Sunday, May 01, 2011

2nd Sunday of Easter
Catching the Faith
Values are caught not taught.

Sisters and brothers, you’ve probably heard this well-known saying before. Values are caught not taught. I think there’s some truth to that. Don’t you agree? For example, someone once visited a family with several young children. While the grownups were chatting, the children started talking very loudly and playing very noisily with one another. The parents were very embarrassed by the children’s behavior. They kept scolding them, trying to make them stop, but without much success. Then, not too long after that, the parents themselves were heard talking very loudly to each other. Is it any wonder that the children were doing the same? Values are caught not taught.
And what is true about values is true also about something that we find in our Mass readings today. As you’ve probably already noticed, faith is the common thread that runs through all three readings. Not only that. What we find here is a wonderful transformation from unfaith to faith. In the gospel, when we first meet the disciples, they are lacking in faith. Their master has only recently been tortured and executed. Fearing for their own lives, the disciples have locked themselves up in a room. They have forgotten what Jesus had said to them earlier about his rising from the dead. They lack faith.
What's more striking in the gospel is Thomas’ lack of faith. He does not believe that the Lord is risen even after his fellow disciples have told him that they have seen the Lord. He sets conditions for his belief. He wants physical proof. Proof that he can see and touch. But perhaps we should not be too quick to judge Thomas. Doesn’t he have good reason not to trust the others? After all, these are the same people who had deserted their Master precisely at the moment of his greatest need. In a time of crisis, they had shown that they could not be trusted. Why should Thomas trust them now? But still, in refusing to believe their words, Thomas was also refusing to trust the Lord himself. And that’s the situation at the start of the gospel today. It is a situation of a lack of faith. 
But contrast that situation with what we see in the first and second readings. Where once the disciples were finding it hard even to trust one another, now, in the first reading, we are told that the early Christians devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life. Where once they were fearfully hiding behind locked doors, now they are moving about courageously out in the open. They are even attracting people to the faith by performing many wonders and signs. The second reading impresses us even more when it tells us about how, although the Christians may be suffering from various trials, they continue to be joyful in the Lord. Even though you do not see him now yet you believe in him, you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, as you attain the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls. The very thing that the Risen Christ had said was lacking in Thomas is now found in the early Christian communities. They have not seen and yet they believe. They believe and live according to the message of Christ. They trust one another. They even rejoice in their sufferings. What has happened? How did this change come about?
We know the answer, of course. This radical transformation is the marvelous result of what we are celebrating in this season of Easter. It is the effect of the Resurrection. But what is it specifically about the Resurrection that contains such power? How does the Risen Christ change fearful doubters into joyful believers? How does he train people to believe in him even though they do not see him with their eyes, or touch him with their hands? How does he help people, who have come to doubt even their own goodness, to trust once again in the power of God?
How do you teach people to trust? Well, you don’t. Like values, faith too is caught not taught. How does Jesus teach the disciples to trust? By trusting them. Isn’t this what we find him doing when he comes among them even though the doors are locked? To the very people who had earlier shown that they could not be trusted, Jesus entrusts a great power and an important mission. Peace be with you, he says. As the Father has sent me, so I send you. Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven them. And whose sins you retain, they are retained. Jesus teaches us to trust by trusting us. He teaches us faith by having faith in us.
And it’s important for us Catholics to remember this especially in these days when it seems undeniably clear to others that our Church, so wounded and scarred by scandal, is not to be trusted. In the past, not only have we failed to protect our children, but we have also sought to hide the truth. How are people to trust us again? How can we hope to attract others to Christ? How are we to regain their trust, when even we ourselves find it difficult to trust our own?
Perhaps the road begins for us where it began for Thomas and his companions. Perhaps what we need – each and every one of us Catholics – is to allow ourselves to experience anew the deep trust that the Risen Lord continues to place in us, his weak and sinful but much beloved disciples.
I’m reminded of this prayer written by the late Jesuit writer Fr. Daniel Lord:
For some strange reason, Lord, you depend upon me.
What possible need could you have for my shoulder?
Why should you lean on me? Yet you do just that.
I am grateful. It is a challenge and a trust,
an inspiration and a call to character.
If you are willing to depend upon me,
weak and clumsy as I am,
I am eager not to fail you.
Lean on me, dear Lord.
At least pretend to find me a help.
May your sweet pretense
make me worthy of your very real trust.
Sisters and brothers, the Risen Christ continues to impart to us his trust. How ready are we to catch it? How willing are we to trust him in return today?

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