03 July 2020

Why do you believe?

St. Thomas the Apostle
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Priory, NOLA

We've given Doubting Thomas the wrong nickname. We should call him “Denying Thomas.” His denial couldn't be clearer: “I will NOT believe.” He doesn't say, “Huh. Well, maybe, but I'll need a little more evidence to be sure.” He says, “I will not believe.” His denial sounds eerily modern, almost scientific in its demand for material proof. This must've shocked his fellow apostles. He's seen and heard everything they've seen and heard. He's been with Jesus almost from the start. Did he give any indication before this that he didn't believe his Teacher's revelations about his own mission? How he would die? Rise? Return and ascend? Maybe Denying Thomas' denial is prompted by grief or despair. Maybe he's distraught and just not thinking clearly. Regardless, he gets his material proof and comes to believe. But Jesus seems less than delighted at this turn of events: “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” You can almost hear a disappointed sigh in there somewhere. Denying Thomas' story of conversion gives us an annual opportunity to closely examine the basis of our own assent to the Good News as handed-on by the Apostles. If asked, “Why do you believe?” what would you say? I've seen the wounds of Christ in the flesh? That would be amazing. . .and highly suspicious! Maybe you'd say, “This is the belief instilled in me by my family and reinforced by my social group.” OK. Less amazing, not suspicious. . .but meh. . .not exactly a rousing endorsement of a faith that, if rightly lived, promises persecution and death. Could you say, “I've experienced the life-giving grant of mercy for my sins”? Better. But deeply personal and difficult to translate for those for whom sin is an illusion. Another Thomas tells us that belief is the assent of the intellect to Truth w/o the need for empirical evidence. “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” This means that belief is dangerous. It requires commitment, a willingness to throw in w/o any material guarantees for eventual success or reward. It means taking on by witness alone the fullness of God's Self-Revelation and living one's life accordingly. No guide wires, no safety net; nothing but trust and the sure hope that you've bet on the right divine horse. Denying Thomas needed more than trust or hope. He needed proof. But we know that what needs proving, daily testing, is our faith.

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