Fr. David’s homily April 3, 2016.
David Brooks, in his book, “The Road to Character,” discusses how character is formed. Clearly we are not born with our character fully formed. Instead, according to Brooks, interpersonal bonds form our character. This is true in a family. In a family, interpersonal bonds form our character. Brooks also says that being an active member of a religious community, where you know others, work with them in service to the community, contributes immeasurably to your sense of well being. It produces the same happiness gain as doubling your income. A good marriage and family, where you eat together, friends with whom you and your spouse and your family meet on a regular basis, and a church community centered on faith and service, are much more important than anything else in determining your character and your quality of life. I think that this understanding of character formation is an insight into today’s Word of God.
The gospel for this Second Sunday of Easter describes the gathering of the disciples after Jesus’ death and resurrection. They are a scared, disheartened, defensive, persecuted lot. They have forgotten so much of what he had told them. They’ve forgotten the washing of the feet. They’ve forgotten the commandment, repeated over and over again, to love one another, to be bold, to trust him, to be the branches to his vine, to feed on the bread of life, to be ready to follow him at all costs, to find their lives by giving themselves away. In the gospels there is very little to suggest that Jesus’ followers had formed any kind of interpersonal relationships. They were a band of individuals. We never read of them getting together after work for a glass of wine, or getting together with one another’s family for dinner. During Jesus’ last days it was as if they didn’t even know one another. The first word attributed to the Risen Christ as he enters this group of people is “shalom,” “peace.” You have to presume that these disciples, including Mary, Jesus’ mother, were somehow in a state of disquiet. They were not only scarred, disheartened, and disappointed, they were divided. Why else would Jesus say to them: “If you forgive other’s sins they are forgiven them; if you hold them bound they are held bound?” What did they have to forgive? Who did they have to forgive? Each other? Fear, not happiness, characterized them.
And what the Risen Christ did for them was to bring them together, into a community of mutual respect, understanding and love.
And then the bible says: “It happened that Thomas was absent when Jesus came.” Later the community greets Thomas: “We’ve seen the Lord.” He, quite simply, refuses to believe them. He doesn’t trust their words or their witness. “I’ll never believe it without probing the nail-prints in his hands, without putting my hand into his side.” Thomas is the first Christian to dissent formally from a firmly held conviction of the gathered church. He does not believe in their testimony to the resurrection. Despite the wound of this division, however, Thomas remains with the community. More, the community deems to welcome him. In fact, the next time Jesus appears to them, Thomas is present. And Jesus speaks directly to him. Isn’t that fascinating!
Thomas rejects a significant part of what the community believes and yet he’s still with them. He’s not excluded. He’s not kicked-out or given an “either-or” ultimatum. “You either believe the whole thing or you’re out. You either love us or you leave us.” No. It’s just the opposite. “You have doubts? Questions? You’re working things out? That’s OK. You’re still welcome. We can work things out.” And they only can say that because of their new found relationship as a community of love. Not everybody is on the same page. All are welcome, even those who must dissent. It’s only to people like this: people who need, people who fear, people who recognize that they need one another, people who are struggling to sort things out, people who know their need for community, people persecuted by the larger society. It’s only to people like this that the Risen Christ is able to come. The Risen Christ comes and says to this church “Peace be with you.” Then he breathes on them, giving them the Holy Spirit. To these people who have nothing, Christ gives everything – spirit, mission, forgiveness. And above all they are bonded together in such a way that their happiness is clearly evident because they hit the road running, truly ready to give themselves away.
The first reading tells of their success. Many signs and wonders occurred among the people. They were held in great respect. Before the resurrection they were individuals; after the resurrection they are a community with a common purpose. Marriage, the family, life-giving relationships, a faith community which calls us to give of ourselves, then and now is what makes a life. It is what can form a person’s character. It’s what makes a person happy. May the Spirit which we have been given deepen that kind of happiness for us all.
David J. McBriar, O.F.M.
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Thomas answered and said to him, “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.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.