Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily April 11.
Why do you believe? Today’s Gospel raises this question in the case of Thomas. I believe because I have a living relationship with Jesus that has developed over time but was already there in my earliest memories.
My parents raised me in the faith, and I always had a positive experience of the Church. I loved the sacraments. I loved being an altar boy. Without reflecting on it, I had already found life there. I can honestly say that except in case of illness, I have never missed a Sunday Mass or a holy day of obligation, ever -- even when traveling, and I’ve been all over the world. Jesus has always been part of my life; he is where the life is.
But there were key moments when that relationship deepened. For instance, on Ash Wednesday 1965, I went to Mass with my family at 8 a.m., returning to Woodlands School for a second hour. I attended public school in fifth and sixth grade. I think I was the only active Catholic in my class.
I do know that in those days we still had prayer in the public schools -- we began the day with the Lord’s Prayer -- but I didn’t have to say the Protestant ending. There was also one Jewish student in my grade. He didn’t have to say anything at all. He just had to stand there respectfully while the rest of us prayed. It was a public school, but we were clearly on Protestant turf.
Anyway, that Ash Wednesday my big decision was whether to wipe the ashes off before any of the other kids saw them. I thought, if I wipe those off, I’ll have just denied everything I just did. So, I swallowed hard and went to class. The other kids looked at me funny, but after I explained, they thought it was pretty cool, and this experience left me feeling really good about myself and about my Catholic faith. I had discovered where life was. This was the first time I had really reflected on my faith and did something courageous on account of it. God’s grace helped me rise to the occasion and God’s grace drew me close to Jesus as a consequence.
In today’s Gospel we have Thomas discovering where the life is. Thomas wasn’t there when Jesus appeared to the other disciples and he put the burden of proof on Jesus. For him, a simple post-resurrection appearance won’t be enough. Thomas refuses to believe without empirical, scientific evidence unless Jesus allows him to put his finger in the nail marks and his hand into Jesus’ side. The Sunday after Easter Jesus appears again and gives him the physical proof he demanded. Jesus said, “Do not persist in your unbelief, but believe!”
How about you? What kind of proof do you require? Some people demand scientific, historical proof for events that occurred 2,000 years ago, and what you can’t prove empirically they reject. Like Thomas, they put the burden of proof on God. The method they choose predetermines the outcome, and this outcome is not where the life is.
I could describe for you lots of reasons to believe. The five philosophical proofs for the existence of God. Everyone’s need for meaning and purpose in life. Even the gambler’s proof: if there is no God, the believer will have lost nothing, but if there is a God, the non-believer will have lost everything. But when all is said and done, it is a matter of discerning where the life is, because that’s where God is. The content of faith is about specific beliefs, and various religious groups often disagree about particular points, but faith itself is mainly about a living, trusting, life-giving relationship with the Lord and about this there can be no disagreement.
Our Gospel today ends with a reference to Jesus’ signs, which lead to faith, which leads to life. Elsewhere the focus is on specific doctrines, but here the author is talking about faith itself. The Gospels were written to help us come to know Jesus and to believe that he is the Messiah. Notice, we’re not talking about scientific proof, we’re talking about persuasion. The Gospel writers share their experience of Jesus so that you too can come to know him and through this faith, have life in his name.
Faith leads to life, and God is where the life is.
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