(Second Sunday of Easter)
Dominique Saponari, now 9, has a certificate in her bedroom that proclaims that the child has sent her binky to Binky Land. It was a long time coming. When she was 5, Dominique had to visit the orthodontist who announced that she had a serious malocclusion overbite caused by sucking on a pacifier which molded her teeth around the binky and pushed the teeth forward and upward. Her mother came up with a book idea that her brother followed up on. The 10-page book, The Story of Binky Land, written by William Post, chronicles the adventures of Binky Bonnie and Binky Bob and offers parents cool ways to nudge their child to a binky-free life. Not all dentists are binky Nazis. They argue that the comfort and emotional security gained far outweigh the potential dental problems. But there are other problems with pacifiers. They can get lost and cause an emotional disturbance — or tantrum — until they’re found. They can be unsafe if the parts are not attached properly. Some binkies can be choking hazards. They can get dirty and should be cleaned regularly. Especially if your drooly St. Bernard get hold of one! All of which makes us wonder about the pacifiers we adults are sucking on in our spiritual lives — that is, those things that make us feel pacific, peaceful, calm, safe and comforted. The stuff we cling to for security, especially when our faith is under duress. The gospel of John says following Jesus’ death, the disciples were huddled together behind locked doors, rigid with fear that the powers who crucified Jesus would put an end to them, too. For some reason, Thomas was not with them. Maybe they drew straws to see who would go to the market and Thomas got the short straw. Maybe he got tired of being cooped up with 10 fearful men in a small house, waiting for a clue of what to do next. Whatever the reason, Thomas was absent. Poor timing. Like the guy stargazing who bends to tie his shoe at the very moment a meteor blazes across the sky. Thomas returns and is immediately confronted by his companions, who declare they have seen the Lord. Who among us would not respond like Thomas, “Sure, you saw the Lord. Riiiiight, and what else happened while I was at the market? Have you guys been drinking too much of that wine Jesus whipped up?” “No, no, you don’t understand,” they cried, “our Lord, Jesus, revealed himself to us. He is risen!” Thomas offered a deal, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). Without this kind of evidence, Thomas was an unbeliever. Have you ever had the experience of being on the outside looking in? When the whole group, except you, knows something you probably ought to know? It happens to kids all the time. Caught in the position of not knowing what you think you need to know, you have two options: pretend that you know — fake it — with the hope that you catch on real soon; the other option, a bit more risky, is to call time out, stop the motion long enough for you to ask questions, challenge the process or do what you need to do to get on board. Of course, another option is simply to give up and go home, choosing to remain on the outside. The gospel describes how one disciple responded to being on the outside looking in. Thomas was confronted with an empty tomb and the claims of a risen Lord Jesus, as we are every Sunday. His initial response earned him the name “Doubting Thomas.” His response may not be all that different from our response. For the apostle Thomas, the scientific rationalist, the binky was empirical evidence. Many of us are fascinated by scientific research that would seem to authenticate the claims of Scripture. Why else spend the millions of dollars that have been spent to search for Noah’s ark on Mt. Ararat in present-day Turkey? Granted, there is a valid archaeological interest here, but would the discovery of the ark really make our faith any stronger than it is right now? And if so, what does that say about our faith? Years ago, many people were disappointed when carbon dating seemed to prove that the Shroud of Turin, thought to be the cloth that Jesus’ body was draped in after he was crucified, was only 800-some years old, not 2,000. Now, they are not sure the carbon dating was accurate, so we are back to where we started. Is it; or is it not? More recently, the reputed ossuary of James the brother of Jesus caused a similar debate. Some argue that this is indisputable evidence of Jesus’ family. Other scholars are now saying, however, that the box is a fake. From an archaeological standpoint, it matters. But does it matter from a faith perspective? Is our faith stronger or weaker when such things happen? Some stumble in their life of faith, as did Thomas, because the empirical evidence is lacking. There is no proof for the existence of God, and there’s a lot that happens in the world that would seem to argue against a loving and powerful God. Thomas said he would remain an unbeliever. What do we say? Others grab the pacifier of cultural respectability. Any faith journey that calls for a life of radical discipleship, a life that pits us against the world, that risks the ridicule of the chattering classes is not a life for us. We want our faith to be neat, clean, tidy, respectable and non-confrontational. Some of us move on steadily in a life of faith, while for others faith is a lifelong struggle with doubt. Your neighbors may speak of an access to faith that seems unassailable, but you find yourself unconvinced, skeptical, saying the words but doubting their truth. Your academic training, professional expertise and life experience conspire to demand something solid to counter the doubt that refuses to go away. The fact is, if you care enough to wonder, to question, to struggle for an authentic profession of faith, you may well be on the path to a life grounded in honest reliance upon God alone. Because for many, doubt may be the necessary step on the road to faith. Take Dorothy Day, for example. Dorothy Day, the late founder of the Catholic Worker, described her inability to pray as she was coming to faith. Whenever she knelt, she would be overcome by doubt and shame — “Do I really believe? Whom am I praying to?” “Is prayer for the lonely and religion for the weak?” But once while walking to the village to get her mail, she found herself praying again, this time out of a deep sense of thankfulness. Encouraged, she continued on, against her doubts. No matter how dull the day, how long the walk seemed or how sluggish she felt at the beginning, the words of thanksgiving that she prayed began slowly to move into her heart and shape her conscience in faith. She came to faith through doubt and eventually gave up her doubts as freely as a child drops her pacifier. While we can condemn Thomas for much, we can applaud him for his intellectual integrity. He was honest, refusing to pretend to believe something that he really didn’t. He knew the claims being made about Jesus fantastical and were of ultimate significance, and he cared enough to articulate his doubt, to challenge his friends. This is a man who spent three years of his life as a disciple of Jesus. He was the one who dared to ask questions when he didn’t understand. Hounded by doubt, he nevertheless stayed the course. Tradition has it that he was the first missionary to India. Where did his search lead him? Where will ours lead us? His willingness to follow his question led him to faith, true and abiding faith that was formed in the depths of doubt. In other words, when he encountered the risen Lord Jesus, Thomas says, “My Lord and my God.” But Jesus’ implication is that he missed out on a greater blessing. The blessing is greater when we can come to faith when all the contrary signs suggest that such a faith is foolish. In an age which demands solid evidence for everything, Thomas is certainly our brother. Authentic faith — binky-free living — is often born from a dance with doubt. This faith is a faith that rests finally on what cannot be seen but only believed. Sooner or later, we must drop the things that we rely on for security, but actually keep us from relying on God. Here is the word of the Lord addressed to us in a postmodern, post-Christian age of technology: Blessed are they who do not see — but believe.
Let us pray.
Father God, many of us are “Doubting Thomas”. We struggle thru it all, merely, like Thomas, we want some proof to believe. We’ve had our heart torn apart and we don’t want to take a chance again.
However, dear Lord, like with St. Thomas, You call us to look at the facts and to open up our hearts to believe. We struggle many days wondering if You are there, but we too have Dorthy Day experiences, where we have not seen, but we believe. All the saintly mystics of the past, all struggle with a dark night of the soul, but still continued on and thus received their reward.
Help our moments of unbelief and doubts. Help us to see You in all the glories of the earth and in each person we meet, so that we, like Thomas, can exclaim, “My Lord and MY God!” Amen.
God Love You +
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca.