not even atomic events, can be described with certainty.” Our knowledge is so far from being absolute, and our information so limited, that we have to treat all data with humility.

It is precisely with such humility that we must approach the scriptural accounts of Christ’s resurrection, and not with the kind of obstinacy shown by the Apostle Thomas, who refused to believe until he had touched the wounds on Christ’s body. Thomas failed in two ways: he wanted to verify the faith by physical means, and as well he was not prepared to accept what the rest of the Christian community had by now come to believe. However, we should never imagine that, because of the visions of the risen Christ which all the Apostles were privileged to experience, the road to faith was an easier one for them than it is for us. Indeed St Luke states quite clearly that when Christ, in the Upper Room, had shown them his hands and his feet, “they still thought it was too good to be true.” It was not only Thomas who doubted. They all had to grapple with the question of what really had occurred. And their message for us, and that of Mary Magdalen also in her search for the body of Christ, could well be summed up in the inspired words of the prophet Jeremiah (29:13), “When you seek me you shall find me, if you search for me with all your heart.” This risen Lord was no phantom or hallucination, but rather so real that one could touch or cling to him. The Jesus who had died was in truth the Christ who had risen again.

At the Last Supper, Christ had said to the Apostles, “You are sad now, but I shall see you again, and your hearts will be full of joy; and that joy no one shall take from you.” And in today’s gospel reading we can see how Christ kept his promise, “The disciples were filled with joy when they saw the Lord.” For us also, Jesus must be, not a figure in a book, not a memory from the past, but rather a living presence, one who is with us here and now. To those who, like Thomas, would argue that this is making too great a demand on our credulity, Christ replies, “Happy are those who have not seen, and yet believe.” Because, as St Augustine pointed out, “Faith is to believe, on the word of God, what we. do not see.” It is like taking a step in the dark while trusting absolutely in what God is promising to us as the consequence.

The resurrection of Christ was a unique happening that lies beyond all human reasoning or understanding. “Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of realities that are unseen. It is by faith that we understand how the world was created by God, so that what is seen was made out of what cannot be seen” (Heb 11:1, 3). The first chapter of the Bible tells us that the universe began in a single flashing act of creation, when God willed all things into being, out of nothing. The resurrection of Christ, of which we are celebrating the octave, is a mystery also. The risen glorified body of the Lord is a new creation. The disciples were filled with joy when they saw the Lord. Faith, joy – a faith which leads to and is the cause of joy – that is the message for us today. But there is more. For in our following of Christ, even though we have not as yet passed through the portals of death, we also can become part of this new creation initiated by Christ. We might even begin to speak of a third creation, for by our faith in the saving effect of Christ’s death and resurrection, as St Paul tells us, we become something extra. We are made children of God himself. We are no longer slaves, but friends, and so on this day we should ask that we may receive and our joy, like that of the Apostles, may be full (Jn 16:24).

With Shutters Down (Martin Hogan)

We have all become security conscious in our cities and towns. Most houses are now alarmed; the alarm has become as basic an item as table and chairs. We also need to have good strong locks; long gone, at least in the city, are the days when you could leave the key in the door. We are more fearful about our security than we used to be, and this fear and anxiety has led us to take more precautions to protect ourselves. Fear of what others can do to us tends to close us in on ourselves, in the physical sense of getting stronger security, but also in other senses. We tend to be somewhat withdrawn around people we perceive to be critical. We are slow to open up to someone we think will judge us. We hesitate to share ideas and plans we might have with those who are known not to suffer fools gladly. Fear of others can hold us back and stunt our growth.

In the gospel reading today we find the disciples locking themselves into a room because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities. Even though Mary Magdalene had come to them from the empty tomb announcing, “I have seen the Lord,” this was not enough to overcome their fear. What had been done to Jesus could be done to them. Self-imposed confinement was preferable to that prospect. The turning point for the disciples came when the risen Lord himself appeared to them behind their closed doors and lifted them beyond their fear. He did this by breathing the Holy Spirit upon them, thereby filling them with the energy and the power of God, freeing them from the fear that held them back and releasing them to share in his mission in the world, “As the Father sent me, so am I sending you,” he said. In the power of the Spirit they came to life and went forth from their self-imposed prison to witness publicly to the risen Lord. This is exactly the picture of the disciples that Luke gives us in the first reading today. He describes a community of believers, the church, witnessing to the Lord with great power by the quality of their living.

We can all find ourselves, as disciples, in the situation of those first disciples as described in the first reading. What Shakespeare calls, “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” can wear down our commitment to following the Lord and to serving him with our gifts. Like the disciples in the gospel reading, we can come to a kind of a full stop on our faith journey. The temptation to pull down the shutters and to lock ourselves away can be strong. The tendency to self-preservation, which, in itself, is a wholesome tendency, can come to dominate our lives, and prevent us from doing what we are capable of doing with the Lord’s help. The wounds we carry from earlier efforts and initiatives can make us hesitate to put ourselves forward again. Even when someone like a Mary Magdalene comes to us full of enthusiasm and hope we are unaffected. We let them get on with it, while we hold back and stay safe. The gospel reading today suggests that the risen Lord will not leave us alone in our self-imposed confinement. If a Mary Magdalene makes no impact on us, the Lord will find another way to enter our lives and to fill us with new life and new energy for his service. Locked doors, or even locked hearts, are no obstacle to the Lord’s coming. He will find a way to enter the space where we have chosen to retreat and he will empower us to rise above what is holding us back. He does require some openness on our part; at the least some desire on our part to become what the Lord is calling us to be. The risen Lord stands ready to breathe new life into us. He never ceases to recreate us and to renew us in his love. Easter is the season when we celebrate the good news that the power of the risen Lord is stronger than whatever weakness or discouragement might afflict us.

Just as the disciples were unmoved by the hopeful enthusiasm of Mary Magdalene who announced, “I have seen the Lord,” so Thomas was unmoved by the witness of the disciples who said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” Thomas, it seems, was an even harder nut to crack than the other disciples. He is one of those people who insist on certain conditions being met before he makes a move, “Unless I see…” As he had done with the other disciples, the Lord took Thomas on Thomas” own terms. He accommodated himself to Thomas” conditions, “Put your finger here…” The gospel reading today implies that the Lord meets us wherever we are. He takes us seriously in all our fears and doubts. The Lord is prepared to stand on our ground, whatever that ground is, and from there he will speak to us a word that is suited to our own state of mind and heart. We don’t have to get ourselves to some particular place in order for the Lord to engage with us. He takes himself to where we are, wherever it is a place of fear or of doubt. We might pray this Easter season for the openness to receive the Lord’s coming into the concrete circumstances of our own lives, so that we too might say with Thomas, “My Lord and my God.” We might also pray that, like the Lord, we would receive others where they are, rather than where we would like them to be.

Leap from Knowledge to Faith (Jack McArdle

Today’s gospel is about two of the many appearances of Jesus to his disciples after his resurrection. Today’s account is special, because he appears to the larger group, from which Thomas is missing, and then he appears when Thomas is present, because Thomas didn’t believe the story the others told him. Here we have Jesus looking for definite belief and conviction about the fact and truth of his resurrection.

Recently, a sister of mine underwent serious and critical surgery. The doctors were not at all encouraging, and we all had plenty of reason for concern. There were many prayers, and much calling for the prayers of others. In using that event as the basis for a parable, I do not, of course, adhere strictly to the events as they actually occurred. Her time in the surgery seemed to be forever. We had run out of things to talk about as we waited in a nearby lounge. Finally, the surgeon emerged from the theatre, called my brother-in-law to one side, and, for a few moments, they were in deep conversation together. The tension was palpable. Finally, my brother-in-law turned to us and, with a smile as broad as the Atlantic, he gave us the thumbs-up sign. The response was electrifying. The reason I make a connection between this and today’s gospel is because of what happened during the next few days. The phones were busy. I am part of a large far flung family, and everyone wanted to learn the truth first-hand. Again and again the same people phoned just to make sure. I answered many of the calls. My brother-in-law was in bigger demand and, of course, a few days later, my sister herself was able to receive phone calls. The final haul was when some of my family actually travelled to Dublin to see for themselves. Some of them, like Thomas, even asked to see the wounds.

Faith and knowledge must not be confused. I can know something in my head, and not really believe it down in my heart. I know that Jesus is God, but Satan knows that also. It is how I respond to that knowledge that can lead to faith. Faith, in a way, is in my feet, and it enables me to step out with confidence in my decisions and in my words. It comes from experiential knowledge, rather than academic knowledge, or something I learned from a textbook. Thomas was told the good news of resurrection, but he was not prepared to believe until he had experienced that fact for himself.

It is difficult for the human mind to know anything of God. Our terms of reference are so limited and so conditioned, and Thomas Aquinas tells us that when we speak about God, there is only one thing we can be sure of, i.e. that we’re wrong. God is so much more than anything we could say or think about him. God, however, does not wish to be clouded in mystery. The coming of Jesus on earth, with his action-packed life and his public death was a down-to-earth statement from God. If Thomas wants to touch the wounds of Jesus, then Jesus will make that possible, and invite him to do so. A real invitation of the gospel is “Come and see for yourself.” I believe that if I really and genuinely want to know the risen Lord that he will meet that wish and, through the action of his Spirit within my heart, I will come to know him in a deep and personal way.

Thomas believed because he had seen. Jesus said that the real test is to believe without having seen. The atheist would believe if I could provide all the proofs. That would not be faith. Faith is a response to love. If I am convinced of God’s love for me, either as a Father, or as Jesus my Saviour, then I will accept his promises, and trust him to keep his end of the offer. The word “covenant” is used a lot in scripture. A covenant is not the same as a contract. I go into a shop, give the money, and walk out with a newspaper under my arm. That is a contract and, once the conditions are met, there ceases to be any responsibility. A covenant, on the other hand, is something that cannot be broken, and that does not end, even if one side is unfaithful to it. John and Mary remain husband and wife, even if they are living apart. As things stand with the church today, that covenant still remains, even if they get a civil divorce. Jesus announced “a new and eternal covenant,” and he is definite and insistent that heaven and earth will pass away before his promises or covenant will fail. All he asks is that we believe him. “The sin of this world is unbelief in me.”

I don’t think it too strong to say that to be a Christian is to be someone who knows the risen Lord. It is experiential knowledge, rather than academic learning. Resurrection must touch on all those areas of dead wood within my own spirit, and call all of my being into the fullness of life. “I came that you should have life, and have it to the full.” I don’t think I will ever properly come to any sort of personal involvement in the gospel until I make it all present tense, and until I personally enter into every event and aspect of it. If my heart can be the manger for Christmas, it can be the tomb for Easter, and the Upper Room for Pentecost.

On the morning of the ascension, the apostles were looking up into the heavens, when angels appeared to them, and asked them why they were looking up there. Jesus had told them where they would find him from now on. He is to be found in the marginalised, the outcast, the broken, and the suffering. These are the wounds in the Body of Christ today. If you ever come across the Body of Christ without the wounds, then you can be sure it’s a phoney. “Whatever you do to the least of these, that is what you do for me.” I can reach out and touch the wounds of Jesus any day I choose.

Quite often, the wounds in the body are within my own spirit. Even if I am involved in healing, I too can be a wounded healer. I don’t honestly think that I can reach out to you in a sincere and genuine Christian way, if I bypass the hurts and brokenness within my own spirit. Does it make any sense to you if I say the following: Before I go to Confession I should be ready to look myself straight in the eye in a mirror, and give myself absolution first? Otherwise I am asking God to do something for me that I am not prepared to do for myself. Even after going to Confession some people can remained riddled with guilt. I believe that my effectiveness as an instrument for reconciliation in the lives of others is directly connected to whatever reconciliation I am able to effect within my own heart.

There is an advertisement for bread, which claims that it is “Today’s bread today.” It would be a good idea if I took today’s gospel for today, and not something that I might do something about some other time. The Lord comes to make his home in you as you approach the altar for communion. How can you touch his wounds? How can you experience his resurrected nature, and the fullness of life that he offers? The simplest way, I would suggest, is that I ask for that. After all, I must ask myself why does he come to me in the first place? Surely it must be to effect his salvation, redemption, and resurrection within me. Your prayer would be a deeply personal one, that may or may not require words. It certainly would be wrong of me to suggest what words you should use. The Lord looks at the heart, rather than listening to the words.

If the gospel begins with the invitation to “Come and see,” then it surely ends with the words “Go and tell.” As a Christian, who has come and seen for myself, I have a responsibility to go and tell. There is an important proviso included in this, however. You have no responsibility for whether the other person accepts or rejects what you have to say. The apostles told Thomas what they had experienced, but he was totally free to believe that or not. Jesus told his disciples that if people refused to believe them they were to shake the dust of that town from their shoes, and go ahead to the next town. Jesus alone is the Saviour. I am not asked to save anybody’s soul. AU I’m asked is to tell others that they are saved, or to point the Way of salvation to them. Like John the Baptist, I point to Jesus, and say, “There is the Lamb of God; follow him.”

There is a little postscript to today’s gospel to which I have not referred. John tells us that his selection of events is just a sample of the many many other events in the life of Jesus. He presents these to us in the hope that they might lead us to believe in him, and so to receive the abundant life that flows from such faith. The events in the life of Jesus are continuing right here, right now, as I speak. When the final chapter is written, how will our role in the events be seen?

The village had its own wise old man, to whom people came for advice on everything. His wisdom and knowledge was greatly respected by all. A young man from the village was given the opportunity to go away to college. He obtained several degrees and, in his heart, he considered himself to be so much more intelligent and informed than the old man. One day he decided to show that he was so much cleverer, and he decided to embarrass the old man by setting up a situation where he would be proven wrong. He caught a little bird, which he held firmly concealed in his hand. He would ask the old man if the bird were alive or dead. If the man said the bird -was dead, he would release his grip and allow the bird to fly away. lf he said the bird was alive he would squeeze it so tight that it would immediately die. He approached the old man, showed him the beak of the tiny bird sticking out from his fist, and asked him, “Old man, tell me: is this bird dead or alive?” The old man looked at him, and calmly replied: “The answer to that question, my son, depends totally on you.”

As you look within your heart, is Jesus dead or alive, for you?

First Reading: Acts 2:42-47

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Second Reading: First Letter of St Peter 1:3-9

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith-being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire-may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Gospel: John 20:19-31

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.