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Thursday, July 03, 2008

The War Between Doubt and Faith

Jn 20:24-29

Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” But Thomas said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.”

Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”

Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

Today's gospel is one of my new favorites, and the more I read it, the more I see, and the more I am ashamed.

Just last night, I was praying about something big going on in my life, something that doesn't just affect me, but more importantly, it affects others. What I do or choose not to do right now could have an impact, although I'd rather not dwell too deeply on those thoughts. So I offered a simple prayer and I asked not for a "sign" per se, but rather, an affirmation that I'm doing the right thing. Or, conversely, that my actions be shut down completely if what I'm doing is outside of God's will.

Apparently it's not sufficient to me to be following what might be a prompt of the Holy Spirit and letting it take me where it will. Over the last several months as I've been following this path, doors have opened and doors have closed. What I need to do is learn patience and let God just answer rather than allowing my faith to falter becase I don't "see" what I think I'm supposed to see. God always has other plans; I don't think it's possible for we finite beings to be able to grasp God's vision of how things should be.

This morning I missed Mass, but I went to the chapel to pray and I brought my Liturgy of the Hours (when I can, I like to pray in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.) In the Office of Readings was a portion of a homily by Pope St. Gregory the Great, and I both found that my own eyes were opened AND I was convicted by his words of wisdom. So I will allow St. Gregory to speak for himself:

"Dearly beloved, what do you see in these events? Do you really believe that it was by chance that this chosen disciple was absent, then came and heard, heard and doubted, doubted and touched, touched and believed? It was not by chance but in God's providence. In a marvelous way God's mercy arranged that the disbelieving disciple, in touching the wounds of his master's body, should heal our wounds of disbelief. The disbelief of Thomas has done more for our faith than the faith of the other disciples. As he touches Christ and is won over to belief, every doubt is cast aside and our faith is strengthened. So the disciple who doubted, then, felt Christ's wounds, becomes a witness too the reality of the resurrection."

Incredible. Even in our doubt, God in His mercy finds a way to bring our doubt to true faith. We, who live over 2,000 years after the resurrection, have never seen Christ in the flesh as He was when dear St. Thomas probed His wounds. Yet we believe, for the eyewitness testimony provided in John's Gospel informs and builds our faith. We believe because we know the testimony to be true even though we have not witnessed the event ourselves. Truly, if Christ came to stand before us now, would we believe more than we do when we are at Mass, and receiving the Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion?

We do not need to see in order to believe, thanks to the testimony of the doubting Apostle who revealed Truth from his own skepticism.

St. Gregory tells us in the same homily:
"What is seen gives knowledge, not faith. When Thomas saw and touched, why was he told: You have believed because you have seen me? Because what he saw and what he believed were different things. God cannot be seen by mortal man. Thomas saw a human being, whom he acknowledged to be God, and said: My Lord and my God. Seeing, he believed; looking at one who was true man, he cried out that this was God, the God he could not see."

In an ironic twist, Pope St. Gregory the Great points out the obvious; it is not what we see that gives us faith. In the words of St. Paul, "Faith is the guarantee of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." (LOH translation) What we can see and touch and explore informs our intellect, which in turn forms our ability to reason. It is in this very moment that the knowledge of St. Thomas is blended with his faith in the God in whom he believed, but could not see. There, before him was Christ Himself, both God and Man, the unity of whom gave him the ability to join intellect with faith.

It is this particular gospel that I was musing about some time ago that made me consider that indeed, Christ exists in human form, just as He did when He appeared to the Apostles. If He chose, Jesus could appear to us all in that form, and invite us all to explore the wounds in His hands, feet, and in His side and see that they are real. Yet, Jesus does not choose to do this; "Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed." We are more greatly blessed through the gift of faith, which asks of us also to make a conscious act of the will to believe. St. Thomas provides us with the evidence, standing in for us all in our own doubt.

Sometimes we all need some kind of affirmation when our will falters, and we fear we are leaving the path God has set us upon. And God, in His mercy, can respond with signal graces in order to reassure us. But in the abscence of those graces, we must consider the actions of St. Thomas and his initial outright REFUSAL to believe. Do we fall into that category? Do we refuse to believe if God does not respond to our demands? Or do we keep our hand to the plow, trusting that what God has revealed is true, and even as we labor, that we are being lead?

These are all questions we need to ask ourselves. Let us pray through the intercession of St. Thomas that we may always believe, especially in what has been revealed but has been unseen by ourselves.


uncle jim said...

you are sooooooo deep ... i think you think a lot - that is a good thing.

too often i don't ponder, i don't think - i just blow on by the moment of manifestation.

if you haven't already, i suspect you will at some point be reading Gregory's 'Pastoral Care'. i see him as almost singularly different in his application of scriptures to the practice of pastoral care to the men in his charge. well worth the read to just touch the mind of God manifest in Gregory.

nice post tonight.

Joe of St. Thérèse said...

This continuing knocking of my head with 2 x 4's needs to stop Adoro, lol!

It must be from God if I'm feeling guilty