Homilies written and presented by Monsignor Peter Magee
Homily 4-18-2004 Easter 2 (C)
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Easter - Sunday 2 (C): Read Jn 20, 19-31

 

                When Jesus was nailed to the Cross and pierced with the lance, Thomas was most likely absent also then. Nor is there any mention of him “hanging around” the tomb of Jesus, either at His burial or after His Resurrection. So, he probably had seen neither the marks the nails made, nor the wound of the lance, in the mortal body of Jesus. Yet, from what he himself affirms, he obviously had believed those who had told him about it all. It is thus not totally inappropriate to say that, after the Resurrection, he is being somewhat “inconsistent” when he says that he refuses to believe those who told him they had seen the Lord. He demands to put his finger in the wounds which he did not have the loyalty or the courage to see being inflicted. Thomas does not detect his own inconsistency, probably because, as for us all, it is strangely easier to accept the truth of suffering and death than that of the Resurrection. Everyone knows about death; it is part of our mortal experience, however much we would deny it. So total and definitive does death seem to us, that Resurrection sounds like a cruel hoax or a mad man’s hallucination. Indeed, when St. Paul spoke of the Resurrection of Jesus to the Athenians, they laughed at him. Thomas did not laugh, but voiced our natural skepticism in the face of something so incredible: where is the proof?

                Just as Thomas was absent when Jesus first appeared to the rest of the Eleven, so Jesus was absent when Thomas rejoined them… or was He? When Jesus reappears, he addresses Thomas directly in order to respond to his doubts. But how did Jesus know the exact terms of Thomas’s doubt? The most likely answer is that, although seeming to be absent from the Apostles, the Risen Jesus was actually always present among them. That is one significant aspect of the reference to the “eighth day” in our Gospel text, the eternal Day, the omnipresence of the Risen Christ. His departure in death was only for the “little while”, of which St. John’s Gospel also speaks a few times. Jesus knew He would return, not in some mythical “reincarnation”, but in the ultimate reality of the Resurrection. To reassure the Apostles, however, that He was indeed the same Jesus, the first thing He did when appearing to them was to show them His hands and His side. In other words, He was saying, “I am the same Jesus who was crucified, who died and was buried.” Now, having risen, the tomb remains empty, and all tombs shall be, and shall remain, emptied. He will depart no more; and we shall depart no more, from Him or from one another. He remains for ever present with His community, found in seed form in the Apostles. They need doubt no longer, but only believe. By showing His wounds to them, Jesus witnesses before the Apostles to the destruction of death and to the carnal reality of the Resurrection. He then commissions them to go forth as the community that will carry that witness to the ends of the earth. The witness of the Apostles is thus not only the witness to Jesus (“He is risen”), but the witness of Jesus (“I am risen”). They are not just telling us about what they have seen and heard, as if recounting some interesting personal experience. They are, in fact, telling, actually communicating to us the very presence and life of the Risen Lord, so that we might be in living communion with Him and with them. The Word of the Apostles is the Word of Christ Himself: it gives life, it gives Christ to those who believe and obey it. They proclaim the Word of Life, the Word who is Life, the Word who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

                But what is that apostolic community if not the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church? The mission of the Church, in the midst of any doubt, is therefore to live in the power of the presence of the Risen Lord and to proclaim His victory over death to all creation. It is a mission entrusted by Christ first of all to the Apostles and, in equal degree and manner, to those who succeed the Apostles, those we call bishops: on them has been conferred by Christ the power and the authority to bind and to loose, to lead, to teach and to sanctify. Yet, to all who likewise believe in Christ and remain in communion with Him through the Apostles, there is also given a share in the grace and in the command to transmit the life of the Risen Lord. This, all the baptized do in their witness of word and deed, and especially in their witness of worship in the Mass and the sacraments, and in remaining faithful to the fullness of Truth as it is given to us in the apostolic Church, built on the faith of Peter.

                 In its essence, the Church’s message is not therefore a human philosophy, not even a Christian philosophy. It is not in the first place a philosophy at all, or a system of thought or a vision of reality. All of this is good, useful and, at times, even necessary. In fact, however, the message of the Church is not firstly a mere message! It is the transmission of a life, of the life of the Risen Son of God, the eternal life of the Resurrection.

                Herein lies something of the lesson of Thomas. The transmission of the life of the Risen Jesus is not achieved by seeing with the eyes of the body, nor even those of the mind. The Gospel cannot satisfy the limited demands of science or of the arts, no matter how unlimited they consider themselves to be. It is neither an objet d’art nor an objet de curiosité. Philosophers may come to the Gospel through reason, scientists through science, artists through art. But they can only do so when, in the intimacy of their souls, they walk stark naked through the door of faith into the Heart of the Risen Christ. Christ cannot be reached in His life-giving truth, except by the unveiled eyes of the human soul, i.e. by faith. Science, art and philosophy can lead us to the river-bank of faith, but that river cannot be crossed unless the soul cries out to the living God: “My Lord and my God! Save me, bring me to yourself, O Lord of all mysteries and truth, of all beauty and life!” True bliss is inner vision, namely the believing soul: and that bliss is not a concept, however vivid, nor a feeling, however strong – it is the infusion by grace, and the inner acceptance by faith, of the life of the Risen Christ. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe!

                When Christ breathes upon His apostles, He signifies the coming of the Holy Spirit, which will take place fully at Pentecost. The Holy Spirit is the breath of the life of God. The Risen Jesus imparts that life, breathes that breath, but He has chosen to do so only in and through His apostolic Church. That is His disposition; it has nothing to do with the Apostles; it is neither their choice nor merit, but Christ’s will. Let’s face it: the Apostles were a sorry lot of quivering cowards - Peter’s betrayals, Thomas’s arrogance, the presumptuousness of James and John, and so forth. We certainly would not have voted for them! But Christ chose them: are we really going to say to the Lord: “Couldn’t You have done it better”? When it comes to us human beings, was there, is there or will there really ever be, a better or best, yea even just a good, choice? Christ does not call on the basis of our merit, but of His mercy, a mercy both for the one called and, though they may not perceive it, for the ones to whom the called is sent. The Apostles are the foundation of the Church of Christ, but their strength is Christ alone, their raison d’être is Christ alone, their mission is Christ’s mission, their destiny is Christ’s Kingdom. All they have that is truly their own is their personal misery, and by the mercy of God, that too will eventually be transformed into Christ’s love.

                Today, perhaps more than ever, we all need to have a living faith in the presence of the Risen Lord in His Church. Realities within the Church as well as in society and in the world weaken our hopes and increase our fears. There is doubt in everyone’s heart about where humanity is heading. Understandably, many have reason to doubt even where the Church is heading; one hears people say of the Church, “there is no leadership, no clarity, no courage, no vision, too much compromise, too much unhealthy concern for worldly affairs, etc..”

                These are surely challenging times to believe, to hope and to love as Christ wills. But we must cut to the quick. Either Christ is still with us, or He is not. If He is not, then He is not the Christ in whom we have believed. Indeed, if He is not, then He never was, and we really are collectively living a lengthy, elaborate and cruel hoax. St. Paul puts it this way: If Christ is not risen, our faith is vain. .. if our hope in Christ is for this life only, we are the most wretched of people. Alternatively, Christ is still with us, He sees our doubts as He saw those of Thomas, He marks our hesitations and our discouragements, and He feels them deeply with us. Yet it is to us, locked in the upper room with fear and doubt, that He comes and says: “Peace be with you!” He shows us His hands and His side. He breathes His Spirit of life and forgiveness upon us. He sends us forth to give life and forgiveness. His life is still our life. He is still transmitting it to us, to you. Why else would a sinner like me dare to stand before you at His bidding to tell you unapologetically and unhesitatingly: Christ is Risen as He said, alleluia! Yes, happy are you who have not seen and yet believe! As the blood blinded Him in the midst of His own agony, Christ had more reason than we will ever have to doubt, to feel crushed, forsaken and desperate. He did not see, but He trusted. His victory over death is the basis of our certainty that our present woes will also one day vanish. Cardinal McCarrick, in the midst of the worst days of the clerical sex abuse crisis a couple of years ago, wrote to you a Pastoral Letter called, “The Passion of the Church”, and I encourage you to read it. Evil makes no exceptions for the Church; as we have seen all too tragically, it is precisely because She is the Mystical Body of Christ that evil seeks to make Her suffer, to doubt, to question God and His faithfulness. Is it then evil to doubt? Only if you do not heed Christ’s call to turn to your faith and let it strengthen you, and be itself further strengthened in you, in the face of that trial. Evil would have you believe that Christ has abandoned the Church, abandoned you. But evil is a liar and a bad counselor in the midst of distress. When you feel the waves of doubt and desolation pull you down-stream, you must flex the muscles of faith, resolutely renounce Satan once again, and swim up-stream with the rest of the Body of the Church to the consolation of the Risen One. Sensing His direction, remain firm, cry out and He will give you strength to reach calm waters and to rise onto His bank of the river.

                Do net let your hearts be afraid or troubled. Trust in God, trust in Christ, remain faithful to His beloved Church. Be of good courage, for with Christ death itself has lost its victory. Therefore, of whom, or of what shall we be afraid?

 

Msgr. Peter Magee

Sunday, April 18th, 2004: St. Matthew’s Cathedral, 10.00 am