This Sunday, in my mind, is the culmination of all the questions, doubts, hope, and rejoicing that is present in our time as Christians. And as non-Christians, since the readings are available, and speak to all.
A group of people so united, so moved, and so committed that they freely give up their possessions to take care of those less fortunate than they are. A utopian society whose purpose is spreading the Good News about Jesus the Messiah to all who will listen.
And then we have Thomas, the Doubter. But I’ve always wondered how many of the disciples present at Jesus’ first appearance were true believers. What would have been the tally if a vote had been taken? Is Jesus the Son of God, the Messiah? My guess is that only a few would have said “Yes” definitively.
And yet Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” Does this mean that Thomas is not blessed? Is Thomas “less than” because he needed physical proof? And what of the other disciples? What was their ranking in the order of believers?
Or is there such a thing? Is Jesus really calling out some as “blessed” and others not because of their blind faith?
Perhaps today’s readings give us the answer we seek. In fact, isn’t that what the Second Reading of John does for us?
“Who indeed is the victor over the world
but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”
Here there is no standard by which belief can be evaluated. One either believes or one doesn’t. And if one believes, she is the victor over the world.
For two-thousand years people have struggled over this concept. Some have surrendered all their possessions as a token of their belief. Some have forsworn marital companionship. Some have given their lives. And many have simply believed, in their hearts, in their souls.
“My task is easy and my burden is light.” But nowhere have I seen it written that finding that belief, that task and burden, would be easy. Except maybe in the Responsorial Psalm for today:
“I was hard pressed and was falling,
but the LORD helped me.”
“This is the day the LORD has made;
let us be glad and rejoice in it.”
I remember, years ago when I was struggling with my own faith, I was talking to my mother about this topic. She told me that when she was young, probably about the age I was at the time, that she made a decision. The concept of faith was a topic of conversation in her family because her older sister, my Aunt Mary, could never reconcile her belief. She was always struggling, my mother said. And while she watched Aunt Mary struggle, she perceived a deep sadness and unease. Yes, on one level it was an exciting intellectual exercise they all used to have, but for my mother, it was troubling. “I just decided that I was going to believe,” she told me. “I saw my sister going through such agonies that I decided I wanted no part of that. I was going to believe and that was that.”
That was that.
She retained that faith all through her life. That was the one spiritual thing she prayed for, for her four children: that we would have faith. She didn’t care if we were Catholics, Protestants, Unitarians, Hindus, whatever…she just wanted us to have faith. For her, it was easy. And a blessing, and a joy.
I have not known another person so comfortable in her spiritual life. No one comes close to her peace in my experience.
This is not to say that she was supremely content, just that when it came to believing that she was saved and that Jesus was the Messiah there was no argument. In fact, she used to have bookmarks made up to pass out to all whom she met that said, “Lord, help me to remember that nothing is going to happen to me today that you and I, together, can’t handle.”
This little prayer incapsulates all that she needed. And all that everyone needs. We only have to remember that God is on our side. Remember. This means acceptance at some point. And such was her faith that she knew that eventually everyone, including her children, would come to believe.
The message of the last sentence of today’s Gospel:
“But these are written that you may come to believe
that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,
and that through this belief you may have life in his name.”
I’m with you, Thomas: before and after your enlightenment.
Lord, help us all to remember that nothing is going to happen to us today that you and we, all together, can’t handle.