HOMILY 2ND SUNDAY AFTER EASTER YEAR A 2023 ESSENDON
HONEST THOMAS – UNSDERSTANDABLE DOUBT TO FAITH!
Jn 20.19-31 AA 2.42-47 1Pt 1.3-9
I begin today out of left field, with a poetic reflection, although slightly unseasonal in autumn down here, on peace, the first word of the Risen Jesus to his inner circle, the fearful, but now faithful, 11 apostles: “Glorious, sunny spring day sitting beside a river as it crawls past, host to water birds. Some fly, others sun themselves, along with flowers and the ubiquitous cherry blossom. All is at peace. This is even more remarkable given where we are and its history. Hiroshima is not stuck. It has moved forward, while honouring its past, primarily through the Peace Memorial Park. The peace that the park works to promote is remarkably prevalent. My senses are caught, in this uncomplicated precious and powerful feeling.”
These words came from a person sitting in the park where one of the most horrific events of the 20th century, or in human history, for that matter, occurred, the first dropping of a nuclear weapon, causing untold death, destruction and long-term human suffering. The words evoke a need to move on, to learn from the horror and for a determination to do all we can to avoid history repeating itself, and to do better in promoting peace in our troubled world. And it’s worth mentioning last Tuesday, 11th April was the 60th anniversary of Pope John XXIII’s encyclical Pacem in Terris, addressed to ‘all men (people) of good will’ (6 months after the Cuban Missile Crisis), followed up by Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical Laudato Si in 2015. “And the interrelatedness of nuclear war and ecological destruction goes beyond their global scope.” (Earthbeat Weekly in NCR)
Our Christian perspective on Easter reminds us that we are meant to be people of peace and hope, who don’t just passively observe the world around us, but who are motivated to change things for the better by our presence and action in the midst of it all. The Peace March of Palm Sunday is a reminder that peace has to be advocated and worked for, starting from home. I mentioned at Easter that I find it paradoxical, even unbelievable, how the Christian message has been perversely twisted so often, to even promote conflict and wars over the past 2,000+ years, with the 20th century possibly the worst in terms of lives lost and long term suffering as a result of so-called largely Christian countries at loggerheads, but throwing weapons at each other rather than seeking dialogue over their differences.
We come to Doubting Thomas Sunday, as I like to refer to it, but renaming him Honest Tom, as he’s the one apostle up front to say what he and the others are really thinking, starting with the Last Supper, where he questions Jesus, during his farewell discourse, following the washing of their feet, about where he was going, because they didn’t know, with Jesus offering reassurance that he is the way, the truth and the life, on the way to God as Father, but also commissioning them to follow his practical example of service and facing the crosses, on the path of the mission ahead of them.
In today’s Gospel, sceptical Tom again comes forward, expressing his not unreasonable doubts, but then takes the leap of faith forward, once he experiences the presence of the Risen Jesus, and acknowledges his identity, with the highest Christological statement of John’s Gospel: ‘My Lord and my God’. Then, as the mission took off, the Indians believe he made it all the way to Kerala around 52AD, but then was speared to death in Chennai in 72AD, where he is said to be buried. If so, he got to a ripe old age, and had 20 years or so to proclaim the Gospel there in the meantime!
I was sceptical about the long trip, until I checked Wikipedia preparing these thoughts, and it looks like it was quite possible, but a rather a hell of a long sea voyage, or else lots of mountain climbing en route! What is certain, though, is that there is strong and enduring Indian devotion to Thomas, who is patron saint for the Christians of India, and even some Muslims and Hindus, so he could be seen as something of a unifier, bringing people of different faiths together! And surely that’s no bad thing!!
Our Easter faith seeks understanding, so Bishop Vincent Long of Parramatta (whom I once lectured in Canon Law) suggests: “Maybe our Resurrection faith, like that of Thomas, must always include an aspect of questioning, for the Easter mystery is so dazzling; it is beyond our rational comprehension… Is this not the journey of our whole lives: the movement from sorrow to courage, to grief, to waiting, to joy, often holding elements of each at the same time? In the face of painful transition, let us be empowered by the presence of the Risen Lord, calling us beyond the fear of the unknown. The Paschal rhythm summons us to die to the old and rise to the new.” Easter in fact reflects the rhythm of life in nature too, does it not, with the changing of the seasons, growth and new life bursting forth?
And as for the practical side of life in the early Church, we hear about today in Acts of the Apostles, which I recall studying, in just 2 weeks, back in 1971 at Corpus Christi College, Werribee, there was an exam question about whether or not Luke’s account of sharing everything in common was realistic! The implication was that Luke was presenting an idealized account of sharing of one’s resources, particularly of the needy, not a promotion of early communism!! Our practical aspect of that these days, is in supporting such causes as the work of Caritas Australia through Project Compassion, Catholic Mission and locally, St Vincent de Paul and its good works.
Meanwhile, it is for us to continue to recognize Jesus in the Eucharist, through the breaking of the bread together. And, as Jesus breathes the Spirit into the gathered apostles, moving from fear to faith, there is an echo of God’s Spirit over the waters, bringing light and life out of the darkness into the beauty and wonder of all Creation.
Brendan Byrne SJ suggests: “One sign of the Spirit’s presence is the continuing increase in numbers of converts, drawn by the sheer attractiveness of the communal life of believers and the spirit of joy and thanksgiving palpable among them… The early disciples were a community of friends”.
So you and I are challenged to be, in all of our diversity, responding to the Spirit and living the Gospel as Easter people, bonded in faith through the friendship of Jesus and each other.