23 April 2006

The victory that conquers the world

2nd Sunday of Easter 2006: Acts 4. 32-35; 1 John 5.1-6; John 20.19-31
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Paul Hospital and Church of the Incarnation


Who indeed is the victor over the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? The victory that conquers the world is our faith. And so, peace be with you.

You might think that Jesus would take it easy after his passion, his death, his descent into Hell, and his resurrection! What better time, what better excuse would any of us have to take a break—“I was betrayed by my friends, beaten by the police, nailed hands and feet to a cross, left to die, stabbed by a spear, buried in a tomb, spent three days in Hell, and then my Father raised me from the dead. Yea, I think I’m gonna take the week off, relax, catch up on my reading, do the spa thing…” That would be me anyway. Jesus, on the other hand, has a much better work ethic than I do and seems particularly energized by his trial and tribulations; he’s revved up to continue his ministry, appearing to Mary Magdalene and the woefully hard-hearted and doubting disciples several times over the last week.

The disciples are wallowing in anxiety, self-pity, disappointment, and maybe even a little shame at their failure to better defend their teacher and friend against the self-serving powers of the Temple and the Empire. Are they reluctant to believe that he is truly risen b/c they are embarrassed to confront him? Maybe. They don’t seem all that ashamed when they finally come around and see Jesus for who he is. Maybe they are reluctant b/c they do not look like victors over the world; they do not look like those who have believed and conquered the world in faith. They are despondent, worried about many things, depressed, crowding together to comfort one another in their waiting, in their despairing anticipation.

What are they waiting for? What has paralyzed them so? Frozen their spirits and slowed their hearts? Why aren’t they out there in the world claiming victory in faith? Why aren’t they out there proclaiming the conquering Word risen from the dead and living among them? Why can’t they see? Why can’t they hear? Why won’t they believe?

Faith releases control, surrenders all possible options, gives up on freely available alternatives and the multiplicity of choices. Faith recognizes the powerful singularity of Truth, the breathtaking beauty of raw reality, the Very Good of all creation. Faith reorders priorities, reschedules plans, reorganizes futures. Faith is the seed of a covenant of love, a promise of boundless mercy and unconditional favor. Faith places you in the conquering good will of the Father—His will that you love, that you be loved, and His will that we keep his commandments. Faith comes first. Trust is primary. Then plans in faith, then philosophies in faith, then theologies in faith, then sciences in faith, then politics in faith…

The disciples will not believe absent the presence of Christ among them for the same reasons that you and I are not likely to believe. We like control. We need nearly infinite options, unfettered choices. We love the idea of relative truth—My truth, your truth, or no truth at all! We value human justice above divine mercy and cannot let go of vengeance. We have plans, expectations, back-up plans, important worries, dire anxieties, vitally important worries, extremely dire anxieties; we have schedules, deadlines, due dates, things to do, places to be, people to meet! And I don’t have what I need! And I don’t need what I have! I have sins; I have BIG sins. I’m a big sinner! A huge sinner! Lock the doors! Be afraid…!! Hell is rushing up to meet me and I’m running as fast as I can to meet the Devil….faster and faster and faster and…

And Jesus stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” He showed them his hands and his side, his passionate wounds. As the disciples rejoiced, Jesus said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” He breathed on them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” And he gave them the power to forgive sin.

Thomas the Twin wasn’t with them when Jesus appeared and did not believe the apostolic witness when it was given. Thomas was not a doubter; he was a denier. Thomas did not say to his fellow disciples, “I’m having difficulties working through the implications of the Lord’s death and Resurrection.” He didn’t say: “The possibility that Jesus has been dead for three days and has risen from the tomb is troubling, and I’m struggling with it.” Thomas said: “I will not believe until I see it for myself.” That’s not doubt; that’s denial. He is placing his willful need for understanding above his trust in Christ and requiring that God be worthy of his trust.

The Lord lets Thomas feel his wounds and then lets him know in no uncertain terms that his denial is a failure of trust: “Have you come to believe b/c you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” Jesus is not calling for “blind faith.” He is calling on Thomas, the disciples, and us to believe the witness of the Church, to trust the evidence of those who have lived their lives in faith before us. Jesus is not asking us to deny our intellect, to deny our good sense, or to leave our expensive educations at the door of the Church. Nothing about the Catholic faith requires us to assent to foolishness in order to be good Catholics. Nothing about the faith requires us to adopt willful ignorance.

Doubt as such is no obstacle to the faith so long as you are ready to doubt Doubt, that is, so long as you do not invest a great deal of trust in your doubts. St Thomas teaches us that even believing resembles doubt sometimes in that both have “no finished vision of the truth.” Have your doubts. Struggle with the Church’s witness. Ask questions and seek faithful answers. But understand that doubt is not a license to dissent; having doubts does not constitute a God-given right to deny. We are victors over the world in faith, in trust, not in suspicious denial and rebellion.

Who indeed is the victor over the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? The victory that conquers the world is our faith. And so, peace be with you! Receive the Holy Spirit. Be unstuck, become unglued; be opened, enlivened, renewed; be born again in faith and victory; conquer this world by the power of your trust, your bone-deep, blood-rushing witness to the truth of our Catholic faith: the living faith of the faithful dead, unbroken and unchanged, for us and with us the same teachings of Jesus, the same preaching of the apostles, the power of the sacraments, the magisterial authority of the Church, the very Presence of Christ among us!

He is risen from the dead. And that victory conquers the world. Therefore, peace be with you. Receive the Holy Spirit, believe, and be at peace.


2 comments:

  1. Anonymous7:40 PM

    I like this homily. It's very informative and after hearing it I felt compelled to see it, so that I could go back and soak up what I could.

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  2. Patty Medaille9:51 PM

    Dear Fr. Phillip,

    Have you ever heard the song "He's Alive"? Written from the point of view of Peter after Jesus's death and resurrection, it captures the spirit of today's homily: Peter is brokenhearted at the death of his closest friend, afraid of reprisals from those who put Jesus to death, and deeply ashamed of himself for denying Jesus ("When at last it came to choices, I denied I knew His name./ Even if He was alive, it wouldn't be the same.") My mother used to play it every Easter when I was a little girl, and now I play it for my daughter year after year.

    The most famous versions are by Dolly Parton and Don Francisco; if you've never heard it, download it immediately! You're in for an Easter treat. :)

    Patty Medaille

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