06 April 2013

Christ: our only rule and measure

2nd Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

What do we know about Thomas? He's one of the Twelve disciples chosen by Christ to serve as apostles. He's called Didymus b/c he has a twin brother. And we know that he is absent on the night that the Risen Lord appears to his apostles. Oh, and we know that despite having lived and died more than 2,000 years ago, he's a thoroughly modern man. What makes him modern? When told by his friends that Jesus—dead and buried for three days—appeared to them, Thomas proclaims a truly modern standard of truth: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks. . .I will not believe.” Modern philosophers and scientists would congratulate Thomas for demanding such a sensible and obviously right-thinking empirical standard for assenting to the truth of a claim. Jesus, on the other hand, isn't impressed. Appearing among his apostles a week later, Jesus allows Thomas to test his empirical standard. Now, Thomas believes. Jesus, far from praising his student's rigid need for proof, says, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” No one here has seen Jesus as Thomas did. Do we believe? And what difference does it make if we do or do not believe? 

It might seem strange for a Catholic priest to ask a church-full of Christians attending a Sunday Mass whether or not they believe in the Risen Lord. Why would any of us be here if we didn't believe? Let me suggest that there is a difference btw “believing that the Lord is risen” and “believing in the Risen Lord.” Simply believing that the Lord is risen is matter of assent, saying, “Yes, I believe that” when asked. Believing in the Risen Lord is also a matter of assent—saying, “Yes, I believe that”—but saying Yes to the Risen Lord entails a commitment far more intimate and demanding that merely saying that he is risen. When prompting Thomas to explore his wounds, Jesus says to him, “do not be unbelieving, but believe.” How does Thomas respond? He doesn't say, “I retract my earlier statement of disbelief and now assent to the claim that you are risen.” No. He exclaims, “My Lord and my God!” Believing in the Risen Lord commits us to submitting ourselves to the rule and measure of Christ as the source and summit of all that we are. A church-full of Christians can easily assent to the fact that the Lord is risen w/o ever committing themselves to being ruled by the Risen Lord. Doubt about the mechanics of the resurrection is the smallest obstacle we face when it comes to bending the knee to Christ our King. 

How does Thomas overcome his disbelief? Through Christ's mercy. It is b/c he is merciful that Jesus allows Thomas to satisfy his doubts on his own terms. We know that this is an act of mercy b/c Jesus says to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” Our Lord could've very easily left Thomas stewing in his doubt, left him outside the company of the blessed, and w/o the benefits of genuine belief. Instead, Jesus shows him mercy. Thomas is charged with the sin of disbelief, found guilty, and then pardoned; pardoned for no other reason than for the sake of the Gospel. The Gospel needs Thomas. And Peter and John and James and you and me. So, it is vital that we are not unbelieving but believing, that we are committed—heart, body, mind—to living under the rule and measure of Christ; thinking every thought, speaking every word, doing every deed for the sake of Christ and the spreading of his Good News. What is the Good News of Christ? That God freely offers His abundant mercy to all sinners. With repentance, we receive all that He generosity provides through the once for all sacrifice of His Christ on the cross. His mercy is our freedom from sin and our license to tell the whole world that Christ is Lord and God! 

Not too long after this meeting btw Jesus and Thomas, the apostles find themselves consumed by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and set upon the world to preach the Good News and accomplish mighty deeds in Christ's name. Luke tells us in Acts that “many signs and wonders were done among the people at the hands of the apostles. . .the people esteemed them. . .more than ever. . .great numbers of men and women, were added to them.” What were these signs and wonders? What exactly were the apostles doing and saying to bring so many to Christ? We know from Acts that the apostles were preaching God's mercy; baptizing those who repented; healing the sick and injured; freeing souls from unclean spirits; teaching the Word and breaking bread in memoriam. They were establishing the Lord's household among those who answered Christ's call to follow him. Why did they do these things? So that all may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief they may have life in his name. When we come to believe in the Risen Lord, when we come to trust in his name, we too accomplish mighty deeds, preach his Good News, and strengthen his household for all who answer his call to repentance and holiness. 

Do you believe? And what difference does it make if you do or do not believe? Do you call on his name in faith? And what difference does it make if you do or do not? After appearing to Thomas and some of the other disciples, Jesus reveals himself again at the Sea of Tiberias. To this group of disciples, Jesus not only reveals himself as the Risen Lord, he also reveals to them why it is necessary to listen to and obey his commands. The disciples are fishing and not having any luck. Jesus—disguised—tells the Beloved Disciple to cast his net over the right side of the boat. He obeys. The catch is so large that they can barely haul it in. At that moment, the B.D. recognizes Jesus and says to Peter, “It is the Lord!” Note that Jesus is unrecognizable to the disciples until the B.D. listens to and obeys his commands. The miraculous haul of fish is a sign for the B.D., and he instantly sees his Risen Lord. What difference does belief make? Belief in Christ makes it possible for us to see his words and deeds speaking and working in our lives. Belief in Christ gives us the courage and strength necessary to repeat his words and deeds, to put his words and deeds to work in building and fortifying his royal household. 

Belief in the Risen Lord means submitting ourselves to Christ as our only rule and measure. The disciples do not recognize the Lord on the road to Emmaus. Nor when he visits them on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias. Nor will Thomas believe that he is risen until he appears in the flesh for inspection. Doubt, worry, fear, pride—all of these cloud the disciples' eyes and plug up their ears. Btw Easter and Pentecost the disciples find it difficult to recognize the Risen Lord b/c they have yet to make Christ the rule and measure of their hearts and minds. Here we are btw Easter morning and Pentecost. Does Christ rule our lives? Do we measure our holiness against his? What does anxiety measure? What does fear demand of its subjects? The Risen Lord gives us one last command before he ascends to the Father, “Peace be with you.” Be at peace. If our hearts and minds are torn apart by dread, or frightened by the unknown, or troubled by our past, then we cannot rest in the sure knowledge that Christ died for us b/c he loves us. And if we cannot rest knowing this truth, then we cannot come to believe in the Risen Lord. Be at peace. . .and come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name. 
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9 comments:

  1. Don't want to ruin the effect with mere words :-).

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    1. Do you by any chance have an audio recording of this?

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    2. I don't. . .I almost took my recorder with me. :-(

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  2. "Belief in Christ makes it possible for us to see his words and deeds speaking and working in our lives."

    Enough said...

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    1. Yea, but that would've been a really, really short homily!

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    2. Sure...I needed the whole homily to write that...!

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  3. It was really good to meet you on Sunday, Fr. Philip. After listening to and reading your homily, I do have a comment or two.

    "Let me suggest that there is a difference btw “believing that the Lord is risen” and “believing in the Risen Lord.”" - I liked that contrast and, since we are centuries away from the actual event, it really makes a difference. There may also be a difference in believing the truth and knowing the truth. To truly 'know' the Risen Lord would be to take that belief to the next level. Just my observation and what your homily prodded me into contemplation.

    One minor critique though. When you brought in a 2nd Gospel story - casting the net on the right side of the boat - I found it to be a little long in explanation. A quick synopsis may have sufficed. But that's just me. We were drilled to stay on one topic and not bring in other Gospels, but linking stories together is good and I don't follow the '1 Gospel, 1 Homily' rule either, especially if it helps make a point.

    God bless and KEEP PREACHING!

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    1. Deacon J., good meeting you too. . .

      Thanks for the feedback. This homily is probably one of three in 13 yrs of preaching when I refer to another gospel. All of last week's gospel stories are intimately linked, so it was hard not to include it. Generally, my rule is: Preach the text in front of you. So, on this, we do not disagree.

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