Saturday, April 26, 2014

Second Sunday of Easter

Acts 2:42-47
Ps 118:2-3, 13-15, 22-24
1Pt 1:3-9
Jn 20:19-31

When preaching on this gospel it is tempting to focus solely on the story of Thomas, or Doubting Thomas as he is colloquially known, so as to engage in the popular sport of Apostle Bashing.  But to do that would miss both its deeper meaning and its relationship to the first two readings.  Today’s readings are not about doubt.  Today’s readings are about faith.   Faith is not the polar opposite of doubt.  Mature faith must always contend with an element of doubt, sometimes more and sometimes not so much.  But faith, as it matures, must contend with doubt nonetheless.

The first reading describes the earliest coming together of the Church and the first gatherings of the faithful. Thus we read, “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.”  That is precisely what we are doing here and now, communally hearing the words of the gospel and reciting prayers as we prepare for the Eucharistic supper, the Body and Blood of our Lord.  Note the description of the congregation.  “They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart; praising God.”  We are called to do the same at the Eucharistic Banquet.

The second reading shines a bit of light on the Gospel.  “Although you have not seen him you love him.  Even though you do not see him now yet believe in him you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy."  Peter’s letter describes a joy that is the same as that described in the first reading, a joy that is driven by participation in this, our Eucharistic feast.  It is reasonable to suspect that in the period between the apostles telling Thomas that Jesus had appeared to them and this particular Gospel Thomas, despite not seeing him and not having seen him with the rest of the apostles, continued to love the Jesus with whom he had cast his lot so long ago.  That love did not die with Jesus.

What is faith?  The letter to the Hebrews puts it well, “Now faith is the conviction of things not seen.”  Paul reminds us in his Letter to the Romans, “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.  Both of the first two reading are important because they tells us what it means to be a Church, what it means to be a people of faith, and what we can expect.

The Gospel portrayal of Thomas supplies us with a tempting target against whom 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).  Most of us would have responded the same way as Thomas with a "yeah, riiiiiiight" had we been there.

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 was meant to be an album of verbal snapshots showing detailed scenes from the life of Jesus.  The Gospels are not a log book tracing Jesus movements augmented by facts and figures.  The gospels are not a diary of Jesus’ day-to-day thoughts. They 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 less said about QUOTE Historical Biblical Novels UNQUOTE the better. 

The last sentence of this Gospel reading puts the historical nature 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 Easter joy is contained in Thomas’ faith-filled, startled, and ultimately joyous proclamation:  "My Lord and my God."

It is why we too can gaze upon the Body and Blood of Christ and say, “My Lord and my God.” 

"Give thanks to the Lord,
for he is good,
his love is everlasting."
Went to the travel clinic at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) on Friday for the shots needed for upcoming travel.  I felt like a voodoo doll or at least a pooch on a bad day at the vet.  Five shots divided between each deltoid.  Still sore but nothing unbearable.  

MGH played a big part in my life.  I did my fellowship in consultation psychiatry there with George Murray, SJ, MD and worked on staff off and on (part-time) for a few years.  The complex is massive.  It is at the base of Beacon Hill just off the river.   When I was a fellow (in 1992-93) I was running a lot.  It was great to take clothes to work, change in the office and run  along the Charles.  Those days are over for many reasons but it was great while I could do it. 

The view of Downtown Boston and the edge of Beacon Hill.  The tall building to the right is the Prudential Building.  That is where the Marathon ended earlier in the week.  I am impressed how quickly the city cleaned up the detritus of a large road race. 

 Some of the newer buildings at The General.  They weren't there when I was.

Liked the interplay of lines in the out-patient building directly across from the parking lot.  Some of George's physicians were in here.  Not the easiest place to get around because of an odd layout.  From the White Building entrance one needed to take an elevator one floor to get to the foyer to get to the elevators for the building.  Having to take an elevator one floor makes no sense.  

The main entrance to the General in the White Building.  I can still remember the feelings walking through the door of this entrance on the way to the interview with George on Friday September 13, 1991.  The sense was "I belong here."  I did.  George accepted me on the spot.  The rest is history.   At the end I pushed George up the grade from the same parking lot many times.  It was a way to save money on stress tests.  If I didn't have angina doing that it wasn't going to be a problem. 

 +Fr. Jack, SJ MD

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