Saturday, April 14, 2007

Permission to doubt

Do you know what the first words are that the Pope hears each day? “Eggs, Benedict?” Someone shared that with me yesterday and it was just too corny to keep to myself.

We heard those familiar words of the Doubting Thomas in our Gospel today, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” I don’t know about you, but when I hear those words, I think, “Thank God we have Thomas!” Through that statement, Thomas gives all of us permission to pause for a moment and deal with our own struggles with this most important – and yet most challenging – part of our belief: that Jesus has risen from the dead.

Why is this so challenging? For a very simple reason – who was the last person you saw raised from the dead? It isn’t an everyday experience for most of us.When it comes to belief, there are some things that are easier than others for us to wrap our minds and our hearts around. Most people believe in God. Most people believe in Jesus who taught us God’s way, who performed miracles, who died on the cross. But when it comes to that empty tomb three days later, many people draw a line there and refuse to cross it. They speak about what is possible and impossible, about what is real and what is not, about what is believable and what is unbelievable. Just look at how many people recently flocked to learn more about the alleged Tomb of Jesus and His family discovered in Jerusalem. Why? People want to believe there is a body in that tomb. The empty tomb makes us uneasy. This isn’t how things normally happen. And our Gospel reminds us today that it is okay to struggle with this – not to end up in disbelief, but to struggle with it – after all, Thomas himself struggled with this and would not believe until he touched the wounds of Christ.

But, Thomas came to believe and so there is hope for anyone else who might struggle with belief. What makes the difference in this struggle though is encountering the Risen Lord – this washes all doubt away. Notice in our passage, Thomas doubts when he is not in the presence of Jesus. This is too much to be believed. But, once in the presence of the risen Lord, Thomas proclaims without hesitation perhaps the greatest statement of faith ever uttered – “My Lord and My God.” By the way, if you have ever wondered what silent prayers I say as I elevate the consecrated Body and Blood of Jesus at Mass it is those words of Thomas, “My Lord and My God.”

Easter proclaims that Jesus is risen from the dead; and the good news for us is that through our own baptism, Jesus has invited us to also participate in His saving death and resurrection. And, if we struggle with this belief, let us be strengthened by being in Jesus’ presence as well. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead and He is here today in our midst; present in our hearts, in the words we speak, in the love we share, here even in our questions and our doubts. He is here to share all that He is with anyone who will be open to receive Him. And that is the key – opening our eyes to recognize His presence in our midst.

During Holy Week, I was thinking a lot about my grandmother who died five years ago on Palm Sunday. But, as I was thinking about her passing, I was recalling something that happened two years before she died. She was 83 years old at the time and quite literally near death. It was January and she had been hospitalized and despondent since the previous Thanksgiving. When you would go and see her, she would be thrashing back and forth in her bed, she had to be restrained at her hands and her feet. She didn’t recognize anyone and did not seem conscious. My mother, and her brothers and sisters, were all preparing for her death.

My Mom called me one day and said, “You better come down and anoint Grammy. The doctors say she won’t make the night.” I immediately left to see her in the hospital. I came armed with the oil of the sick, the word of God, and a heavy heart grieving already for my grandmother, for my Mom and for my aunts and uncles. I had only been ordained a priest a few months earlier and this was my first time administering the Sacrament of the Sick. We began to pray the prayers of the Church and I asked everyone to place hands on her and pray that the Holy Spirit come upon her. She was thrashing in her bed, but suddenly a stillness and calm came over her. We read from Scripture. I anointed her with the oil of healing and invited everyone as well to bless her. As suddenly as that – she opened her eyes, looked up at everyone, for the first time in several months – she knew everyone’s name. I leaned in and asked her, “Grammy, do you know who I am?” She smiled and said, “It’s Tommy, my angel.” Within a week, she was out of the hospital and back home and lived for another two years – and they were the best two years of her life. By the way, this event secured the “Favorite Grandchild” title for me in my family forever.

Why do I share this with you today? Because, the message is simple, there are signs of resurrection all around us – if our eyes are opened to see them. These signs may not always be as dramatic as what happened with my grandmother, maybe they are the simple answer to prayer, the sense that a loved one who has passed is present to us, or that a saint has heard our prayer, or that simple feeling deep within of God’s abiding presence with us. Not to mention the sign of resurrection that appears on this altar every time we celebrate Mass. My brothers and sisters, Jesus will rise from the dead on this altar today – He will rise from dead bread and dead wine into His true, living and abiding presence in our midst. Do you see it? “Do not be unbelieving, but believe!”

So, today, let us thank God we have Thomas! I’m sure there are many of us who can relate to him. I for one, am well named. I often have a need to see the nail marks and touch them before I can come to belief. But, our Lord knew this in advance, and He still chose Thomas to be one of His disciples – and perhaps even more wondrously, He knew the same about us in advance, and He still chose each one of us.Let us pray for the grace to be like Thomas, to experience our Risen Lord in the midst of the community, to proclaim the great statement of faith with him, “My Lord and my God!”

May God give you peace!!

1 comment:

  1. I love that story about your grandmother and it shows how the sacrament of anointing is truly a sacrament of healing.