Tuesday, July 2, 2013

St. Thomas the Apostle

Eph 2:19-22
Jn 20:24-29

What is faith?  The letter to the Hebrews defines it, “Now faith is the conviction of things not seen.”  Paul reminds us in his Letter to the Romans that “Faith comes from what is heard and what is heard comes by the preaching of Jesus Christ.” 
That preaching of Jesus Christ does not come to us in oral form as it did during the Sermon on the Mount or the discourses in John’s Gospel.  Jesus’ preaching comes to us in scripture and in the tradition of the Church. We nurture it in prayer and contemplation. 

The Gospel portrayal of Thomas supplies us with  a tempting target against which to compare ourselves—generally in a self-righteous manner, or an example to compare—and condemn—others whose faith we do not feel is adequate (this too is generally done from the position of self-righteousness).  Many who use the colloquial term “Doubting Thomas” would probably be shocked to know that they were quoting an episode of scripture. 

At the end of this Gospel Jesus asks a question and gives a blessing, “Have you believed because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”  It is for this last group; those who have not seen and yet believe; it is for us, that the Gospel was written. 

Neither John’s Gospel nor the synoptic gospels were meant to be albums of verbal snapshots showing scenes from the life of Jesus.   The Gospels are not a log book tracing Jesus movements augmented by facts and figures such as the number of fish caught at any particular time.  The gospels are not a diary of Jesus’ day-to-day thoughts.  And the gospels most certainly are not history in the modern understanding of the word.   Any attempt to read the gospels through the lens of modern historiography or, even worse, in the light of the modern concept of journalism, is doomed to failure, frustration, and ultimate faithlessness.  The Jesus Seminar is a prime example of absurdity. The less said about QUOTE Historical Biblical Novels UNQUOTE the better.  (They make truly lousy vehicles for Tom Hanks movies too, as shown by the spectacular failure of The Da Vinci Code ).

If we were to continue on just a bit further in this gospel we would read an important statement that puts the question of the historicity of the Gospels into perspective:  “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.”

The Gospel proclaims one essential truth, that the Jesus of Nazareth of whom it speaks is indeed the Lord.  Thus, the fullness of our salvation is contained in Thomas’ faith-filled, startled, and ultimately joyous proclamation.  "My Lord and My God."  That truth is why we too can gaze upon the Body and Blood of Christ daily and say, “My Lord and My God.”  We are no longer strangers.  We are no longer sojourners.  We are members of the household of God.  And we, and everything we believe, is held together through Jesus.
Some musings and then some photos. 

July 4
My college friend Paul is coming up for a few days.  We met on the first day of freshman orientation at Penn State on 20 September 1968 and have been friends ever since.  I considered taking him to the fireworks in Boston.  But, after checking the security measures, measures that can only be described as draconian, decided against even trying.  The Mass Ave and Longfellow Bridges will be completely closed at 4 PM.  That would make it difficult to park at our house in Cambridge and walk into Boston.  I always watched the fireworks from the top of the Mass Ave Bridge and have no desire to change that.  So, rather than going into the city we are going to Gloucester for a whale watch.  That is something I've never done.  The boat will leave from Gloucester Harbor.  It is irrelevant (for me) whether we see whales or not.  I want to get the shots of Gloucester, where we made the long retreat over 15 years ago.  Afterwards we will figure out the rest though a drop-in at the retreat house in indicated.

I've always enjoyed July 4 in Boston but the experience is not going to be the same since Joker and his dead bro detonated their bombs. 

On 9 August I'll drive a few other guys from Boston to Syracuse.  This is an act of love as it is a miserable drive of six hours on Rt. 90.  Destination is the novitiate where a number of men will pronounce perpetual vows the following day.  Two weeks later a group will enter the novitiate.  It will be a different experience knowing that a few months later (date still pending) I will kneel and pronounce solemn vows.  

I've been mulling over the whole concept of religious life in contrast to training in medicine.  The differences are not that startling.  Both involve entering into a life one knows almost nothing about and entrusting oneself to God's hands as a fundamental transformation occurs.  Neither is easy.  There are crises, again remarkably similar one, in both lives.  One considers leaving more than once.  Blood, sweat, and tears is an accurate description.  Gillian, whom I hooded in Houston a few weeks ago, just completed her second day as a surgical intern.  The empathy is both joyful and painful.  It all depends.  Thus, I will kneel in my heart with the men who pronounce their vows in August, recalling my own experience of approaching the altar, kneeling and beginning the vow formula at the end of novitiate, and feeling ready to pronounce the four vows of a fully professed Jesuit not too long afterwards.  

It is hot and humid.  Not as bad as D.C. and certainly nothing approaching the pure misery of the summer weather in Taipei or Saigon or, I suspect, Houston, but it is hot.  Campion is not centrally air conditioned. The offices have window conditioners but the halls are getting very sticky.  

The first two are from St. Joseph's Church in Puli, Taiwan.  Ignatius and I stopped there one day primarily because he knew there was a comfortable place in the church courtyard to take a nap.  He was driving and getting sleepy.  So, he reclined on a sofa and went out like a light.  I was taking photos when the priest emerged.  I was able to explain in Mandarin that we were Jesuit priests.  He then broke into Australian accented English.  It turns out that Father was a high school classmate of mutual Jesuit friends, of ours (the Pham brothers) with whom we had studied at Weston Jesuit School of Theology.  I ran into one of them in Saigon many months later.  He was very surprised to see me.  World got a lot smaller.  The church was fairly new with interesting architecture. 

Father gave us some Vietnamese coffee, a wonderfully strong brew, toenail curling actually, and we went off to the Puli Paper Factory.  In the photos below everything is made of paper.  I remain perplexed by the busts.  I could have stayed there for hours with the camera but we had some serious driving to do.

Finally, some color and light.  These were taken in the Hotel-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named in Houston because the manager took exception to the photo taking.  One friend wondered if I was standing on furniture or shoving people out of the way.  No.  I was simply capturing color and light in the crystals.  Learned a new technique while doing this.   I rather doubt I'll find many chandeliers illuminated with purple lighting any time soon.  

Hope to get some good stuff on the whale watch. 
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

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