So the Day of Resurrection that took a week to celebrate draws to a close. Birthing pools for baptism by total immersion are put away; the Easter flowers are beginning to fade; congratulations cards are being filed away with smiles as the names of well-wishers known and unknown are read … there is a real sense that a stage in the journey is complete and, despite the promise of mystagogia for the rest of one’s life, there can begin to creep in a sense of anti-climax… a “what next?” True, there are some whose enthusiasm will stay on a high for some time – particularly if they are given opportunities to relive the experience of the Vigil – but even for them the story of Thomas in the Gospel of the Second Sunday of Easter can sow useful seeds for the future.
It is strange that of all the wonderful stories in the Gospel, this is one the very few that we hear every year – and always at the end of the Easter Octave. True, it is about appearances of the Risen Lord – but most of us will probably remember Doubting Thomas and his frustration at the “tall tales” his friends – previously seen as fairly sane if not always quick on the uptake - are telling him – and their frustration at his not being able to accept what they say. You can imagine the Aramaic equivalent of “oh you had to be there…” springing to their lips, particularly as at that stage, Jesus had given no indication as to whether this was a one-off appearance or was to become a regular occurrence. How do you convey the encounter with a man who was dead in ways that convince someone who wasn’t there when he turned up? Thomas’ (again Aramaic equivalent of) “Yeah… right…” is actually quite sensible under the circumstances.
But – and here’s the rub – isn’t that what we are doing in the RCIA – telling others of our own encounters with one who was dead and who is now risen? But we can’t see him and we don’t hear his voice and we can’t put our own fingers in his wounds (even if we could overcome our squeamishness to do it) and we haven’t smelt and tasted the bread and fish that he served up after the resurrection either.. As eye witnesses it doesn’t make us very good, does it? And yet – somehow we do it! Something in our joy at believing without seeing comes across and people are drawn in to learn more – though we have to admit that an awful lot more come into the “Yeah… right…” category.
So how can we help our newly-fledged Christians and Catholics as they prepare to take flight – to encounter those who will be bemused by their decision and perhaps even be hostile to it? And how do we prepare them for the moment when all the “specialness” begins to evaporate and new set of people are the catechumens – the Elect – and they are just part of a congregation? What about when even for them, faith begins to become niggling doubt – or the pulls of daily living in a frequently unsympathetic society take the edge off the joy they thought they would never forget?
Well, maybe we can look at Thomas – what made the difference for him? We know that Thomas was one of the apostles who said he would go with Jesus and die with him – but didn’t… Also he was the one who admitted he didn’t know where Jesus was going so how could he know the way? Like the other disciples, it would take the personal meeting with the Risen Jesus to make sense of the things he had said about dying and rising again.
That personal encounter…. that moment when the rest of the world falls away and Christ becomes all in all… So where was it for our neophytes? Where for our candidates? Was it in the Word – something that spoke so clearly that it changed their lives? Was it in the Body of Christ – the People of God? Or in a priest? Or, in that moment of receiving the Lord in Communion for the first time? When did they know with all the capacity of their being that this was true – and could say with Thomas, “My Lord and my God”?
Legend has it that Thomas left Jerusalem and took the Gospel to India. It is likely that there were times when he would have quite liked to have given up – and plenty of conversations with people who were not remotely interested in the Good News of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. But that moment – the moment of meeting with Jesus and hearing his words “Doubt no longer but believe…” somehow kept him going.
So as we reflect with our new Catholics on the next stage of their journey, perhaps we can bring Thomas alongside as a guide. When he set forth from Jerusalem, he probably had no idea of the way he was going to follow – but he did know who his Way was – and his Truth – and his Life. And so do our new Catholics…
Thoughts to reflect on…
- What are the “soul-memories” of ways in which we have encountered Christ over months and years? How do we keep them alive and ready to strengthen us for the way ahead?
- When I look at the Host and Chalice elevated during the Eucharistic Prayer – and receive the Body and Blood of Christ, how can I develop a sense of this being my personal encounter with “My Lord and my God”?