01 May 2011

A new birth to a living hope. . .

2nd Sunday of Easter (A)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Joseph Church, Ponchatoula

It's been one week. Just seven days. With more than a billion other Catholics and that many more Christians of all flavors from all over the globe, we celebrated the Risen Lord. We welcomed into the Body of Christ thousands of freshly baptized souls; newly adopted brothers and sisters; and Catholics coming home after years of wandering in the wilderness. Just one week ago, we watched as the light of the Easter candle spread through the Church—the light of Christ piercing the darkness, shining out over the shadows of sin, showing us the way back to God. We heard that the sisters-Mary, meeting an angel and their Risen Lord at his empty tomb, were “fearful yet overjoyed” and that a couple of the disciples, meeting Christ on the road to Emmaus, were “startled and terrified.” To settle their hearts, Jesus instructed his friends to touch his wounds. They did. And they were “incredulous for joy and amazed.” Just one week ago. Seven days. We were renewed, refreshed, and reminded. How are we now? Are you fearful or amazed? Joyful or terrified? Incredulous or startled? All of these, none of these? Wherever you are, however you feel, the Risen Lord is among us even now, and he says, “Peace be with you.” Peace be with your doubts, your fears, your worries; peace be with you. Because, Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” We have too much to do; and doubt, fear, worry all are foolish wastes our time and spirit. Now is the time to be overjoyed, reassured, and strong!

In his first letter to the Churches in Asia Minor, Peter reminds these newly converted Gentiles exactly what God has done for them and for us in the Risen Lord. He writes, “. . .through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. . . [God] in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope. . .to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. . .to a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the final time.” We are born anew to a living hope, to an indestructible inheritance, and to a final salvation. Why is it foolish to waste our time on doubts, fears, and worries? Because our Father has given us a new birth. We are born again. Given a new start, a new life. Our new lives in Christ are radically different—different at the root—from the lives we lived before. Where we were once stumbling in the dark and gambling against chance, we are now living in hope. And not the kind of hope that keeps us stuck relying on luck, crossing our fingers and wishing for the best, but the kind of hope that only Christ can give us—imperishable hope, undefiled hope, unfading hope. Peter writes, “In this [hope] you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials. . .” Why might we have to suffer trials? “[S]o that the genuineness of your faith. . .may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” The metal of our faith will be stress-tested, subjected to trials, in order to establish that our trust in God is pure, authentic. This is one trial that the disciple Thomas fails.

We are used to calling the skeptical disciple, “Doubting Thomas.” But this is a misnomer. We should call him Denying Thomas. When the Risen Lord visits his friends, Thomas is absent. Upon his return home, the other disciples tell him that their teacher—three days dead—appeared to them and showed them the wounds of his execution. Incredulous, Thomas says, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” I will not believe! Thomas doesn't say, “I doubt your story.” Or, “I doubt that a dead man can walk again.” He says, “I will not believe.” I will not to believe. This isn't doubt; it's denial, outright disbelief. To make matters worse, Denying Thomas sets a test for the Lord, declaring himself unwilling and unable to believe until he can touch Jesus' wounds. For a week, the disciples lived with Thomas' willful refusal to believe their testimony. Then, for reasons known only to him, Jesus reappears and allows his stubborn disciple to touch his wounds. Thomas shouts, “My Lord and my God!” His will bends and he believes. To this Jesus says, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” Belief, faith, hope, love, trust—all the good habits required for growing in holiness—have nothing to do with evidence or proof. Blessedness belongs to those who love God, place their hope in His promises, and do the good works of His mercy without forensic testing, without physical proof.

Peter echoes this teaching in his letter, “Although you have not seen him you love him; even though you do not see him now yet believe in him, you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy. . .” Luke tells us what this glorious joy looked like among the faithful of the infant Church, “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers. Awe came upon everyone. . .All who believed were together and had all things in common. . .They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favor with all the people.” What effect did their joy have on those who witnessed their love for one another? Luke reports, “And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” Sincerity, exultation, and awe before the Lord draw hungry souls into the Body. Doubt, fear, and worry repel those who most need to be fed. So, I will ask you again, how are you this first week after we celebrated the resurrection of the Lord? Are you wasting away your time and spirit by wallowing in denial and anxiety, dreading another day, afraid to risk the dark security of disbelief and mistrust? If so, “Peace be with you.” Just as the Father sent His Son among us to announce the divine mercy to sinners, so the Son sends us to testify to the mercy we ourselves have received. But you cannot testify to what you have not witnessed. And you certainly cannot give what you have not received. If you have yet to receive the divine mercy, what are you waiting for? Denying Thomas spent seven days among a houseful of eyewitnesses to the Risen Lord. He bent his will to believe only after Jesus allowed him to touch his wounds. Are you waiting to examine Christ's nailmarks and the gash in his side? “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” Perhaps you once believed but now you doubt? Or do you outright deny that our Lord is risen? If so, “Peace be with you.” Your trust in God is being stress-tested. Stay with us, show us mercy, show yourself mercy, and you will pass. 

Just a week ago, seven short days ago, we proclaimed the resurrection of the Lord from his tomb. The news spread to the disciples, to their families and friends, to their neighbors and from them to all the nations and peoples of the world, from 1st century Jerusalem to 21st century Ponchatoula. If the good news of God's mercy to sinners is going to continue to spread, continue to be repeated until history is exhausted, those of us who hope in the Lord must be joyful and sincere; our faith indestructible; and our love for one another unfading. Christ's peace is the sure knowledge that our salvation awaits us. His peace be with you.

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