Our first scripture today is from the New Testament book called “The Acts of the Apostles”. The book of Acts is a companion piece to the Gospel of Luke and whereas the Gospel of Luke presents the astounding revelation that God, the one, true God, accepted a human nature and lived a real, human life. And the Gospel of Luke is clear, this revelation is not just an idea or feeling, but a person- a living, divine person. And the name of this revelation, this person, is Jesus the Lord!
Whereas the Gospel of Luke presents this astounding revelation of God in Christ, the book of Acts of the Apostles presents how this revelation of God in Christ continues in the Church. In other words, the revelation of the Lord Jesus hasn’t just disappeared into the past, into history, but continues even now in the Church.
You see, the Church is not just an institution or global non for profit corporation- the Church is the extension of the Incarnation of God in Christ in space in time, in history, right here and now.
How this Christ manifested in the Church?
This particular scripture from Acts of the Apostles insists that Christ makes himself present in our worship in the Mass, in the Blessed Sacrament. He is evident in our willingness to accept the authority of the apostles as teachers of the faith. Christ makes himself known in how we share what we have been given with others, not just in terms of our material possessions, but our faith in Jesus Christ.
You see, in all these ways, Christ makes himself present. But also in all these ways faith in Christ is revealed, not just to be an individualistic or ethnic experience, but a whole way of life.
Christian Faith, your Catholic Faith, is a whole way of life.
One of the great de-formations of the Christian Faith in our times is the attempt to reduce the totality of the Faith from a way of life, to merely a collections of ideas, or emotional experiences, or a vague ethnic association. Worse than these painfully inadequate reductions is the de-formation of the Christian Faith, the Church into a non-for-profit initiative or faith based club.
None of this will do!
The Church is the Body of Christ in the world, the bearer of his divine life and presence. Once that divine life and presence was revealed in the body of Christ’s human nature. Now, this divine life and presence is revealed in Body of Christ, which is the Church. Christ wills to reveal himself to the world through this unique way of life called the Church.
Our mission is to live in such a way that this revelation is not obscured, but allows the divine life and presence of the Lord Jesus to become radiant to the world. Seeing us, the world should know Jesus Christ. If in seeing us, the world does not know Christ, then we are standing in the way of his revelation, rather than allowing him to be seen.
Our second scripture is an excerpt from the first letter of the Apostle Peter.
The Apostle Peter reminds us that Jesus Christ has changed who we are and invited us to be the person that God wants us to be.
In other words, to know Christ means much more than just knowing about Christ. To know Christ means that you have accepted a relationship with him, and this relationship has changed who you are.
This relationship with Christ happens in the Church.
But also, and the Apostle Peter is clear, coming to know Christ in his Church is not an easy thing. What we are given is a relationship with God, not an exemption from reality. The way of life that is the Church places demands on us, but these demands, are necessary so that we might become ever more like Christ.
The invitation to know Christ is always accompanied by an invitation to a mission. Whatever this mission might be (and it is unique for each of us) it will, if it is true, draw us into a closer communion with the Church, and compel us to make sacrifices and some of these sacrifices will be difficult.
Why sacrifices? Because the mission of every Christian is love and love, if it is true and good and beautiful, always demands a sacrifice and through sacrifices our love is perfected and redeemed.
We know this truth about love and sacrifice to be God’s own revelation from the cross and we see this truth about love and sacrifice ratified in Christ’s resurrection from the dead.
To be in relationship with Christ is always accompanied by a mission. The mission Christ gives us is love and love always demands a sacrifice.
Finally, the Gospel of John presents one of the most compelling accounts of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.
Most preachers will use the proclamation of today’s Gospel as an occasion to speak about doubt. Thomas doubts the testimony of his friends that Christ the Lord has risen from the dead.
Many preachers will use this text as a ratification of doubts, an admission of how hard it is to believe and that somehow this story affirms us in our doubts.
I suppose one can interpret the text in this manner.
But the story of Doubting Thomas is really a story about a comeuppance, about doubts receiving a hard rebuke, and from that rebuke learning that our doubts and skepticism can only take us so far and will usually lead to a narrowing, rather than a broadening of experience.
What is needed, truly needed, is not doubt, but faith- a disposition of trust, and through that trust what opens up for us are possibilities beyond the limitations of our skepticism and fears.
Doubts are easy and that is why we privilege them. We use doubts to exempt ourselves from the demands of faith, but there is consequence to this- a narrowing of the self and of our possibilities.
And for this reason the Lord extols blessings for those who take the risk and believe and invites those trapped in their doubts, to make an act of faith.
All this concern for doubts pre-occupies us because modern culture privileges doubt in a manner that previous ages privileged dogma, but it is really a secondary concern in terms of the lesson of today’s Gospel.
The primary concern of this Gospel is to tell us about the nature of the Lord’s resurrection, what his disciples experienced.
And the testimony in today’s Gospel is clear- the resurrection of the Lord Jesus is about his body- his real, human body.
God in Christ did not rise from the dead as a symbol or a metaphor. He did not return to his disciples as an idea or a feeling. What they met in the risen Lord Jesus was not a ghost.
It was the Lord Jesus himself- flesh and blood, muscle and bone, skin and hair. They saw him. They touched him and even, as Thomas did, examined the wounds he had suffered on the cross.
Yes, that body was changed, but it was and is a real body.
And this highlights something of deep importance to us.
We do not profess faith in a myth or legend. Our faith is in a living divine person, Jesus of Nazareth. He is God, who has accepted a human nature and lived a real, human life. He revealed himself in real space, real time, in a real place, in real history.
He died in a real body and rose from the dead in a real body.
This is the Jesus in whom the Church professes faith. This is the Jesus in whom we place our trust.
For those who trust the Lord Jesus, he reveals himself as a gift of God’s mercy.
This means that while we are all sinners, all of us have in some way, some more serious than others, frustrated or refused God’s purpose and plan for our lives, and we know in Christ that we are given the incredible opportunity of another chance.
The cross is the great lesson in this regard. What did we deserve for doing that? How can anyone argue, given the gravity of the offense of torturing and killing God in Christ, that we deserve anything but retribution and wrath?
Our sins might seem much smaller but that capacity to crucify Christ resides in us all, manifesting itself in all that we have done and failed to do.
Will God forgive us? Does God want to forgive us?
The resurrection of the Lord Jesus gives us the answer. And the answer is yes.
The same mercy that Christ imparted to his disciples is given to us in the Church through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
In this Sacrament, God in Christ wills to forgive us. He wills to give us a another chance.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation is not some spiritual option, but a necessity. It is the ordinary means through which God in Christ wants us to receive the gift of his mercy.
But is this a gift that we want? Are we willing to trust? Are we willing to make an act of faith and believe…