Sunday, April 27, 2014

Caught Not Taught (Rerun)

2nd Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday)

Picture: cc Juhan Sonin

Sisters and brothers, have you ever noticed how good manners are caught rather than taught? I remember someone who once visited a family with several young children. While the grownups were chatting, the children started talking very loudly and playing very noisily, in the same room. The parents were very embarrassed by their children’s bad behaviour. 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 and interrupting each other. Is it any wonder that the children were doing the same? Although the parents tried verbally to teach their children to speak respectfully and to behave considerately, the parents’ actions spoke louder than their words. Good manners are caught, not taught.

And what is true of good manners is true also of something that we find in our Mass readings for today. As you’ve probably already noticed, faith is the common thread that runs through all three readings. Indeed, what we have here is a wonderful transformation from unfaith to faith. Notice how, in the gospel, when we first meet the disciples, they are lacking in faith. They have only recently witnessed the Passion and Death of their beloved Lord and Master. And, fearful for their own safety, they 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 even more striking is Thomas’ lack of faith. He refuses to believe that the Lord is risen even after hearing that his fellow disciples have seen him. Thomas wants proof. Unless I see the holes… unless I can put my hand into his side, I refuse to believe.

But perhaps we should not be too quick to judge Thomas. After all, doesn’t he have good reason not to trust the others? These are the same people who had only recently deserted their Master. Precisely at the hour of his greatest need. Rather than standing by Jesus, they had all run away. In a time of crisis, these disciples had shown themselves untrustworthy. Unreliable. Why should Thomas trust them now? But, even so, in refusing to believe their words, Thomas was also refusing to trust Jesus himself. And that’s the situation at the start of the gospel today. A situation characterised by a lack of faith. An inability to trust.

But contrast that situation with what is described in the first and second readings. Some time has passed since the Resurrection. And now, things are very different. Where once the disciples were finding it hard to trust even one another, now in the first reading we are told that they are able to remain faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers. 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 miracles and signs.

The second reading impresses us even more when it tells us about how, although the early Christians are undergoing various trials, they remain joyful in the Lord. You did not see him, yet you love him; and still without seeing him, you are already filled with a joy so glorious that it cannot be described, because you believe... The very thing that the Risen Christ had said was lacking in Thomas is now found in abundance in the early Christian communities. They have not seen and yet they believe. They trust one another. They trust God. They are able even to rejoice in their sufferings. How did this change come about?

We all know the answer. This radical transformation is the marvellous result of what we are celebrating now at Easter. It is the effect of the Resurrection. But what exactly is it about the Resurrection that transmits such power? How does the Risen Christ change fearful doubters into joyful believers? How does he train people to have faith in him. Even though they may 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?

What do you think, sisters and brothers? How do you teach people to trust? Well... actually, you don’t. Like good manners, faith is caught rather than taught. How does Jesus teach the disciples to trust? Not by giving them long lectures (or homilies). Much less by scolding them. Or beating them with a stick. Jesus does it simply by trusting them first. Isn’t this what we find him doing when he comes among them through locked doors? To the very people who had earlier shown that they could not be trusted, Jesus entrusts a great power and a crucial mission. Peace be with you, he says. As the Father sent me, so am I sending you. Receive the Holy Spirit. Jesus teaches his disciples to trust him, by first trusting them. He teaches them to have faith in him, by first having faith in them. Undeserving though they all may be.

And it’s important that we remember this. For it is not just the first disciples who are fearful. It is not just Thomas who doubts. Whether we care to admit it or not, we too are often anxious and afraid. We too find it difficult to trust. Easy enough, of course, to say that we believe in Christ. But far more difficult to put that belief into practice. Don’t we find it difficult, for example, to believe that it’s possible for us to live a good Christian life? When we are surrounded by an all too secular society. Or possible for us to cultivate a close relationship with God, even as we may struggle to fulfil all the many other responsibilities that life loads upon our weary shoulders? Perhaps it’s possible, we may think, for holier people. For great saints. Like the two popes who will be canonised today. But not for ordinary sinners like us.

And yet God desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:4). Our faith dares us to believe that it is possible even for us to be holy. And the road to holiness begins for us the way it began for Thomas and his companions. It begins when we allow ourselves to experience anew, in this very Eucharist, the deep trust that Christ the Risen Lord continues to place in each of us. His weak and sinful, yet much beloved disciples. Those for whom he was willing even to lay down his life. Those whom he was not ashamed to call his friends. I’m reminded of this prayer by the late Jesuit poet, 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 pretence make me worthy of your very real trust.
Sisters and brothers, like good manners, faith is caught not taught. And, however undeserving we may be, the Risen Christ continues to choose to place his trust in us. What must we do accept his precious gift? How shall we trust him in return today?

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