Second Sunday of Easter
Homily by Father Alex McAllister SDS
St Thomas the Apostle has long been regarded as the patron saint of doubters. This is fitting for someone who refused to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead until he had actually seen Christ himself standing in front of him showing the wounds of his Crucifixion.
We can all identify with Thomas. It is hard for any of us to believe what we cannot see, despite the fact that we know from our own experience that even so reliable a sense as sight can occasionally deceive us. One has only to think of magicians who can through trickery make us believe that the impossible has happened before our very eyes.
Our tendency is always to want to rely on what we can see and touch and experience directly. Society at large tells us that faith is something completely unreliable and not to be trusted before hard and tangible evidence.
So, Thomas is very human; he is very like us, he wants to believe but he prefers to rely on evidence. Lucky enough for him he got the evidence, Christ actually did stand before him with his hands outstretched showing his wounds.
None of us, however, get the opportunity to meet the risen Christ in the flesh. We have to rely on those who saw the Risen Lord two thousand years ago and who have handed down their words through the generations into our own day. Our belief in Christ is solely based on their testimony.
This question of belief is drawn to our attention in the scripture readings quite appropriately on this Sunday right after Easter because it is belief in the reality of the resurrection that concerns us most of all. The existence of Christ in the world is not an issue; not many people question the fact of his birth. People don't base their faith on his miracles either or even on the content of his teaching.
The key question of faith is whether Christ rose from the dead or not. It is belief in the reality of his resurrection on which our faith is based. Without the resurrection, Christ would essentially be a nobody; a first Century wonderworker who subsequent generations would rightly regard as irrelevant.
The question then arises as to why we believe. Of course, it is in large part because we were taught to by our parents. As we grew up they told us about Jesus and taught us to pray and develop a relationship with God in our hearts. This was reinforced by priests and teachers and catechists. We became accustomed to believing in God, in Jesus, in the saints and in the sacraments. Over a period of time we came to see our faith as a logical and coherent thing, something which made sense of the world and therefore a thing to be greatly cherished.
Most of us will have played our own part in this process and have ourselves been involved in handing on the faith to the next generation. We may have done this by being a parent ourselves or by our role as a Godparent or Sponsor or a member of the wider family.
But if we think about our own journey of faith we will certainly acknowledge the role that others had in handing it on to us; but we will also realise that there was a point in life when we made a decision of our own. There surely was a tipping point when we decided to wholeheartedly accept this faith that was handed on to us.
We will know of people too who when they came to this point decided to reject their faith. But since we are gathered in the Church today we know that this is because when we arrived at that point of maturity we chose to accept our faith in Christ and his Church.
It is for this reason that here in the UK the Church has decided to celebrate the sacrament of Confirmation at the age of fourteen. We reckon that this is the sort of age when we tend to make such decisions about our faith. For this reason we also stress that those who wish to get Confirmed should make the decision to do so themselves and not be under pressure from parents or others.
In our parish we give the candidates a programme of catechesis that reflects the fact that they are at this decision point and our curriculum provides them with the knowledge that they need to make a good and conscientious decision.
While much that goes into making a decision about our faith is based on our upbringing and what we have been told about Jesus by others, we should not think that our decision to believe is any different from that of St Thomas. We know that he was confronted with the actual person of the Risen Lord. But if our upbringing has been a good one and if we were taught to develop our own personal relationship with the Lord when we were children, then we too will be able to profess our faith in a real person.
We will know the Lord in a personal way through our own prayer and through our reception of the sacraments. We will be in relationship with him and we will experience his presence in our lives. This will actually be what enables us to publicly pronounce our belief in him when it comes to the time to be Confirmed.
Another question that comes to mind when we are thinking about St Thomas is that of those who are afflicted by doubts. Quite a lot of people find that after many years of being firm in their faith they suddenly start to experience doubts. This is a serious affliction and can cause a lot of grief for a person.
In my experience people who suffer from this affliction really do want to believe but find that they can't any more. And the harder they try to believe the more difficult it gets. I tend to think that this is an affliction caused by the Evil One who is trying to drive them away from faith in God. It is not that they don't believe, but that so many doubts have crept in that they don't know what to think any more.
In cases like this I tend to counsel people not to try so hard. I suggest that since we belong to a community of faith in which some are stronger than others it might be good to let some of the other members of the Church take the strain as it were. Allowing yourself to be upheld by the faith of others at such a time of difficulty may in fact be the best way forward.
Saying a prayer along these lines might help: 'Lord, I am assailed by doubts, I want to believe in you but I find it difficult right now. Please accept on my behalf the faith of my brothers and sisters in the Church and continue to sustain me with your love so that I might return to true faith in you.'
At times like this the support of St Thomas the Apostle can be of great help. He is the very best patron for those who doubt and are suffering from lack of faith. So, let me suggest that if you are experiencing this sort of thing to turn to him and ask his intercession so that you can once again say together with him those immortal words: 'My Lord and my God.' Amen.