07 April 2018

Make your witness worthy of trust

2nd Sunday of Easter
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Mt. Carmel Sisters, NOLA

How do we not see and yet believe? That is, how do we come to believe despite not having seen? Thomas' refusal to believe that his dead and resurrected Master had visited the apostles makes perfect sense to most Americans. Even most Catholics. We are no less prone to our culture's empirical pragmatism that our Protestant and even non-religious friends and family. In this scene from John, Thomas the Twin stands in for whole generations of western Christians who either ignore the supernatural elements of the faith, or simply refuse – along with Thomas – to believe until empirical evidence is presented, vetted, duplicated, and peer-reviewed. What's astonishing to me is that we always never insist on a Thomas Level of proof in our daily relationships. If my colleague tells me that one of my seminarian-advisees missed class w/o notice, I don't hesitate to contact the miscreant to find out why. When Sr. Angele asks me to celebrate Vigil Mass on April 7th at Mt. Carmel, I don't ask her to send me physical evidence that this alleged academy exists and that there are Carmelite sisters living and working there. We believe in what we do not and cannot see b/c we trust the witness of others. This is why our witness must always be faithful, worthy of trust.

So, is the witness of the other apostles to Thomas trustworthy? We know it is b/c we've been – in a sense – watching from the corner the whole time and saw Christ appear! For Thomas, their witness is insufficient. Why? There's no way for us know for sure why he refused to believe his brothers in the faith, but we can speculate. Maybe the news of his recently executed Master's appearance is just too much for him to process. Grief can cause us to do and say things out of character. Maybe he's been an empirical sort all along, one of those who just needs to see how things are done up close before he gets a grip on what's happening. Maybe Christ's horrible death on the cross has shaken his faith to it core and up-ended his world. Maybe Good Friday caused him to swear off believing in miracles. Maybe his brothers had lost his trust long before this and his refusal to believe is just the latest instance of his suspicious nature. Whatever it is that created his mistrust, we must be clear: Thomas does not doubt; he refuses to believe. Doubt occurs in the intellect. Refusing to believe is all about the will.

Why does that matter? The intellect seeks the Truth. The will seeks the Good. Thomas' refusal to believe is a refusal to accept the Good that his Master's appearance embodies. After the trauma of Good Friday and all of the nastiness of running and hiding after Easter Sunday, Thomas cannot bring himself to move toward the Good of Christ's reappearance. He needs more than trustworthy witnesses. He needs more than his own wishful-thinking. He needs Christ standing in front of him. And that's what he gets. His will is moved and he exclaims, “My Lord and my God!” Many who do not yet believe will be moved by our witness to the Risen Christ. Some unbelievers may ask for proof. What proof can we give them beyond what we ourselves have experienced of God's mercy? For those seeking the Truth, we can give rational arguments and answer their questions. But for those seeking the Good, something more is required. That Something More is where the truly difficult work of our witness begins. They want to see Christ standing in front of them. And all we have to show them is. . .us. Good, bad, and/or ugly. . .it's down to us. Here, on April 7, 2018 in New Orleans, LA, we are Christ reappearing to everyone he has asked to believe.

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