It was the early Mass for me this morning, and I walked from our Little Red House out to the end of the block and hung a louie. I could hear the thrum of cars on Rt. 287 a half mile away, but Main Street was quiet. The air was crisp. The bus stops and train staion were empty and quiet. The bakery and bagel shop were open, lights on and I could see people up and about inside. The convenience store clerks were setting out the Sunday papers. It is a half a mile to the church. A nice distance for a quick stroll.
I saw only one other person on foot, and looked like he might not have been home to bed yet.
I was a few minutes late to Mass, but found a seat in the back. I listened to the Gospel. It was the “Doubting Thomas” story. This Gospel always makes me think of Sister Joyce, my 8th Grade teacher at St. Virgil’s. I spent the rest of Mass thinking about Sister’s “Doubting Thomas” lesson.
The Gospel tells us that all the apostles are holed up one Sunday in a locked room. They are in fear for their lives after the death of Jesus. They did not know what to do. Were they in danger? Should they split up and run? Hit the road and go back to their boats and start fishing again?
Suddenly Jesus appears out of nowhere — right in the middle of a locked room. He says “Peace be with you” to the stunned apostles. He showed them the wounds on his hands and his side, proving that this was really him. Then he said “Peace be with you” again and told the Apostles they have a mission. Just as God sent Jesus to preach the Good News, now the Disciples were to do the same. He told them “Be not afraid.”
One of the apostles, Thomas, was not there at the time. He was likely out somewhere trying to get some food for the group and hoping not to be recognized. So Thomas came back, and found out his brethren were convinced they had a visit from Jesus. They told him all about it, but he was skeptical. He said he will believe when he put his own fingers to Christ’s wounds.
The next week, Jesus appeared again. Same locked room, but this time, Thomas was there. Jesus called to Thomas and told him to touch his wounds. He did. Thomas then dropped to his knees saying “My Lord and my God.”
Jesus responded, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”
We read this gospel passage in 8th grade and we talked about it. It did not seem fair to me that Thomas’s faith was deemed less worthy because he demanded proof. All the other apostles were given proof – they saw Jesus the first time.
Sister Joyce told me (she probably told the whole class, but it felt like she was talking to just me) that Thomas is like the rest of us. He was using his brains. God has given man a great gift, she said. Intellect. She said we are charged to use all gifts God gives us to their fullest, including our minds. We should strive to learn, and we should try to find logic and reason in all things.
Faith, though, requires more than a brain and intellect. It requires a heart and a soul. Faith is an intellectual choice and a spiritual response to God’s call. If we are using our God-given intellect, we should be in a constant struggle to understand, to question, to analyze. In life we learn that we do not, and cannot, know all things. The more we learn, the more we recognize how little we know.
Faith is the act of choosing to believe, despite doubts, despite proof. It is this struggle to which we are called (Sister did use that phrase “to which we are called. . . “). The brain informing the heart and the soul. We should welcome doubt, she said. It is a challenge from God, forcing us to use our intellect and to examine our hearts. Faith she said is an act of volition. We choose to believe despite our doubts. Blind faith, she reasoned, is no faith at all. True faith is eyes wide open – and it is always a struggle.
I am still not quite sure how that helps the apostle Thomas who, despite following Jesus for years without complaint, is now known best for the “Doubting Thomas” incident. Maybe it was not her intent to help him at all – just to highlight that even apostles struggled.
I think of Sister Joyce often, even now nearly 40 years later. I marvel now at how willing she was to share these deep theological concepts with a bunch of daydreaming 8th graders.
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Morrison, Christopher [MC????]
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I believe that Christopher is a member of the Class of 1987.
McEneney, Mike (MC1953)
[JR: Thanks, Mike. Much appreciated.]
Morrison, Christopher [MC1987]
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