2 Easter B #44
Acts 4, 32-35
1 Jn 5, 1-6
Jn 20, 19-31
April 19, 2009
St. Mary’s Church, Marlboro, N.Y.
Deacon Tom Cornell
“Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side!” Words hard to forget. When we were children we were taught to repeat Saint Thomas’ words at Mass, at the elevation of the chalice after the consecration, “My Lord and my God!”
We all have moments of doubt. It’s normal to have questions. But remember, a mystery isn’t just an article of faith that can not be explained by reason alone. A religious mystery invites us to enter into it, to experience it. Another word for mystery is sacrament. From the inside, in the experience of the mystery itself, doubt is dispelled. We enter into a new reality.
Thomas entered into the mystery of the Resurrection, his doubt dispelled, and he was filled with power. After the first Pentecost, Thomas traveled east from Jerusalem through what is now Iraq and Pakistan and India. He established churches along the way, ordaining bishops and priests and deacons to carry on the work of remembering Jesus in word and sacrament. Many of those churches are still there today. Some of them are flourishing. There were over fifty Christian churches in Baghdad in 2003, before the invasion, most of them Catholic and Orthodox. There was even a section of Baghdad called “The Little Vatican,” there were so many churches and convents there, and a marvelous seminary. Christians lived side by side with Muslims in Iraq for hundreds of years in peace, but in recent times many have had to flee. In the State of Kerala in South India, the Catholic population is 20 percent. They are beautiful people, intelligent, educated and hard working. All these people claim Saint Thomas as the founder of their churches.
Closer to home, as we all know, we have a new archbishop. I was at St. Patrick’s Cathedral for his installation last Wednesday. Archbishop Timothy Dolan preached with passion, warmth and humor, and he was thunderously received. He said so many memorable things in defense of life, in defense of the poor and the powerless, immigrants, the elderly infirm and the yet unborn. He referred to the supposed wealth and power, prestige and influence of the Catholic Church in New York. He said those days are over, if they ever existed at all. He said our real power is and always has been our faith, not buildings and real estate, nothing but faith in Jesus the Risen Lord, faith in the power of Truth, faith in the power of the Spirit, the power that raised Jesus from the dead, the power of Love and Life itself, the faith that conquers the world.
John tells us that everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is begotten of God, his sons and daughters, sisters and brothers of Jesus. “Everyone begotten of God conquers the world, and the power that conquers the world is this faith of ours. Who then is the conqueror of the world? The one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.”
What can that mean, to conquer the world? And why conquer the world in the first place? The world is good, isn’t it? We read in the First Chapter of Genesis that God created the world and saw that it is good, very good. And in that most famous verse from John’s Gospel we read that “God so loved the world that he gave his son….”
When John uses the word world in today’s letter, he means those institutions and structures, those forces that create and maintain immense wealth and privilege for the few and poverty, misery, want and deprivation for the many. God meant his creation for all people, everything for everybody. The early Christians knew this. That’s why they sold all they had and laid the proceeds at the feet of the apostles in the Jerusalem commune. That didn’t last very long. Communal living is hard, I can tell you.
Everything for everybody. We know that’s not the way it is. But that is the way we should be aiming, “to each according to his need, from each according to his ability.” But it would be terribly dangerous for us to imagine that we can get there, to a world of equality, peace and justice on our own. On the other hand, it’s just as bad to be satisfied with things as they are. God lays the task upon us. He does not demand that we succeed, only that we never give up. He will bring the success at the end.
To be a Christian is to follow Christ. It is not enough to obey the Ten Commandments, to be good and to live honestly in this world. Jews are good and Muslims are good and Hindus and Buddhist and Zoroastrians are good. Jesus demands more. If we believe in Jesus we must believe him, what he taught, follow his example as best we can. “When he was insulted he returned no insult, when he suffered he did not threaten.” Rock bottom, he told us to love, not just our family, not just our friends and neighbors, but to love our enemies as well, to bless those who curse us and to do good to those who would do us harm. That is not what the world teaches. But that is what makes Christ’s teaching different, new, the Way to a new heaven and a new earth.