THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER
Let me begin with a story based on today’s gospel. One Sunday a mother proudly told her pastor, “My teenage son has finally learned one Bible verse. It is from today’s Gospel, Luke 24:41, where Jesus says to his disciples, ‘Do you have anything here to eat?’”
With that, let me move on to today’s Gospel. I am sure that most of us have experienced life changing events at various times in our lives. It could have been getting a good job after a long period of unemployment. It could have been meeting a person who changed our life for the better. It could have been the birth of a child. It could have been having a life threatening illness like cancer that went into remission. For me one such event was a calling that I experienced when I was in sixth grade to explore the possibility of becoming a priest.
As wonderful as these life changing events have been to us, they pale in comparison to the life changing event that we celebrate this Easter season. For the fifty days from Easter until Pentecost, we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
In light of that, let me take you back to Easter Sunday. On the afternoon of Easter Sunday, Jesus appeared to two of his disciples on the road to Emmaus. They were walking away from Jerusalem, discouraged and depressed over the death of Jesus. Jesus walked with them, talked to them about the Scriptures, and when he broke bread with them, they recognized him. In today’s Gospel, we hear that these two disciples came running back to the upper room to tell the others what they had experienced. While they were still speaking about this, Jesus suddenly appeared and stood in their midst. And Luke tells us that the apostles were “startled and terrified.” But Jesus assured them that he was very much alive and well. They could see him and touch him. To give them further proof, he ate some food they had prepared to convince them that he was real and that they were not seeing a ghost.
Whatever life changing experiences we might have had in our lives, the Resurrection of Jesus is the most incredible life changing event that has ever occurred. Because Jesus rose from the dead, death no longer has the final word over any one of us. We all will die, but death has been overcome by new and eternal life. Because Jesus rose from the dead, sin will not win out in the end because forgiveness in the name of Jesus has the power to destroy sin. By returning to Christ whenever we sin, we can always be raised up to forgiveness and newness of life. Because Jesus rose from the dead, even fear cannot hold on to us for long, for Jesus came to us to bring us his peace, a lasting peace that the world cannot give. Notice that the first words that Jesus spoke to his frightened disciples in today’s Gospel story were, “Peace be with you.” Jesus offers this same peace to each and every one of us if we follow him as our way, our truth and our life. The point I want to make is that our lives and our world have been dramatically changed forever by the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
Now when I read the papers or listen to the news on TV or the radio, it strikes me that sin and evil, crime, war, violence and terrorism seem to have the upper hand in our world. What this tells me is that for the Resurrection to continue to transform the world, Jesus depends on us to bring the fruits of the resurrection – love, hope, peace, joy, forgiveness and new life - to the world around us through the witness and example of our lives.
There is a story about a man who as he was walking down the street saw a young girl sitting in a doorway. Her face and clothes were dirty. She was very thin and appeared to be hungry. She did not have adequate winter clothing and was shivering in the cold. As he walked by her, he complained to God. “How can you let something like this happen? Why don’t you do something about it.” As he walked on, he heard God say to him in reply, “I did do something about it. I created you.”
In this Easter season, Jesus invites us to give some careful thought to what his Resurrection actually means to us. It is not just an event that occurred 2,000 years ago. It is an ongoing event, and God created us and Jesus needs us to bring the fruits of his Resurrection to our world. We come to Church every Sunday to be enlightened and inspired by his Word and strengthened by the Eucharist so that we can go forth from this Church in peace, his peace, to bring the fruits of his Resurrection to our world. – Fr. Paul
SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER
When I was growing up, we lived on a block where most of the neighbors were families a lot like ours. Young couples who married after World War II, or the Korean War, and were raising large Catholic families in the suburbs. Half of the families on our block were Catholic, and most sent their kids to the local Catholic school.
So, we were close and friendly with most of the families on the block. During the 1960’s, on almost any given weekend, one or another of the couples on the block would host a dinner party - not anything fancy, necessarily; often just a bar-b-que - and often last-minute - but just a chance for people to relax and laugh and unwind at the end of the workweek.
And after dinner, there would often be charades, or some other game. It was a more innocent time. My Dad always loved charades. Or, I should say, he loved finding titles of books or movies that he was convinced would stump the players trying to act them out.
One of the titles I remember - I don’t know why - was of a book that he said he had been required to read in college. On behalf of my Dad, I give you permission to use it the next time you find yourself playing charades. The book’s title was, ‘Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.” Go ahead, give a moment to figuring out how you might act out that title. ‘Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.”
The book was a nineteenth century casebook of human folly throughout the ages. It was landmark-study of crowd psychology and mass mania which included accounts of classic swindles, schemes, and scams on a grand scale.
I never read it, but my Dad liked to explain that it was a valuable textbook for understanding, that many very popular beliefs and assumptions are wrong, or downright silly. Nowadays, we sometimes call them ‘urban legends.’ - beliefs that are widely held, but are not true.
My Dad put all of my brothers and my sister through college. He used to say that college was important, not just for what one learns there, but for learning how to learn. He valued what’s called ‘critical thinking’ - the ability to examine and consider a theory ‘critically,’ in order to determine its truth or falsehood. He used to assert that most of history’s wars and conflicts were the result of the failures of critical thinking. My Dad is elderly now, and so, doesn’t have much use for the Internet. But if he did, I’m sure he’d say that the Internet has made it worse.
…Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came…
For close to two thousand years, St. Thomas has been held up as a caution to those who would root their faith only in evidence - only in proof, to those who would insist “unless I see it, I won't believe it." - to those, that is, who trust only in critical thinking.
But for most of us, I think, Thomas remains a sympathetic character, insofar as most of us share the desire to have things proved for us. Who of us hasn't suffered doubts or questions, especially in times of trial or loss? Who of us hasn't stubbornly refused to accept a fact for fear of appearing gullible or foolish?
Now a week later his disciples were once again inside, and this time Thomas was with them.
Perhaps the gospel's purpose is different than what we assume… perhaps the evangelist is aiming less at singling out Thomas for contempt, and aiming more at offering us, his readers, an important lesson in the dynamics of faith.
Where does faith come from? How does one test it? How does one measure the truth or falseness of its claims? Consider your own. How did your faith begin? What has it required to survive through storms and floods and the ice of winter?
Faith is not like a new theory or hypothesis that can be proved or disproved by experiments. Ever since the Enlightenment, brilliant men and women have rejected Christian faith because it cannot be proved nor scientifically duplicated.
I think my Dad would ask, ‘Why would anyone try?’ He would assert that it’s silly to try to ‘convert’ others to Christianity unless and until they’ve met, and considered, and accepted Christ. My Dad - when we were teenagers - used to explain that we did not go to Mass on Sunday because God commanded it, but because ‘church’ is where Christ is found. My Dad used to explain that he became a Catholic as an infant because his mother was Catholic. But he remained a Catholic in adulthood, only because he was persuaded, Sunday by Sunday, that Jesus Christ gives us a glimpse of God.
One sometimes hears from adolescents - and adults with the faith of adolescents - the claim that, "I don't need the Church to believe in God; I don't need to go to church in order to express my faith." Such claims betray the self-reliance of a Thomas, trying to arrive at faith or sustain faith through the powers of observation and the tools of the intellect.
We cannot forget that faith is a living thing that has been passed along to us across countless generations - sometimes fragile and delicate, sometimes hardy and robust - but always, dependent on the care and love not only of ourselves, but of others who know and honor Christ.
We gather here, Sunday after Sunday, to listen to the scriptures proclaimed and to celebrate the sacrament of Christ to express, that is, the faith that we share, with all of those others who ‘recognize him in the breaking of the bread.
My friends, St. Thomas lost his faith, because, for a while, he lost Christ. St. Thomas had his faith restored once he found Christ again. So let us go to the altar, where Christ is found and faith is fed. – Fr. Brian