Tag Archives: unbelief

Going to God through Questions


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.

Wednesday, 2nd Week of Advent


Yesterday, Second Isaiah said to the exiles in Babylon: “Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God.” In today’s reading Jesus says:“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you.” A favorite reading.

Notice Jesus speaks to the “crowds” in Matthew’s gospel, not just to the disciples who know him or to the Jewish Christian church Matthew wrote for at the end of the first century.  God’s love and God’s promises reach far beyond the circle of disciples or the church.  Jesus Christ reaches out to refresh the world that labors and is burdened, even if it doesn’t know him.

Who does Second Isalah speak to? Scholars say today’s readings that begin with the 40th chapter of Isaiah come, not from Isaiah the priest who spoke in Jerusalem as Assyrian armies threatened the city in 8th century BC, but from an unknown prophet speaking to Jewish exiles in Babylon centuries later. He urges them to return to Jerusalem and build it up. He uses Isaiah’s name and language, perhaps,  to avoid trouble with Babylonian’s leaders for suggesting such a thing .

Not many Jews returned to Jerusalem at his call. historians say. Some did, but others were not interested in the prophet’s invitation. Taken captive to Babylon centuries before, they’re part of the place now. Babylon’s their home. They have families and jobs there; Jerusalem is far away and its future uncertain.

Yet, many remain faithful Jews in Babylon, and in Rome and other parts of the world in exile. Later, the Christian church became established in the world through them. 

We need to study Judaism more fully as a template for our own church today, I think, especially the mystery of Exile. We’re now experiencing an exile in our church– in the United States for every one person who join’s us, six leave. We need to study the exile of the Jews. 

Will those we lose be our way to become a more universal church?

The unknown prophet in today’s readings warns Jewish exiles not to abandon God for Babylon’s gods. 

“To whom can you liken me as an equal?
says the Holy One…
Do you not know
or have you not heard?
The LORD is the eternal God,
creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint nor grow weary,
and his knowledge is beyond scrutiny.”

We have to pray for our own exiles. God still holds them in his hands, sustains and comforts them, even if they do not know him or seem to care.  God’s Spirit is still within them.

The Thomas in us all


Some things — like telling time or tying your shoes — you learn once, but we know Jesus Christ gradually, day by day. Human and divine, he makes himself known to us as he promises and as we are ready to receive him.

That’s why Thomas, the apostle, whose feast is today, is such an important figure. Far from being a lonely skeptic, an isolated dissenter, he represents the slowness of heart and mind, the recurrent skepticism, that affects us all.

Yet, Thomas is a sign of hope. He reminds us that the Risen Jesus offers, even to the most unconvinced, the power to believe.

Lord Jesus,
the Thomas in us all
needs the wounds in your hands and side,
to call us to believe
you are our Lord and God.

Risen, present everywhere,
bless those who have not seen,
blind with doubts
or weakened faith, or no faith at all.

Bless us, Lord,
from your wounded hands and side,
strengthen our faith
to believe in you.

The Blind Believe

Jesus sorrowing

Rejected by your own,
By those who know so much
yet know so little.

This week in Jerusalem,
the city that knows so much
yet knows so little,
you walk its streets where a blind man begs
and give him sight that he never had before,
but they don’t believe
you’re God’s Son,
his only Son, equal to him.

“Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?”
the blind man said with new sight.
“You have seen him,
the one speaking with you is he,”
you said to the man with new sight.

He worshiped you,
“I do believe, Lord.”

Give us his sight.

art: Duk Soon Fwang

Rejected By His Own

“And as for you, Capernaum, ‘Will you be exalted to heaven?

You will go down to the netherworld.” Luke 10,13-16

St. Luke, at the beginning of  his gospel, tells Theophilus and other readers that he’s going to give an orderly account of Jesus Christ and his church. Using sources available to him–among them Mark’s gospel and a collection of sayings Matthew also used and some other traditions– Luke’s “orderly” account aims, not just for historical accuracy, but for his readers facing the world they live in.

For example, Luke’s gospel offers references implying that the temple in Jerusalem has been destroyed. That happened in 70 AD. It’s one clue that Luke’s gospel was written from 80-90 AD, about 50 years or so after the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The destruction of the temple in Jerusalem shocked Jews and Christians alike and caused many Christians to think that the world was coming to an end.  One reason Luke wrote his gospel was to remind his hearers about living  in the present moment, and so he recalls how often Jesus tells his disciples to take advantage of the time they have, to live “each day.” (Luke 9,23; 11,3; 16,19; 18,9-14; 19,1-10; 21.1-4)

I’m sure some of Luke’s gentile readers (He wrote with them in mind) were also wondering what was going on in the land where Jesus was born and taught and died and rose again. What was happening in Capernaum, Nazareth, Bethsaida– centers of Jesus’ life and ministry?

Those areas changed after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. Galilee, in particular, where Jesus lived most of his life and years of ministry,  had become the center of Pharasaic Judaism. Jewish Christians were being displaced from Galilean  synagogues and towns by exiles from Judea, and Jesus was considered an enemy.

Luke’s “woes” are directed to this land where Jesus grew up and ministered. It’s a land that has rejected him. Luke says that even in his lifetime, Jesus experienced rejection here.  It’s a mystery of God.

The rejection of Jesus by his own people was a mystery that Christians could not understand then. “He came to his own and his own received him not,’ John’s gospel says. Paul writes extensively about this mystery in the 9th chapter of this Letter to the Romans. Hope in the mystery of God’s mercy, Paul writes, Israel will have its day of belief.

But rejection of Jesus goes on in other towns and places; we don’t understand his rejection now.  Why can’t people believe in him; why do they turn away from him?  We ask this today especially  as we see people abandoning Christianity and its churches. We wonder about the future of Christianity, especially among the young.

The mystery of unbelief is a mystery which calls us, not to believe less, but to believe more strongly. Believe in him with all your strength, preach him as well as you know how, Luke’s gospel says. Live like him, and you will enter into the mystery of his cross and resurrection.

The Apostles

Jesus Christ told his apostles to bring the Good News revealed by God in him to all people. They handed on through “their preaching, by the example they gave, by the institutions they established, what they themselves had received–whether from the lips of Christ, from his way of life and his works, or whether they had learned it at the promptings of the Holy Spirit.”  (Catechism of the Catholic Faith 76)

The apostles and others associated with them, “under the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit committed the message of salvation to writing.” (Catechism 76)

We acknowledge the apostles’ role in bringing the Good News when we read the gospels and recite the Apostles’ Creed. We remember them in our liturgy, and each month we celebrate one of the apostles in our calendar of feasts.  July 3rd, we honor the Apostle Thomas.

Thomas reminds us that the witnesses chosen by Jesus were both weak and strong. Everyone in the Upper Room the night of Jesus’ resurrection believed that he had risen. The absent Thomas doesn’t.  “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.”

Only when Jesus patiently appears to him a week later and has him touch the wounds in his hands and his side, does he believe. “My Lord and my God.”

Is Thomas unique in his weakness of faith? Were the others chosen by Jesus as foundations of his church unlike him? From the slight information the gospels provide, all the other apostles are both weak and strong–Peter, their leader, is a prime example.

Did the Holy Spirit change the apostles completely at Pentecost? We may think they were, but I don’t think they were so completely transformed as we like to believe. The story in St. Luke’s gospel of the two disciples on the way to Emmaus may better describe the post-resurrection church and its leaders.

Hardly a triumphalist church and hardly perfect leaders. Their strength and their guide was the patient Jesus. The Risen Jesus was with them then and he is with us now.

A Rejected Prophet

Usually celebrities are welcomed to their hometowns by proud family members and neighbors,  but when Jesus returns to his native place, a rising star in Galilee, he’s driven out of the synagogue and almost killed by the people of Nazareth. He claims to be anointed by the Spirit of God and he’s been acclaimed elsewhere, but they see him only as the son of Joseph, the carpenter, and reject him. (Luke 4,21-30)

They stay unconvinced, it seems, because some of his family appear later at Capernaum, the base for most of his ministry, and want to take him home because he’s out of his mind,they say.

Why are they against his extraordinary claim? Is it because they know him too well? Or really, not enough? They’ve watched him grow; he’s worked on their homes and in their fields. He built some of the tables they’ve used for their meals. They know his father, his mother, his relatives. An unassuming young man whom they’ve known since infancy.

Where does he get all this?

We have to be careful that, like them, we get used to Jesus Christ, whom we may have known from our infancy. They took him for granted. His silence through the years made them blind to his power and they did not believe in him.

We know his silence too in faith and sacraments. He may act somewhere else, we may think, but not in us. We can mistake his silence for powerlessness too.

Give us faith in you, Lord.

(4th Sunday of the Year)