The Eyes of Faith

23 April 2006: 2nd Sunday of Easter
John 20, 19-31: The Eyes That See

Note: I gave this homily last year in UP, also during the 2nd Sunday of Easter.

The Gospel today speaks about grief, remembrance and surrender. Just as Jesus taught Peter to hope, He too taught Thomas to believe. I call this, the “School of the Upper Room.”

First, grief. Thomas expected death. In fact, when Jesus proposed to go to Bethany, two miles from Jerusalem, he reacted “Let us all go, that we may die with him” (Jn 11:16). But Thomas was a natural pessimist. He undoubtedly loved Jesus very much that he was willing to go to Jerusalem and die with him. And when what he expected happened, when Jesus whom he loved died on the cross, he was grief-stricken, broken-hearted, and in despair. And, like some of us, Thomas had to face his grief and despair alone. Thus, when Jesus appeared at the Upper Room, he was not there. Thomas was absent. So when the disciples told him, he did not believe unless he could see with his own eyes the print of the nails, and stretch his hands and put it at his wounded side.

This is understandable. When we are so caught up by our grief, when we are gripped by loneliness, when we are clobbered by conflicts in our families and communities, when the demands and hazards of work zap our energies, when there is too much on our plate, when gossip and intrigues choke out our integrity, when democracy loses its face, when scandals threaten the very center of our faith, and when all our hopes are gashed to death--- we, like Thomas, begin to doubt, to despair and to become disheartened. Not that we lack courage. Not that we have not loved enough. Not that we are unwilling to do the task. Maybe, we are just too wounded or we are enjoying our pain.

But Jesus has a way to teach His disciples. He appears to Thomas and identifies himself by his very wounds: Look at my wounds. Put your hands into my side. I am He! For Thomas to believe, Jesus shows his wounds as proof of his identity.

This is consoling for all of us. Our very wounds, our very despair, our very grief forms us into who and what we are. The many failures in life can make a person courageous and strong; while in another can make him negative and pessimistic. The many injustices experienced by a person in one’s family and friends as in the case of bullies, can make a person an angry individual or seeker for justice. Numerous heartaches a person encounters might make a person calloused and unable to love; or make a person mature in the experience of loving. Who we are now tells us how we have reacted or responded to many of life’s difficulties. Many have declared themselves atheists, but are actually people with unanswered questions about faith, or has been too wounded to believe in a loving God.

And what is asked of us, Christians, is to see Jesus in our very own brokenness and the woundedness of others: “To fight and not to heed the wounds.” To say, as Thomas said centuries ago, “My Lord and my God!” (Jn 20:28) To affirm one’s faith.

Second, remembrance. Thomas’ movement from doubt to faith had to happen in the midst of a community of disciples. If Thomas only sought companionship in the Christian community instead of keeping his grief to himself, he would have seen Jesus the first time He appeared. The community or our own small group celebrates memories. Memories dispel doubts. Memories are palliatives to our grief. Community allows remembrance of friendships and the sharing of struggles. In remembrance, our faith is rekindled, our love blazes with passion, and our fellowship deepens when each of us affirms to each other, “We have seen the Lord!” (Jn 20:25) in our own lives. That is why our Church is a Church of Remembrance.

Finally, surrender. Just as Jesus taught Peter to stretch out his hands to hope, He too asked Thomas to stretch out his hands and put it at his side to believe: “Do not be faithless but believe.” And when Thomas did believe, his surrender was complete. Jesus then challenged him, not just to see with the eyes of sight, but with eyes of faith.

Let me end with a story about grief, remembrance and surrender.

Bishop Chito Tagle tells us of his encounter with an old woman who used to be a prostitute. In a sharing during the graduation ceremonies of the rehabilitation run by nuns, she began by saying, “I started as a prostitute but when I started aging, I shifted careers. I became a recruiter of prostitutes. I become prosperous. I was able to set up prostitution houses.” And then she said, “I don’t know why I had to meet that nun.” It was an ordinary event, an ordinary meeting. She paused and started crying. For the longest time, she was crying and then she said, “This evening I’m leaving for General Santos City and I will start a house there. Not to recruit prostitutes, but to rehabilitate prostitutes. And I cannot believe that now I am a different person. I will still be running houses, but a different type of house. I cannot believe it. I cannot believe it.” She ran around the room hugging the sisters, who are also ordinary women but through whom the Risen Lord appears. A new history has begun with this woman.

That old woman began as a wounded, broken and grief-stricken prostitute. Her community at the rehabilitation center had helped her in her wounds. And now, with the call of Christ, she surrenders to his will. She would use her very brokenness to give new hope to countless prostitutes whom she will recruit in General Santos to this new school and this new life. We, like that old woman, are given the responsibility to teach heaven because in our grief we have yearned for it; in our memories, we know deep in our hearts what it is; and in our surrender, we know Who it is.

And if this is of great consolation for all of us tasked to teach heaven, I quote CS Lewis in his book, “The Problem of Pain”: “There have been times when I think we do not desire heaven, but more often I find myself wondering whether, in our heart of hearts, we have desired anything else.”[1]

[1] CS Lewis, The Problem of Pain [N.Y.: Macmillian, 1944), p. 133.

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