These days it is difficult to know what is true and what is fabrication, so it is not surprising that we have become wary of just about anything we see and hear. Thinking things through and applying common sense should reign. Spiritually we should also exercise the common sense called discernment and therefore test everything to ascertain whether it is in keeping with the Gospels and to make sure that what we choose leads us closer to God rather than away. This is not always easy; we continuously need to work at ‘knowing what is right.’ The issue of recognizing the truth is not new and in fact, it arose on Good Friday when we heard Pontius Pilate ask Jesus: “What is truth?” Unfortunately, Pilate was less interested in the truth as it is, God’s spoken Word, than he was in the truth he preferred to hear. Fearing to lose power, he let the Jewish authorities have their way regarding the fate of Jesus. But since Jesus won the victory by rising from the dead, we know that everything He promised and all that He taught is truth and that indeed He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The answer to Pilate’s question was standing right before him and he refused to accept the answer. He could not tell truth from falsehood and thus he remained in fear.
The apostles also wrestled with truth in those first days after the Resurrection. But unlike Pilate, they had already allowed truth to ‘take residence’ within them. They had an immense struggle at first, hiding when they should have been at Jesus’ side, fearful of being arrested. They were probably horrified at what they had done, no doubt praying for forgiveness, all the while struggling over the truth of who Jesus had said He was in the face of His resounding ‘failure’ and death. Even so, the apostles teach us that there is no shame in wrestling with difficult issues so long as we are open to the truth no matter how challenging it may be. Because they stayed in the process, their hearts were open to the Risen Jesus and their subsequent behaviors were those of men transformed by Easter joy. Like them, we also need to act like it if we have accepted the truth of the Risen Lord. This means that we need to put our faith into action so that others may come to know Christ because they see Him in us. Our behavior, then, should be Easter behavior.
I have always had a heart for the apostle Thomas who is often singled out and labeled as a doubter. If one compares him to the other ten apostles gathered in the Upper Room, he is no more a doubter than they are! All of the apostles had trouble believing Mary Magdalene when she first showed up saying that she had seen the Risen Jesus. Peter and John did go to the empty tomb, and while they witnessed the rolled up burial clothes, they still struggled to understand. (John 20:1-10) Like Thomas they needed more evidence before they could accept what Mary Magdalene had told them. And all of the apostles were in hiding for a while after the Resurrection: even after Peter and John told of their experience at the empty tomb, (John 20:1-10), the testimony of the two men from Emmaus, (Luke 24:13-35), and Peter’s encounter with the Risen Jesus, (Luke 24:34), they still hid. Although the apostles seemed to believe their friends, their behavior indicates that they still struggled with what was true because most of them had not yet seen. So we need to give poor Thomas a break and stop identifying him as ‘The Doubter’ as if he was the only one.
It is interesting that the evangelist John included the struggle of Thomas in his accounts of the resurrection of Jesus. It may have been that John wanted to help future generations understand that truth is often difficult to discern. It could be that this was his way of describing to us that he, too, struggled at first. Perhaps in making us privy to Thomas’ interior battle, John was helping us to realize that it is normal to wrestle with our faith so long as we remain open to truth in our study, prayer, and reflection. Ultimately Thomas’ mind and heart were open, and so when Jesus came to the Upper Room again, he dropped to his knees and exclaimed: “My Lord and my God!” The joy of the experience changed him forever and he not only believed with all his heart, but the truth empowered him to let go of his fear and to dedicate his entire life to sharing the message of Truth.
However, it is also important to look at the response of Jesus: “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” This may not have been the rebuke it appears to be. Jesus may have been pointing out that those to whom they would be sent and all future generations, (that means us), would not see Him in the same way as they had. Thus, He may have wanted to emphasize how difficult it would be to present the truth to those who would struggle to accept it. Not only would the apostles have to share in word, but also in deed; they would have to live what they taught through mercy, love, and joy. It reminds us that if we profess to believe the glorious truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, if we sing with joy our Alleluias at Easter, then our actions should reflect what we claim to believe. If we leave our joy and the message of Christ on the pew when we leave the church, then we are not living as Easter people. Simply put, if we believe that Jesus rose, we need to act like it. The truth which was revealed to us at the Resurrection is that Jesus freed us from fear and overcame the power of sin and death. The truth is that nothing can separate us from Jesus and we will be with Him in Heaven one day.
Years ago I read this quip: “If you are feeling joy in your heart, inform your face.” If we accept the truth that Jesus is Lord, arisen from the dead, and we accept all that He revealed as truth, our actions should reflect it. We cannot hide behind ‘closed doors’ in our heart just because we are wrestling with some aspect or another of living the Christian life. We are not meant to understand everything, and some matters of faith will present challenges to us during our lives. But faith is acceptance of that for which we have no proof, and the mysteries of our faith are just that: mysteries. What enabled the apostles to truly believe was not just that they saw Jesus. The joy in their hearts was kept alive because they now accepted that Jesus could still love them despite their previous abandonment, betrayal, and brokenness. They accepted this gift, becoming empowered by the depth of Jesus’ mercy and the joy of being in His presence. In short, they believed because they loved Him and therefore they allowed His love to transform them. Hence, they were able to go forth from the Upper Room and go into the Temple praising God. They let their joy be seen, and ultimately, after the Holy Spirit came upon them a bit later, their words and deeds converted many. If not for them, we would not be the Church that we are: alive and vibrant.
To fully embrace the truth, we need to remember that we are not any different than the apostles. We, too, have seen the Risen Lord: we have seen Him via the blessing and breaking of the bread. Every time we partake of the Eucharist we are face to face with the Risen Jesus and we do touch Him. Like Thomas our response should be: “My Lord and my God!!” If we truly believe that Jesus is the Son of God, one with the Father and the Holy Spirit, and that all of His words are true; if we believe in the Body of Christ, the Church; if we believe in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins and that we will resurrect on the last day; if we believe that Jesus suffered and died and rose from the dead so that we can spend eternity in Heaven with Him, then our actions need to reveal what is in our heart. If we believe in Truth and if we are full of Easter joy, we need to share it, not solely with emotion, but with actions which reveal our joy in knowing Jesus. One who loves wants to share the wealth with others; therefore we need to bring the Truth and the joy of knowing Jesus outward through little acts of kindness, aid for the suffering, patience in our own suffering, generosity with the poor, and working for justice in our communities. We need to act like the Easter people that we are, bringing Christ to others as He has come to us. This is our faith; this is the Truth.
May we accept the Truth of all that Jesus taught and live it with joy! May we give glory to the Risen Jesus through our actions! May we give witness to the love of Jesus as we share it with others! May we accept the gift of faith, and if it is challenged, may we open ourselves to the gift of the Holy Spirit who will give us the graces we need! May we ask the intercession of St. Thomas the Apostle when we are challenged in our faith! May we always recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread and the pouring of the wine as it becomes Eucharist! Let us meet at the table of the Risen Lord in gratitude for such a great gift! Alleluia! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
Note: Next post April 23.
1. I took this photo in a vineyard near Schulenberg, Texas. The light that appears to be around the trees was not intentional on my part and I did not see it until I printed the photo. I chose to use this photo here because it makes us ask what the truth in what we are seeing is: were the trees glowing or is it simply a trick of the light? It represents the need to find out what is true. The second reason is that this is a vineyard, and hence there is a Eucharistic reference. The wine does become the Blood of Christ at Mass even though we cannot understand how.
2. This is the famous Resurrection panel which is part of the Isenheim Altarpiece painted by Matthias Grunewald. (1512) I chose to use it here because it is stunning in how it depicts light overcoming darkness. You can find it at https://www.wikiart.org/en/matthias-grunewald/the-resurrection-of-christ-right-wing-of-the-isenheim-altarpiece-1516.
3. This painting is called Three Women at the Empty Tomb by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld. I like this painting because of the vibrant colors. The angel's wings remind me of Fra Angelico's painting of the Annunciation. Perhaps Carolsfeld was paying homage to Fra Angelico, but the angel is making a momentous announcement, so it seemed fitting to use this particular painting here.
4. This icon is called The Risen Lord Appears to St. Thomas by Fr. William Hart McNichols. It draws us into the moment when Thomas sees and witnesses to the truth of his faith. You can find it at http://frbillmcnichols-sacredimages.com/featured/the-risen-lord-appears-to-st-thomas-257-william-hart-mcnichols.html.
5. This is one of my photos, taken at Mt. Cook National Park in New Zealand. This is actually Mt. Tasman, the second highest mountain in NZ. These mountains moved me to feel great joy simply in viewing their beauty; therefore it seemed appropriate to use this photo here.
6. I took this photo of the Eucharistic bread and wine at the Mass of Thanksgiving said by a Jesuit friend the day after his ordination. This is actually a cropped version of the photo and so the ciborium and chalice containing what will soon be the Body and Blood of Christ are the focus. (Sorry Fr. Marc.) I chose to use it here because it was the moment when the bread and wine were about to be consecrated. "My Lord and my God!"
7. This is an icon called The Risen Christ by Fr. William Hart McNichols. It seemed the perfect ending for this piece. You can find it at http://frbillmcnichols-sacredimages.com/featured/the-risen-christ-014-william-hart-mcnichols.html.
Heart Speaks to Heart