LIVING IN DOUBT
Acts 4: 32-35; 1Jn 5:1-6; Jn 20: 19-31
Today is the Second Sunday of Easter. (Easter Sunday, itself, is counted as the 1st Sunday of Easter.) This day is often called the Doubting Thomas Sunday, because the gospel that we use every year during this Sunday narrates the episode of Thomas who doubted about the resurrection of Jesus, when his companions told him that they had seen Jesus risen from the dead. Today is also called Divine Mercy Sunday, the day Jesus instituted the sacrament of Reconciliation through which he grants mercy to sinners.
1. THE DOUBTING THOMAS
In today’s gospel we read about how Thomas, nicknamed “Doubting Thomas”. The other two times that we read of Thomas are also in the Gospel of John. In John 11:16, Thomas, responding to Jesus’ resolve to go to Jerusalem even though it was dangerous said, “let us also go, that we may die with him.” Here we see a loyal (though pessimistic) disciple. Furthermore, in John 14:5, Thomas was listening to Jesus talk of the many rooms that he, Jesus, would prepare in his Father’s house. When he has finished preparing them, he would return and bring his disciples to the place prepared. Jesus said, “You know the way to the place I am going.” Thomas, maybe a little slow or maybe just honest, said, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” This question prompted the famous words, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no man comes to the Father except through me.” From these incidents, one can see Thomas as a willing believer.
In today’s gospel text, Thomas, for some reason was absent from the gathering of the disciples on that first Easter evening when Jesus appeared to the disciples. We are not told why he was absent and Jesus does not condemn or rebuke him for being absent. When Thomas and the other disciples met together again, it was most natural for the disciples to excitedly tell Thomas about their visit with Christ. Thomas, however, remains skeptical. He makes this bold statement, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” (Jn 20:24) From this account we can learn a few important lessons about doubting.
2. DOUBT IS QUITE COMMON AMONG GOD’S PEOPLE
The Bible is very straightforward in showing us the struggles, as well as the successes, of the main characters of Scripture. In this way, we can see that our experience is not unique. Apart from the case of Thomas, there are many accounts of people doubting in the Bible. Abraham doubted that Sarah was to be the Mother of the promised child (Gen 17). Moses doubted his ability to lead (Exodus 2). The prophet Habakkuk doubted (for a season) God’s justice. Elijah doubted whether God knew what he was doing. Peter doubted as he walked on the water. Those who doubt are not few, etc.
God wants us to trust him. God wants us to trust in his goodness, St. James reminds us: “he who doubts is like a wave of the seas, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does” (Jas 1:6). Doubt, as it were, stands as a barrier to effective faith. Doubt hinders our prayers. Doubt hinders our enjoyment of God’s fellowship. However, doubt is part of the process of human growth. It crops up quite often in our lives. All one needs to do about is to be honest about the doubt:
When some Biblical truth is difficult to understand, for instance, the Trinity, God working all things for the good or God being all powerful;
When certain things that we think should never happen actually happen, such as children dying, tragedy striking or even a Saviour dying;
When the things we think should happen do not actually happen as expected, such as healing of a dear person, God granting our prayer-wish or providing some need of ours;
It is difficult not to doubt in such moments. When we are in pain, it is tough to believe in God’s love. In such situations, we tend to build a wall because we do not want to allow ourselves to be hurt again. Something like this must have happened to Thomas. Yet it is at such times the God wants us to trust him, regardless of how hard we find it.
3. DOUBT CAN LEAD TO GROWTH
Only gullible people do not doubt. Gullible people can believe anything. That is certainly not wise. Sometimes a little doubt is good. It is common for teenagers to go through a time when they question and maybe even doubt their faith. Why is that so? It is not because their parents have done a poor job. It is because they have reached a point where they can no longer accept the faith simply because that is what they were taught when growing up. At their age, they want to examine that faith (and many other things), question it, check it out for themselves. That is a necessary transition. Only after they have doubted does faith become personal and real. Each of us needs to “make faith real”.
Sometimes doubt is the predecessor to faith. Such was the case with Thomas. Following his meeting with the resurrected Lord, Thomas cries, “my Lord, and my God!” His doubt gives way to the most exalted declaration of faith ever uttered. Thomas was a good Jew. For that reason, he knew that to call someone God was blasphemy, unless the one you were addressing is truly God! In that room, with the other disciples, Thomas declares that his heart, allegiance, and life belongs to Jesus, by calling him “Lord and God”. He uses the loftiest words of man to declare Christ to be supreme. His doubt gave way to faith. In fact, the person who has a faith that cannot be shaken is someone who has won it through blood and tears. He/she has certainly worked his/her way from doubt to truth.
4. DOUBT CAN LEAD TO A MORE FERVENT FAITH
In order to overcome doubt, one must take a good look at one’s own heart. We need to ask ourselves why we are having the doubt. Some doubt is born out of a real desire to know. Jesus never turned away someone with an honest question. Sometimes, also, doubt is really just unbelief looking for an excuse. In such a case, a person is simply trying to justify his/her wrong actions. He/she is not concerned about truth; he/she does not really want to stop doubting at all, but just likes making noise. Such a heart is so stubborn that it will not submit to the truth. But a heart that hungers for truth examines the evidence, and puts his/her trust in God. Thomas did not only see the evidence for the resurrection; he also saw Christ. Sometimes our doubts are best answered by clearly seeing the Saviour. Some of our deep questions are best answered by looking at Jesus. When we see Christ as the magnificent Saviour that he is, some of our questions and doubts lose their bite. In such circumstance, we can believe certain things simply because Jesus is the one who is saying them.
In the case of Thomas, his faith became more fervent. Once he had seen and touched the resurrected Christ, tradition tells us that he went to India to preach the gospel. India is a place where there are many gods, and at the time of Thomas, pantheism was thriving. There, in India, Thomas fearlessly proclaimed Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life. He paid the ultimate price of his own life, and as tradition holds, he was martyred in Madras, India.
5. DIVINE MERCY SUNDAY
One of the biggest marks of the Divine Mercy apostolate is TRUST in Jesus. Trust dispels doubt. This apostolate invites and encourages Christians to develop an attitude of childlike TRUST IN GOD. It is for this reason that the central theme of the Divine Mercy devotion is summed up by the words: “Jesus, I trust in thee”
a) The Apostle of Mercy: On the 2nd Sunday of Easter, the year 2000, Pope St. John Paul II canonized St. Faustina Kowalska, a Polish nun, who is popularly known as “the Apostle of Mercy.” The Pope then declared the 2nd Sunday of Easter every year, as the Sunday of Divine Mercy for the Universal Church. God bless his soul, Pope John Paul II died on the eve of the Sunday of Divine Mercy in 2005.
The devotion to the Divine Mercy stems from the revelations made to St. Faustina Kowalska (1905-1938) over a number of years and at several convents, including the one in Krakow where she is buried. A special request of these visions was that the first Sunday after Easter should be the feast of Divine Mercy and that on this day the Divine Mercy should be proclaimed in a special way.
b) Some elements of the Divine Mercy Devotion: There are several elements involved in this devotion. One is the image of the merciful Jesus based on a vision of February 1931. In it Our Lord is pictured in the act of blessing, with two rays, one red and the other pallid (representing blood and water), shining from his heart. The words “Jesus, I trust in thee” are placed at his feet.
Copies of this image are today found in many churches all over the world – a sign of the rapid extension of this devotion.
Other elements are the Hour of Mercy, at 3 in the afternoon, in which the Passion is meditated upon and certain prayers recommended by the revelations are recited. As well as this, there is the chaplet of Divine Mercy with its attendant litany. It is recited using rosary beads but substituting other prayers such as “Through your sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the entire world” on the beads of the Hail Mary.
c) Our God is a God of Mercy: Mercy is the greatest attribute of God, for no other being can have mercy in such infinite dimensions like God. When we look at the world around us and the evil that is in the world today, it is difficult to understand why God has not sent fire to destroy the world, just like he did in the days of Sodom and Gomorrah. When we look at our own personal sins and the wickedness in our hearts, it is not easy to understand why God has not sent water to wash away the earth as he did in the days of Noah. Through this spirituality, we understand better the words of the Prophet Ezekiel; “What! Am I likely to take pleasure in the death of a wicked man – it is the Lord Yahweh who speaks – and not prefer to see him renounce his wickedness and live?” (Ez.18:23). We come to know our God as the God of mercy and compassion, slow to anger, abounding in love.
It is the mystery of the Mercy of God that Sr. Faustina pondered in the Word of God and contemplated in the everyday activities of her life that forms the basis of her spirituality. As she came to know and contemplated the Divine Mercy, she developed the attitude of childlike trust in God and mercy towards neighbour. According to Sr. Faustina, what will bring us the mercy of God is TRUST. We trust that when we call God he will hear us; we trust that God will forgive us, no matter the gravity of our sins; we trust that his mercy is from age to age on those who fear him (Luke.1:50); We trust that the mercy of God never ends. This trust in God and above all in his Son Jesus Christ, who died on the Cross to concretize mercy for mankind, is what Faustina preaches to us. That is why the motto of the spirituality of the Divine Mercy is “Jesus, I trust in you.”
Thomas’ response to the risen Lord was: “My Lord and my God” (Jn 20:28). By these words, Thomas, the “doubter”, re-dedicated himself to the risen Lord, in TOTAL TRUST. That is what every Christian is called to do on this Sunday of Divine Mercy, the 2nd Sunday of Easter.
May the risen Lord, THE DIVINE MERCY, grant us mercy in abundance, so that through the same mercy, we may come to share in the eternal life, where Jesus is Lord for ever and ever! Amen.