Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Bishop of Scranton
Mass for Those in Consecrated Life
2nd Sunday of Easter – April 8, 2018
At the heart of today’s gospel is a figure about whom we hear very little in the sacred scriptures – Saint Thomas. It is today’s gospel passage from St. John, however, that provides us with the most lasting image of the saint, as we are given details of Thomas’ encounter with the Risen Jesus.
This passage from St. John’s gospel that describes the meeting between Thomas and the resurrected Jesus is also unique, insofar as it is one of a very few gospel passages that are provided for our reflection every year on the very same day – the Second Sunday of Easter – the concluding day of the Octave of Easter – Divine Mercy Sunday. In the very heart of Easter joy and celebration, the Church annually offers for our consideration the story of one of Jesus’ closest followers who doubted – who just didn’t have it within his ability to believe that Jesus was raised from the dead.
Let’s look at Thomas a bit more closely in order to come to a better understanding of his significance to us in our journeys of faith.
Perhaps the most striking thing about Thomas in today’s gospel is that, initially, he was apart from the community of disciples. For some reason, he wasn’t with them when Jesus first appeared to them following his resurrection. What’s more, when Thomas eventually reunited with the disciples and was told about their experience of the Risen Lord, his faith seemed to waiver as he asserted that he wouldn’t believe the disciples unless he could probe the nail marks in Jesus’ hands and put his own hand into Jesus’ side.
Who knows how and why St. Thomas became so contrary in the midst of the miracle of the resurrection? Yet, one thing is clear. In not being a part of the community of believers, Thomas missed the opportunity to encounter the risen Jesus. And because he missed that opportunity – because he was alone and apart – his fears and doubts likely intensified. … “I will not believe, unless … .”
Sometimes the best of us wonder about our presence in the Church – especially when we doubt our faith and struggle to find our way. Sometimes, like Thomas, we just can’t seem to bring ourselves to believe and accept some aspect of our faith for one reason or another. And we distance ourselves. We stand apart from the community of believers when it gathers to pray on the Lord’s Day. And we feel ourselves on the outside looking in!
Yet, look carefully at Jesus’ response to Thomas in today’s gospel. While Jesus lifted up and called “blessed” all those souls who had not seen him as raised from the dead and who still believed, nowhere in his encounter with Thomas does he berate him or diminish him because of his doubts and struggles. On the contrary, Jesus engages Thomas – loves him as he is – and sends him forth with the other disciples to proclaim the Kingdom of God and build the Church of Christ.
Jesus’ acceptance of Thomas – with his doubts and questions – was a sign not only to the earliest believers but also to Christians throughout the ages – including me and you – that we too are accepted by the Lord – doubts and all. Moreover, Thomas’ place within the early Church, entrusted to him by the Lord himself, is a reminder to us of the pivotal role that the Church plays in nurturing faith and in providing us with opportunities to experience the risen Lord – in the Word proclaimed – in the Eucharist and the sacramental life – and in the community of believers in and through whom God is present.
Today’s first scripture reading is a powerful reminder to us of why the Church is so vital to our lives as Christians. In the passage from the Acts of the Apostles, we’re told about the life of the early Christian community, a parish, if you will, of disciples striving to respond to the presence of the risen Christ in their lives. We learned that, because of their relationship with Jesus, believers were of one mind and heart. They worked together to respond to the needs of each member of the community, and they gave powerful witness to their conviction that through the Resurrection, God continues to live and work in our world, to touch our lives and to bring us peace.
Today we gather in prayer to reflect upon a unique gift that is a part of the life-giving Church of the risen Jesus: the gift of consecrated life. We reflect upon women and men who have understood and embraced the Lord’s universal call to holiness and mission. We join together in our Cathedral to acknowledge woman and men celebrating jubilees of 25, 50, 60, 65, 70 and 75 years in religious life who collectively represent over 3,335 years of service to the People of God. … What a blessing you have been and continue to be for all of us.
We celebrate each of you, my sisters and brothers in Consecrated Life, who have abandoned your very lives and – with deep trust – and with the recognition of your own human limitations, doubts and struggles– have handed yourselves over to God – in the sure and certain hope that comes from the resurrection of Jesus – in order to be used as his instruments in the work of salvation, bringing life and hope to all.
In short, we celebrate your embrace of the mission that Jesus entrusted to Thomas – to the other apostles – to all of the baptized – and particularly to each of you – to witness to the risen Lord and to build the Church – the very community of believers in and through which our faith is nurtured and given life.
In so many significant ways, your lives and ministry constitute those foundational building blocks upon which the Church of Jesus has been built. Certainly here in the Diocese of Scranton, for well over 150 years, you have helped to build the Church, not with bricks and mortar, but with living stones – the People of God. Because of your holiness and singular commitment to the gospel mandate to serve as Jesus did – you have not only touched the hearts of countless numbers of faithful souls, but you have revealed the face of God to a broken, struggling world.
Earlier this year at a Mass celebrated on the occasion of the World Day of Consecrated Life – which we commemorate today – Pope Francis shared words that both reflect the words of today’s gospel exchange between Thomas and Jesus in today’s gospel and that speak to the essence of the lives of so many of you – our sisters and brothers in Consecrated Life.
First, the Holy Father offered words that are clearly addressed to each of us – words that remind us of his exchange with Thomas – words that speak to where and how the risen Jesus is to be experienced. “Everything for us,” Pope Francis noted, “started in an encounter with the Lord. … We need to keep this in mind. And if we remember aright, we will realize that in that encounter we were not alone with Jesus; there was also the people of God, the Church, young and old. … This is important, because God’s promise does not come to fulfilment merely in individuals, once for all, but within a community – the Church. … In this encounter, the young see their mission and the elderly realize their dreams. All because, at the center of the encounter, is Jesus.”
Then Pope Francis went on to speak words of encouragement to those in Consecrated Life like so many of you whom we honor and for whom we pray this day. “At the end of the Gospels, there is another encounter with Jesus. … It is that of the women before the tomb. They had gone to encounter the dead; their journey seemed pointless. You too are journeying against the current: the life of the world easily rejects poverty, chastity and obedience. But like those women, keep moving forward, without worrying about whatever heavy stones need to be removed (cf. Mk 16:3). And like those women, be the first to meet the Lord, risen and alive. Cling to him (cf. Mt 28:9) and go off immediately to tell your brothers and sisters, your eyes brimming with joy (cf. v. 8). In this way, dear consecrated brothers and sisters, are the Church’s perennial dawn!
With deep gratitude, my sisters and brothers, we give thanks for your example and for your witness to the risen Jesus alive among us. Encouraged by the gift of your faithful service, may we look beyond our doubts and struggles to walk together in faith, reflecting always the love and mercy of Jesus in our lives.