Second Sunday of Easter

I recently rediscovered a bestseller titled The Death of Common Sense: How Law is Suffocating America by Philip Howard, a lawyer. The thrust of the  book is that government regulations have replaced common sense.

A newspaper even published an “obituary” about Common Sense. Here are some excerpts:

Common Sense will be remembered for cultivating such valuable lessons as: knowing when to come in out of the rain; why the early bird gets the worm; life isn’t always fair; maybe it was my fault; and don’t spend more than you earn.

The “obit” went on to say: Common Sense finally gave up the will to live after someone failed to realize that a steaming hot cup of coffee was actually hot. She spilled a little, and was awarded a huge settlement. Not many attended the funeral of Common Sense because so few realized it was gone.

The point of the book is that many things are simply a matter of good judgment and common sense. Let’s hope common sense prevails in our own lives and especially in our public policy arena.

We continue to celebrate the Easter miracle: Jesus Christ lives, and because he lives, we live. Now let me ask, have you ever witnessed an Easter miracle? I have. A depressed person resurrected to hope; an alcoholic resurrected to sobriety; a troubled marriage resurrected to renewed love; an angry man resurrected to forgiveness; an estrangement between parent and child bridged; a terrible wrong forgiven. And we can create little Easter miracles for others when we seize the opportunity every day. Today think about how you can create a Easter miracle for someone else.

Now what does the word of God have to say to us today? The Book of the Acts of the Apostles carries us back in our imaginations to the beginnings of Christianity, to a faith community that shared what they had with one another. They were a family who looked out for one another, who cared deeply about one another. That faith community is a role model for us.

The Letter of John emphasizes what unites us as a spiritual family: our faith in Jesus Christ; our spiritual birth in the waters of baptism; our sharing sacramentally in the body and blood of Jesus Christ; and our fidelity to a particular way of life. As Mother Teresa said simply but profoundly: God does not ask us to be successful, but to be faithful: in our relationships; and with our responsibilities.

In the Gospel according to John, we have a post-resurrection appearance of Jesus. We have no idea what the Risen Christ looked like—he could pass through locked doors of an upper room, as he had passed through the sealed rock door of a tomb. He could suddenly appear and then disappear. In this passage the Risen Christ bestows upon the disciples, through the power and energy of the Spirit, gifts of wisdom, love, courage, peace, and forgiveness: gifts that we too possess and gifts that contribute to the well-being of all people.

The skeptical Thomas wasn’t there that day. Thomas is portrayed as the quintessential doubter. Lo and behold, a week later, Jesus appears again. And then Thomas makes that awesome declaration of faith: “My Lord and my God.”

But who was Thomas? We know little to nothing about him. “Thomas” is a nickname, meaning “twin” in Aramaic. But we can easily relate to Thomas the doubter or questioner. To be human is to question. Christianity proposes that we were born to be in relationship with God. Otherwise, we will experience a hunger, a feeling that something is missing in our lives. St. Augustine, in his classic autobiography Confessions, captured this hunger eloquently: “Our hearts are restless until they can find rest in you, O God.”

Leo Tolstoy, the great 19th century Russian writer,  authored a book titled A Confession, describing his own search for meaning in life. He pursued it first in the carousing social circles of Moscow and Saint Petersburg, Russia. But that didn’t satisfy him. He sought wealth, success, fame, status, and family. Even with a loving wife and thirteen children, still one question haunted him: “Is there any meaning in my life which will not be annihilated by the inevitability of my death?”

Tolstoy discovered that the simple farm people of Russia found the answer to these questions through their lively Christian faith—their relationship with God. We all need a loving, ongoing relationship. But no human relationship will satisfy us completely. That is because we were created to live in a relationship with God.

Jesus said, “I am the way.” Yes, he is the One who can bring us into that relationship.

Jesus also said, “I am the truth.” Some people say, “It doesn’t matter what you believe if you are sincere.” But it is possible to be sincerely wrong. Think about the 20th century tyrants, Mao Tse Tung, Stalin and Hitler. Their falsehoods, lies, destroyed millions of people.

Jesus finally said, “I am the life.” In Jesus, we find life where there was death. Yes, every human being is made in the image of God. But we are fallen human beings. It does matter how we live. Good and bad, heroic generosity and cowardly selfishness, light and darkness, all live within us.

That's why we cry out for healing and mercy, which we celebrate today: divine mercy. We cry for forgiveness, and only in Jesus can we find it. Jesus Christ, through the mystery of his dying and rising, has freed us from death so that we can live in relationship with God forever. Christianity challenges us to live life authentically, to be true to our own selves.  The 20th century philosopher and theologian Paul Tillich described our three fears: fear of meaninglessness; fear of death; and fear about guilt. Jesus Christ overcame these fears head-on through his death and resurrection.

A final word about Thomas the doubter. There are many indicators pointing to God: the universe presupposes an orderer (just as a watch presupposes a watchmaker); hope presupposes a future; moral outrage presupposes a judge; and so forth. There are also indicators that there’s no God—the evil that people do to one another, e.g., the holocaust or genocide. But faith in God is a calculated risk. Blaise Pascal’s wager captures that risk. He was a 17th century mathematician, inventor, philosopher. Pascal’s wager goes like this:
One does not know empirically whether God exists.
Not believing in God is bad for one’s eternal soul if God indeed does exist.
Believing in God is of no consequence if God does not exist.
Therefore, it is a safer bet to believe in God.

Doubting Thomas concludes, “My Lord and my God.” Yes, Jesus lives, and because he lives, we live. In relationship with God forever.  Someday this bodily existence of ours, like that of Jesus crucified and risen, will be transformed, into a new kind of spiritual embodiment.  What precisely this will be we don't know. That's why we hear at every funeral mass,  “For those who believe, life is not taken away, life is merely changed.” Let us pray that the gift of faith will empower us, like Thomas, to cry out every day, “My Lord and my God.”

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