“My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” John 20:19-31.
Thomas’s words and profession of faith come toward the very end of John’s gospel (John20), and we hear this particular passage year after year on this Sunday after Easter.
Perhaps this is a reminder that in the rough and tumble of life, we need to reaffirm our faith and seek a common witness that makes God’s grace knowable in our words and actions of service.
In John’s gospel, Thomas is not alone in his misgivings or apprehensions about Jesus. For example, early in this gospel, we meet Nicodemus, who may have too much learning and was too smart for his good. Or read about the “man born blind” that remind us about physical limits that may prevent us from seeing Christ. There is the need for a gradual unfolding of sight and awareness to the person of Christ.
It’s the human experience after all, and so often with knowledge, there comes doubt, and too often, we have the human capacity to disappoint one another. We need Lent and Easter to consider how to think and to act more boldly in Christ’s name.
But let me explain a recent example that touches on our human capacity for belief.
“It’s like looking through frosted glass,” said Harvard astronomer Shep Doeleman. He was talking about the image of the black hole, a vast abyss so deep and so dense known as Messier 87, some 55 million light-years away from earth. Doeleman added, “We have seen the unseeable.”
So for the very first time, astronomers have given us a composite image, the photograph of a lopsided ring of light that looks like a dark circle framing a one-way portal into eternity.
Mostly this is the story of the 200 scientists, including 40 women, who worked on this project. The team was aided by Katie Bouman, the young scientist, who developed an algorithm that coordinated efforts at eight radio observatories on six mountain ranges on four continents in their observations of the galaxy in Virgo for ten days in April of 2017 and a dim source of Sagittarius A-star. “To see the unseeable,” is a remarkable scientific achievement!
For me, such comments sound like Saint Paul to the Corinthians: “At present, we see only puzzling reflections in a mirror, but one day we shall see face to face. My knowledge now is partial; then, it will be whole, like God’s knowledge of me. Three things last forever: faith, hope, and love; and the greatest of these is love.”
To my mind, our gospel is a network of witnesses in faith and action. This spiritual knowledge needs teamwork, a form of communal seeing and witnessing to the truth.
So what’s the connection between Thomas and his encounter with Jesus after the Resurrection and Divine Mercy Sunday? Well, maybe this.
When I grew up in the days of the Baltimore Catechism, there was the practice of memorization of questions and answers about religious practice and often performed for the bishop at confirmation. We don’t do this so much today.
However, one of those questions and answers may provide a clue. Namely, Question # 192 asks: “Which are the chief spiritual works of mercy?” The answers: to instruct the ignorant, to comfort the sorrowful, to bear wrongs patiently, to forgive all injuries, to pray for the living and the dead.
Among these seven spiritual works of mercy is: “To counsel the doubtful.” We are to work with those who need help or encouragement with their faith, to support those who have misgivings about religion, and the overall unsettled state or lack of trust today. So it’s a community effort to bring people along, despite misgivings, and see something in us, in our love and in our service that speaks to the person of Christ himself.
Pope Francis writes: “Dear Brothers and Sisters, I have often thought about how the Church might make clear a witness to mercy. It’s a journey that begins with a spiritual conversion. Be merciful, just like your Father is merciful.”
On this Divine Mercy Sunday, we renew our willingness to go outward to those in need, to help others to see the human face of God in Jesus Christ.
Again, Saint Paul: “At present, we see only puzzling reflections in a mirror, but one day we shall see face to face. My knowledge now is partial; then, it will be whole, like God’s knowledge of me. Three things last forever: faith, hope, and love; and the greatest of these is love.”
Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA.