3rd Sunday of Easter
Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP
Imagine for a moment that the Risen Christ appears to you and asks, “Why are you troubled?” Once you've gotten over the shock of seeing and hearing Jesus, you get down to business, cataloging all of your questions and wondering which one to ask first. Do you ask about heaven? Hell? The communion of saints? Do you ask about the state of your holiness? The eternal whereabouts of deceased friends and family? Maybe you want to some answers to the controversies that plague the Church, or the secret to settling our nation's political problems. As your mind whirls with questions, Jesus waits patiently for you to figure out what you think you need to know. After awhile he says gently, “Peace be with you. Why do so many questions arise in your heart?” This question brings your spinning heart and mind to a full stop. Jesus waits. You stare at him, gasping like a landed catfish. He holds out his hand and says, “Touch me and see.” Whatever questions, problems, anxieties, fears, or complaints you had lined up to air – they all vanish. Now, you're incredulous for joy, amazed that the Risen Christ is with you. Imagine how amazed and joyful you will be when you come to understand that he has always been with you. He never left your side.
OK. If he never left my side, then why do I have all of these questions, problems, anxieties, fears, and complaints that demand answers and solutions? John gives us part of the answer: “Those who say, 'I know him,' but do not keep his commandments are liars, and the truth is not in them.” Harsh but true. Sin makes us stupid. Sin twists the intellect and will over time, teaching us to call Evil good and Good evil. Choose this error consistently and before long you become a slave to the vice of folly. You become a fool. Harsh but true. A fool cannot tell the difference between Truth and lies, Beauty and ugliness, Goodness and evil. Consistently choosing lies, ugliness, and evil reshapes the body and soul into a vessel of irrational doubts, nagging worries, insolvable problems, and angry fears. The intellect is ruled by the passions and the will is let loose to pick and choose its own twisted idea of what's good. So, why do I have all of these questions, problems, anxieties, fears, and complaints that demand answers and solutions? Because I am a sinner who chooses to wallow in disobedience and disbelief. Instead, I choose to believe that I am alone, abandoned by God and His Christ. I refuse to hear Christ say to me, “Peace be with you.”
But John gives us just part of the answer to the question of why we have so many problems, anxieties, and fears plaguing our hearts and minds. When sin is my default choice and foolishness my preferred mindset, then I shouldn't wonder why even ordinary challenges to My Self become extraordinary. Extraordinarily unsettling. But these questions, problems, and fears – even though they are fashioned out of freely chosen sin – they are real. Jesus does not say “Peace be with you” to the disciples because he thinks their fears are imaginary. He doesn't reassure them of his real presence among because he believes the trauma of his execution is a group delusion. They are afraid. They are traumatized. The very real, real-world force of his death and resurrection hits them all square in the gut. And their reaction is shock, terror, fear. What the disciples need – what we need – is not only rock-solid faith and obedience to his commandments but Real World reassurance as well. Abstract principles, psychological props, symbolic gestures all have their uses in helping us cope when things fall apart. But nothing comes close to knowing – truly knowing – that Christ is with us. “Touch me and see.”
Touch him and see. Touch him in the Eucharist. He is truly present – body, blood, soul, and divinity – really present in the consecrated bread and wine. Touch him and see him in the Church and his saints. We are his Body. We are his hands and feet and arms and legs. We speak his Word and accomplish great things in his name. Touch him and see him in your personal prayer. In the silence of our heart and mind as you quiet yourself to listen. Touch him and see him in the public prayer of the Church. This Mass. “When two or more are gathered in my name, I am with you.” Touch him and see him in the poor – the materially poor and the spiritually poor. Those who have little in the way of material wealth and those who do not believe. Touch him and see him in the sick and dying; those who mourn; those who spend their lives in prison; the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the ignorant, the foreigner. Touch him and see him among the least of those who belong to him. Why do so many questions, fears, worries, problems arise in your heart and mind? Peace be with you. Touch him and see.