Offers food for thought
Easter Series: Part 2
(Homily as preached, audio)
The 1st reading this week focuses on the nature of a Christian Community, whose hope “safeguarded through faith”, enabled them to be “devoted [themselves] to the teaching of the apostles”, Celebrating Eucharist and engaging in Prayer. Because they allowed the power and the glory of God to be manifested through their faithfulness, “every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” The 2nd reading, zooms in on the nature of the faith of the early Church which was rooted firmly in “a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading…” and although they had not seen him they loved him and believed in him, rejoicing as they attained their salvation. 1 Peter 1:9 Together, these Scriptures teach us how to deal with our unbelief and lack of faith, such as seen in the Gospel reading among the disciples whose hearts are growing hard after arrest, torture and death of Jesus.
We have increasingly equated the terms ‘unbeliever’ with ‘non-believer and ‘doubter’ with a person who has no faith, however, very often when Jesus speaks of unbelief, lack of faith and doubt… he’s speaking to those who follow him. “Do not be unbelieving, but believe." John 20:27 “Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.” John 20:29 These words were spoken to Thomas, but also to all the disciples in the room that day and to all the disciples down through the ages. The scriptures make clear that the power of God, the manifestation of God’s glory comes through the Church, the mystical ‘Body of Christ’. This power and glory is greatly affected by the unbelief, lack of faith, doubt in the hearts and minds of the disciples of Christ.
There is no way that we can whitewash the history of the Church without altering the Word of God! We can clearly see that amid the varying accounts in the four Gospels, the underlying agreement about the disciple’s reaction to the resurrection of Jesus, is that they were not united in believing that he had really risen from the dead; they were not ‘listening to him’ very well; and they definitely weren’t rushing to go anywhere. The Gospel of Mark most clearly describes the unbelief of the disciples, as well as how Jesus felt about their lack of faith. Is it any wonder that the followers of Christ struggle with what they believe and often grow hard of heart in this age, when even his disciples who lived with him, struggled? Is it any wonder, if Christians experience these difficulties, that others in the world around us would find it hard to believe?
Despite their hardness of heart, and their unbelief. Even though, according to the traditional understanding that except for John, they all abandoned him. Jesus didn’t abandon them. The nature of God’s love makes mercy possible. The kind of mercy that inspires forgiveness which leads to reconciliation and healing. Mercifully, he passes through the wall behind which they hide full of fears, regret, and guilt; and he appears to them. “Peace with you.” He transforms their fear into joy. He affirms their mission; “As the Father sent me, so am I sending you.” They are to bring about reconciliation between God, humanity and the whole of creation. As Jesus breathes on them and speaks the words, "Receive the Holy Spirit, for those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained,” they become apostles of his mission who are ordained for ministry, and participants in his power and authority.
Neither does Jesus abandon us in our weakness, but rather comes to us and helps us to leave sin and death behind and become a resurrection people who are fully alive in their freedom. Just the thought of Christ's mercy fills us with confidence and hope, so much more are we filled when we are fully open to the power of his sanctifying grace at work in us.
To receive the love and mercy of God and be moved to seek forgiveness and reconciliation, it’s essential to allow the gift of faith and fellowship with our brothers and sisters to move us to believe that God will not abandon us, that God does love us and does forgive us. This requires being honest with ourselves and with God. We must admit that although we have faith, we lack faith; that although we believe, we suffer unbelief. If we don’t openly admit these things, we will not be able to overcome them. That’s when, what was once true hope in Christ, is replaced by doubt.
People think that doubt is unforgivable, but obviously, Scripture teaches that it is not unforgivable. Questions or concerns about the teachings of the faith aren’t in themselves a problem. However, when we let them lead us to being trapped between certainties and uncertainties, we will begin to feel adrift in a sea of competing ‘truths’ and increasing doubt. We will experience a multiplication of doubts if we don’t act to address their underlying causes. That’s how the cancer grows, undermining spiritual health and our ability to trust God and understand the faith. It gives rise to fear. Fear leads to despair, the loss of hope. The lack of hope and trust destroys joy, leaving a miserable, defeated, guilt-ridden, angry, bitter, confused or just plain ambivalent believer. For many, this becomes unbearable and inspires a person to turn away from God.
It’s important to guard against erosion of our faith, which is more precious than gold, by taking our cues from the early church in the 1st reading. Fellowship with other members of the ‘Body of Christ’ is essential to spiritual health. We should honestly admit our struggles with each other and our shortcomings to each other and pray for each other. James 5:16-18 Prayerfully read the Word of God, have real and honest conversations with God, choose to have friends who love Jesus, and don’t keep your faith to yourself. Frequently receive the Sacraments from which the grace of God flows and devotion to the teachings of the apostles leads to greater understanding of those teachings. Through these essential aspects of spiritual health our faith becomes firm, our intellects more perfectly formed and our will more united with God.
Doubts breed in our minds, our emotions, our wills, and what do you do about it will determine your world view and the course of your life. When you find that unbelief, lack of faith and hardness of heart are creating fertile ground for doubts to grow, cling to your hope and petition God for help. Be ready to reflect and uncover the root of your doubt by asking tough questions. Turn to your brothers and sisters in faith for the help and support that you need. Don’t let your faith starve for lack of effort. Decide on a course of action, a remedy that you’ll follow to fight the forces that undermine your faith.
God’s love and mercy not only forgives us and reconciles us, it can also transform as it heals us. The unity of community and fellowship which was described in the first reading, “The whole group of believers was united, heart and soul,” is only possible if love, mercy, forgiveness, healing and reconciliation are at the heart and foundation of all relationships. In this, we are reminded of the words of Christ as to the two greatest commandments.
Peace doesn't just happen; it's made.
CampusPadre is a college ministry Priest Chaplain with 30 years experience in youth and young adult ministry, who strives to let the Holy Spirit lead and challenges students to seek holiness above all.