Tag Archives: faith

An Apostle for Skeptics

Duccio, The Incredulity of St. Thomas (The Maesta altarpiece, 1308-1311)

Feast of Saint Thomas the Apostle

John gave us the fullest portrait of Thomas in the Gospels, however brief and sketchy, in three instances. 

First, when he accompanied Jesus and the disciples from the river Jordan to Bethany in response to the urgent message of Martha and Mary that their brother Lazarus was ill. Jesus had just barely escaped being stoned to death in Judea, and now proposed returning to the area again, a risky move in the view of the disciples. If Lazarus is “asleep,” he will recover, they reasoned. Then Jesus told them clearly, “Lazarus has died,” prompting Thomas’ gloomy response: “Let us also go to die with him” (John 11:16).

Second, at the table of the Last Supper, Thomas gave voice to the uncomprehending hearts of all the disciples as they listened to Jesus’ discourse about the “many dwelling places” in his “Father’s house.” 

“Where I am going you know the way,” Jesus concluded. Thomas was not afraid to admit his ignorance: “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” His question was rewarded with the immortal words: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).

Third, Thomas showed up a week after the Resurrection full of skepticism, having heard from the other ten disciples that Jesus was alive and came to them through locked doors on the evening of the third day after his crucifixion. The whole group claimed to have seen the Lord’s hands and pierced side—a mass delusion in all probability. After all, grief can lead to wishful thinking. 

But Thomas said to them, “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.”

As if playing with Thomas, Jesus repeated his miraculous entry through closed doors with the same words of greeting as on the previous Sunday.

Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

Thomas spoke for all who wrestle with doubt and need sensible proof so as not to sink into unbelief. Eucharistic miracles, visions of Christ, Marian apparitions, and the numerous prodigies that have been approved by the Church in the last two millennia answered the Thomas in all of us. Yet after Pentecost, we have a more powerful witness than all sensible proof—the Spirit of truth, our Advocate, without whom no one can say, “Jesus is Lord!” (1 Corinthians 12:3)

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

Jesus assured all those whom Thomas would later preach to, that their faith was no less authentic without the aid of sight. Faith may be “blind” to the physical eye, but full of light to the spiritual eye (Ephesians 1:18; Matthew 6:22).

Follow Thomas in this video for the fifth Sunday of Lent on the raising of Lazarus. His witness gives us the freedom to doubt, question, and make an honest appraisal of Jesus Christ.

-GMC

Going to God through Questions

Thomas

Today, July 3rd, we remember Thomas the apostle. We’re tempted to think that belief does away with troublesome questions and shelters us from a world of unbelief, that belief makes our way to God smooth and undisturbed. Not so, Thomas reminds us; he found faith through his questions and by placing his finger into the wounds of Christ.

Gregory the Great reminds us today of the importance of Thomas the Apostle.

“In a marvellous way God’s mercy arranged that the disbelieving disciple, in touching the wounds of his master’s body, should heal our wounds of disbelief. The disbelief of Thomas has done more for our faith than the faith of the other disciples. As he touches Christ and is won over to belief, every doubt is cast aside and our faith is strengthened. So the disciple who doubted, then felt Christ’s wounds, becomes a witness to the reality of the resurrection.”

That’s an interesting statement, isn’t it? “The disbelief of Thomas has done more for our faith than the faith of the other disciples.”

We go to God through questions, and some troubles too. We’re healed by touching the wounds of Christ.

Grant, Almighty God,
that we may glory in the Feast of the blessed apostle Thomas, so that we may always be sustained by his intercession
and, believing, may have life
in the name of Jesus Christ your son,
whom Thomas acknowledged as the Lord.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Taste and See

 Icon of Saints Peter and Paul by Mihalko Golev

Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles

Acts 12:1-11; Psalm 34; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 17-18; Matthew 16:13-19

“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

At these words of Peter, an invisible bolt of lightning struck the stage of the world drama and lit it from end to end. The freedom of the omniscient writer and the freedom of the created character in the Story connected in an instant of pure grace. 

“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.”

Insight into the divine mysteries beyond sight and sound in a single human mind is a world-changing event more cataclysmic than a tsunami or a pandemic.

“And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Recognition of Jesus’ personal identity as the Son of God was like scales falling out of the eyes of Adam. Peter’s profession of faith would be the first match to light the rest of darkened humanity one person at a time. 

Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” is addressed very personally. Faith is not secondhand—what “people say”—but direct experience in the light of grace. 

As the Church grew by the apostolic preaching of Peter and Paul, religion may have become secondhand for some as evidenced by Paul’s strange question to the Romans: “Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Romans 6:3) Lacking firsthand knowledge by an experience of grace, some were perhaps simply following religious routine. Paul was amazed that some Christians thought it was possible “to continue in sin that grace may abound” (Romans 6:1). There was barely a discernible change in life or outlook before and after conversion in some followers. 

Secondhand religion is like hearing someone else’s testimony that water is cool and refreshing. Firsthand experience is tasting and knowing for oneself that it is cool and refreshing.

Getting to know Christ Jesus is a continual journey in metanoia; spiritual eyes open slowly and gradually. Matthew records that Peter stumbled shortly after his proclamation of faith by refusing to permit Jesus’ passion: “Get behind me, Satan!” Jesus commanded sternly (Matthew 16:23). The triple denial and reinstatement of the “rock” as the drama unfolded show how much initial faith needed to mature. 

Peter and Paul gained firsthand knowledge of Christ by sharing in his passion—Peter in prison chains, and Paul as he was “being poured out like a libation.” Both also experienced firsthand the deep peace of Christ in the midst of adversity. After Peter’s dreamlike rescue by an angel he said, “Now I know for certain that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me…” Likewise, Paul testified, “I was rescued from the lion’s mouth.”

The psalmist invites us to join Saints Peter and Paul and “Taste and see how good the Lord is; blessed the man who takes refuge in him” (Psalm 34:8).

-GMC

Word by Word


As we walk along and lean more and more on God and less and less on human consolation we discover we are never alone.

When we truly give thanks to God for the human consolation that comes our way we discover just how many angels and saints God has placed along the path.

Everyone and everything is originally from God.

He is the only true creator, at the beginning, and at the end of the day.

If we love only Him we love everyone and everything.

Evil is the denial of such undeniable truth.

Evil is the denial of God’s supreme creativity.

Evil is the absence of good.

And shadows and darkness need spaces and voids in order to exist.

Jesus came to cast providential light.

For as the sun rises toward “straight above” the length of negativity surely disappears.

And at perfect high noon darkness does not stand a chance.

For Jesus was raised up upon the crisscrossed tree of life.

Good squelching evil for all the world to see.

———

The foot of that Cross still remains.

The closer we get the brighter the day.

Spaces and voids fill with pure light.

Absence disappears.

Evil is cast into hell.

For what God creates He intends for good.

———

Will we then live good lives?

Will we allow our absences to be filled with genuine goodness?

Will we speak life?

Will we help build the kingdom?

Let us do so.

One stone at a time.

One flickering light at a time.

One Eucharistic encounter at a time.

———

Let us live “on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.

For when we do,

Stones become bread,

Water becomes wine,

And bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ.

———

Lord Jesus, cover us with Your Blood.

Let us hug the foot of Your Cross.

Let us adore Your feet nailed to the trunk of the tree.

Let us get so close that not even a speck of darkness can get in between.

Let us truly ask this in Your Holy and Perfect Name.

Amen.


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—Howard Hain

http://www.HowardHain.com

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Joy of Minds Made Pure


The one who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” Then he said, “Write these words down, for they are trustworthy and true.”

—Revelation 21:5


There’s a place

Where walls are made of flowers

And petals are made of uncut stones.

Where virtue grows untold

And innocence can simply be itself.

Where earth and water mix

But never make mud.

The rain continually falls,

The sun always shines,

The dew remains sight unseen.

Laughter, joyful laughter

Tills the soil.

Weeds are welcome,

No plant chokes another.

The seasons,

They come and go,

The temperature remains the same.

Innocence. Innocence. Innocence.

The constant refrain.

Such a place exists.

It lowers from the sky

While within a playground

Filled with screaming kids.


Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.

I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them as their God.

He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.”

—Revelation 21:1-4


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—Howard Hain

http://www.HowardHain.com

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Wednesday, 5th Week of Lent

Lent 1


Readings
Those listening to Jesus teaching in the temple area claim they’re “descendants of Abraham.”(John 8,31-42) The splendid temple buildings, its well-ordered worship, its ancient tradition which they know so well, tempt them to ask: “Why listen to this man? We have what God promised to Abraham; it’s automatically ours”.

But God’s promises are not automatic, Jesus says. “If you were the children of Abraham you would be doing the works of Abraham.” The great patriarch, a nomad, found God’s promises revealed from place to place. He discovered the works of God in time. And so must we.

John’s gospel was written well after the temple and Jerusalem itself were destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. The Jews and Jewish Christians in his time, “descendants of Abraham” may have longed for the restoration of ancient structures now gone,

This gospel would remind them that Abraham, “our father in faith,” ventured on paths unknown.

Does that sound like our times? We’re called to have Abraham’s faith, a mystic faith. Our first reading today from the Book of Daniel tells of the three children thrown into the fiery furnace in Babylon. They sang in the flames.

Is God telling us to do that today? Sing in the flames and God will lead us on.

Two centuries ago, St. Paul of the Cross faced his times urging those who sought his advice to hold on to the Unchanging One we meet “in spirit and truth.” God will be our guide..

“Jesus will teach you. I don’t want you to indulge in vain imagery over this. Freely take flight and rest in the Supreme Good, in God’s consuming fire. Rest in God’s divine perfections, especially in the Infinite Goodness which made itself so small within our humanity.” (Letter 18)

O God, you are my God,
For you I long.
My body pines for you,
Like a dry, weary land without water. (Ps 63)

You guide our steps into the unknown. Lead us on.

Believing for Others

The healing of the paralytic told in today’s gospel from Mark is a great story. Four friends bring him to the door of Peter’s house in Capernaum but the crowds are so dense that they can’t get in to see Jesus so they climb up on the roof, cut a hole in it and lower him down before Jesus. Was the paralyzed man conscious, or half conscious? We don’t know.

What ingenuity! What nerve! What determination on the part of his friends! Think of the logistics involved in it all. The pictures here show the ruins of Peter’s house now enclosed in a shrine and a picture from the shrine looking down into the house–possibly just where the man was lowered down.

We know Jesus forgave the man’s sins and then healed him completely, so he left the house carrying the mat that once bore him. The gospel wants us to recognize that Jesus the healer is Jesus who forgives sins. Those who heard his words of forgiveness that day were shocked by this action which they rightly judged was divine.

But I’m led back to the four friends who had a part in this miracle. Let’s not forget them. They believe and their belief makes them go to extraordinary lengths to  help another .  We believe for others as well as for ourselves. Faith reaches out; it doesn’t remain within.  Believing prompts us to do daring things.

Back to Peter’s house. Did Peter look up that day and say, “Who’s going to pay for that hole in the roof?” The story of the paralyzed man is a wonderful story.

Visits and Gifts

Visits, gifts, greeting cards ( now by email) are a good part of the holiday experience.  How can we love everyone all at once? I don’t know.

But Luke’s gospel makes visiting a part of the Christmas mystery. Mary goes into the hill country to visit her cousin Elisabeth after she hears the angel’s message. They meet, not just to trade family news and pass the time together, but they share faith.

They’re two believers who reveal to each other the mystery hidden within them in their unborn children. And they rejoice in their common gift.

We gather with others at Christmas time; people of faith, believers in a mystery we do not see. At Christmas, believers meet, believers to a degree.

More than we know, we’re signs to each other, like the bread and wine, sometimes hardly evident. In his commentary today on the gospel of the visitation, St. Ambrose says we’re like Mary and Elizabeth; “Every soul that believes–that soul both conceives and gives birth to the Word of God and recognizes his works.”

So we visit and give our gift.

The Immaculate Conception

Some question why Mary, the Mother of Jesus, has such a big place in the faith of  our church. The words of the angel in Luke’s gospel, words we often repeat in prayer, offer an answer: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you.”

Mary is full of grace, gifted by God with unique spiritual gifts from her conception, because she was to be the mother of Jesus Christ, God’s only Son.

She would be the “resting place of the Trinity,” and would give birth to, nourish, guide and accompany Jesus in his life and mission in this world. To fulfill that unique role she needed a unique gift. She would be free from original sin that clouds human understanding and slows the way we believe in God and his plan for us.

“How slow you are to believe” Jesus said to the two disciples on the way to Emmaus. Jesus made that complaint repeatedly as he preached the coming of God’s kingdom. “How slow you are to believe!” “What little faith you have!” “Do you still not understand!” That human slowness to believe didn’t end in gospel times. We have it too.

Mary was freed from that slowness to believe. “Be it done to me according to your word,” she immediately says to the angel. Yet, her acceptance of God’s will does not mean she understood everything that happened to her. “How can this be?” she asks the angel about the conception of the child. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you.”  But the angel’s answer seems so incomplete, so mysterious.

Surely, Mary would have liked to know more when the angel leaves her, never to return. There’s no daily message, no new briefing or renewed assurance by heavenly messengers. The years go by in Nazareth as the Child grows in wisdom and age and grace, but they’re years of silence. Like the rest of us, Mary waits and wonders and keeps these things in her heart.

That’s why we welcome her as a believer walking with us. She is an assuring presence. She calls us to believe as she did, without knowing all. She does not pretend to be an expert with all the answers. She has no special secrets known to her alone. “Do whatever he tells you,” is her likely advice as we ponder the mysteries of her Son.

 

The Gift of the Old

This week our first readings at Mass are from the First and Second Books of Maccabees describing the Jewish revolt against Antiochus Epiphanes, successor to Alexander the Great. The revolt took place over a hundred years before the time of Jesus. The rededication of the temple by Judas Maccabeus after its profanation by foreign invaders inspired the Jewish Feast of Hannukah. (Thursday)

The Maccabean revolt is one reason why the times of Jesus were so politically sensitive. On his journey to Jerusalem, some “thought that the kingdom of God would appear there immediately.” (Luke 19,11) Some of his disciple may have thought that would happen by an armed uprising against the Romans, like that  against Antiochus Epiphanes.

Our readings this week are not battle accounts from the uprising but rather stories of two elderly faithful Jews:: Eleazar, a scribe who refused to assimilate to the culture of the conquerors, and a mother who inspired her seven sons to resist the invaders. (Tuesday and Wednesday)

All Eleazar had to do was pretend to eat the meat of sacrifice, but the ninety-year old chose to die rather than give bad example to the young.
“I will prove myself worthy of my old age, and I will leave to the young a noble example of how to die willingly and generously for the revered and holy laws.” (2 Maccabees 6. 30-31)

The Jewish mother, seized with her seven son and witness to their torture and death,  urged them to keep their faith and persevere:
“I do not know how you came into existence in my womb; it was not I who gave you the breath of life, nor was it I who set in order the elements of which each of you is composed.
Therefore, since it is the Creator of the universe who shapes each man’s beginning, as he brings about the origin of everything, he, in his mercy, will give you back both breath and life,
because you now disregard yourselves for the sake of his law.” (2 Maccabees 7,1, 21-31)

Pope Francis often speaks of the wisdom and influence of the elderly.  We rely on them.