NB. Preached this adapted homily from 2007 and it worked much better than yesterday's.
2nd Sunday of Easter (2012)
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Dominic Church, NOLA
Our safety comes first! Lock the doors b/c we are afraid! Install a new security system. We need four or five guns. Guard dogs. Threatening yard signs. A panic room with enough food and water for a month. Cameras covering every inch of the property. A couple of bodyguards. Yes, we’re afraid. So afraid, in fact, that we are now prisoners in our own home and hostages to our obsessive need for security and control. Why? B/c our safety comes first! And Jesus comes and stands in our midst and says to us, “Peace be with you.” The locks fall away. The guns melt. The security system starts playing “Ave Maria.” The guard dogs morph into kittens. The yard signs now read “WELCOME!” The bodyguards serve Hurricanes by the pool. We are no longer afraid. Christ, our Lord Jesus, commanded that we be at peace. And so we are. If you aren’t, I wonder why?
Let’s imagine that that tightly wound and locked down house is your soul. Or maybe your heart and mind. As a Christian you have nothing to fear from anything or anyone. But how many of us here will clamp down on our spirit like a nervous dictator during a riot when someone threatens the security of our trust in God? Or challenges the truth of our faith in the public square? Where is that apostolic spirit that Christ breathed on us?
Let’s back up. The disciples are locked up tight in a room for fear of the Jews, meaning they were hiding from the partisan Jews who arranged for Jesus’ phony trial and illegal execution. The disciples, despite their cowardly betrayal of Jesus in the garden, were probably right to worry that they were being hunted. The partisan Jews and Romans know that they must capture all of the traitors. Jesus’ followers are a threat to the power of the temple and the empire. And so, they locked the doors for fear of their persecutors. Very understandable.
But is this what Thomas the Twin does when he denies that Jesus visited his brother disciples after his death? Does Thomas lock up the doors of his spirit b/c he fears persecution for his belief? No. Obviously not. He doesn’t believe, so how would installing security protect his faith? He has no faith to protect. Thomas’ denial of Christ in the face of the apostolic witness of his brothers is scandalous. Note: he doesn’t doubt. He denies: “I WILL not believe…” And then he demands evidence. Thomas is not threaten by persecution for his faith. Thomas is threatened by the faithful witness of those who have seen Christ in the flesh. And what exactly is it of Thomas’ that is threatened by this faithful witness? Let’s pause here and turn the question back to us.
When you, when we detect some alleged threat to our faith and slam the security doors of our soul and call the Church police, demanding absolute safety for our faith, what is it of ours that is threatened? Please don’t say, “My faith is threatened”! How exactly could faith ever need or use the safety that anyone on Earth could provide? Our faith in God, the trust God has given us as His children, cannot be seriously threatened by anyone or anything outside our own intellect and will. Let me suggest that it is our Spiritual Comfort that's threatened. Our comfortable, settled ways of “being spiritual,” that's what gets threatened by our worldly persecutors. And it is the Devil who convinces us that when our Spiritual Comfort is threatened it is actually our Faith in God that is threatened. Nonsense. Utter nonsense.
The disciples go around with Jesus listening to him teach and preach, watching him argue and heal, sweating with him to serve the poor, the wrecks, the abandoned. They see him day in and day out, hear him every time he speaks. And yet! At crunch time, at the hour of his crucible, they run like weasels set on fire, denying him as they run. Would we have done any better? I dunno. Maybe. But my point is this: while with Christ their faith is comforted and defended and they are not afraid. Without him they flee their persecutors behind locked doors. The Risen Christ comes to them to console their anxieties. And Thomas, who is absent for Christ’s visit, denies that any such thing had happened. His comfortable ways of being spiritual are threatened by the disciples’ outrageous testimony, and he slams the security doors of his soul and calls the police. He decides that the best way to defend his comfortable way of understanding Christ is to demand from Christ irrefutable empirical evidence: “Unless I see the mark of the nails of his hands…I will not believe.”
Now back to us. When our comfortable ways of being spiritual, our settled means of knowing Christ are threatened, what do we do? Don’t we become Denying Thomases? That is, we deny the power of God’s gift of faith and cast around for empirical evidence that we are right to trust God. Think about that phrase: “evidence that we are right to trust God”! What kind of faith needs evidence? We look to weeping statues, Blessed Mother tortillas, bleeding Hosts, a dancing Sun, and on and on. All of which could be miraculous. But none which are necessary for us to be truly faithful! You may say to me: “But Father! The faith has enemies everywhere! Radical Muslims. Secularist humanists. Dissident theologians, religious, and clergy. Scandal in the seminaries, in the chanceries, in the universities. Rebellious lay groups like the Women’s Ordination Conference and Catholics for Choice! There's error and dissent everywhere! And the Holy Father isn’t doing anything about it! Nothing!” And Jesus stands in our midst and says to us, “Peace be with you.” And his servant, John Paul II, stands next to him and says, “Be not afraid.”
For us, Christ’s peace is our security. We are secure in his presence. Secure in his love for us. Secure in the knowledge that he has won the last battle against darkness and despair. Secure in the church and her invincible yet always open gates. Thomas sticks in fingers in Christ’s wounds and says, “My Lord and my God!” And Jesus tells him that he has come to believe b/c he has seen. The truly blessed, however, are those who have not seen and yet still believe.
“Our safety comes first” is the motto of the damned. There’s nothing safe or easy or comfortable about following Christ. There is only your life lived in absolute trust. Therefore, unlock your doors. Welcome the strange and the stranger. Stand firm in the Word. Celebrate Christ's joy in the Sacraments. And there will be nothing comfortable in your faith to threaten. Nothing easy to complicate by a challenge from the powers of this world. Make trusting Christ the most outrageous thing you do, the most thrilling adventure of this life. And there will be nothing out there or in here to stand up and demand that you betray the Lord. We must believe that he has won this war. There is nothing for us to fear from our enemies. Receive the Holy Spirit and freely live life as a Child of the Risen Lord, the life our Lord died on the cross to give you! And he appears among us to say, “Peace be with you.”
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