Believing is seeing

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For the original disciples, the distinctions between Jesus and “The Christ” were as stark as the differences between the priesthood and prophecy for many modern Christians. This Sunday we contemplate the mental transition the apostles had to make, from knowing Jesus to BEING Jesus for others. The readings for this Mass show us the contrast between John and Thomas in making that transition (assuming the John of the Book of Revelation is the same John of the Gospel bearing that name).

In the case of John—the author of the Book of Revelation—during his mission on the Greek island of Patmos, his risen Master not only appears to him, but inspires prophetic visions with these instructions (Rev 1:9-11a, 12-13, 17-19):

“Once I was dead, but now I am alive forever and ever. I hold the keys to death and the netherworld. Write down, therefore, what you have seen, and what is happening, and what will happen afterwards.”

In contrast, John’s gospel (Jn 20:19-31) shows us a Thomas who is still reeling from the horrific nature and effects of his Master’s death. He believes he must now carry on without Jesus. Then the Master suddenly appears, but instead of giving Thomas and his colleagues the hazy spiritual symbolism John took and ran with as divine revelation, Jesus knew “Doubting Thomas” needed the comfort only his bodily senses could reveal (“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.”).

Only then, Thomas must have thought, would I be able to share my Master’s revelations with others. But the gentle rebuke his resurrected Master gave Thomas has become as important a piece of revelation to help guide future Doubting Thomas’s like us along life’s path.

“Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

You and I are called to be among those blessed faith-filled believers. We make up a church built both on priestly sacraments to help us see the unseeable and on prophetic revelations to help us know the unknowable. But according to Richard Rohr, OFM, an American Franciscan priest and writer on spirituality,  the faith of some believers relies a bit too much on what their priests reveal to them and not nearly enough on the kind of prophecy Jesus reveals to us through regular prayer. “The result has often been religion for religion’s sake,” he writes. “How can we envision a new world when we have never fallen away from the old?”

The old world is one in which our church’s teachings about the divine nature of human life as revealed in the Blessed Sacrament had to simply co-exist  uncomfortably with the world’s sacrament of reproductive “Choice.” Our world’s Doubting Thomases—whose beliefs in life’s divinity depend solely on the lives they can see outside the womb’s universe—need to hear the prophecy of believers who know that even non-visible lives are one with the indivisible Holy Trinity of Jesus’s existence: The Way, The Truth AND The Life.

The old world’s history is filled with stories of earthly kings turning God’s prophets into martyrs. A new world is struggling to be born. Its prophets believe in God’s presence within us without seeing it, and they are devoting themselves to helping others envision the sanctity of human existence. Their prophecy is a perpetual prayer, as sacramental in its symbolism as it is practical in the physical strength the Master’s eternal words inspire: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away.”

–Tom Andel

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