How can I be a better Catholic?
Dear Fr. Joe: I came into the Church last year, and I really want to be the best Catholic I can. I read a lot, and visit Catholic websites. But I've noticed that, on the internet and in my own parish, there are so many mixed messages. What's the right way?
Great question – I've been thinking a lot about this lately. Especially in light of the Gospel about St. Thomas and his doubts. When I read this Gospel, I often wonder what those days right after the resurrection were like. Here was St. Thomas the Apostle, the only guy not ruled by fear: His brothers stayed in the upper room, afraid – but not him, he was out and about. Either way, he’s out and Jesus comes. Jesus appears to the 10 remaining disciples who were present and speaks to them. Thomas comes home, perhaps with food, perhaps from talking to people about Jesus – who knows? Either way, he returns to find that his friends have lost their minds. They tell him that Jesus has risen from the dead.
Now, during the next six days, there is no doubt that upper room got very small: arguments, recriminations, finger pointing, yelling, questioning. Should Thomas have chosen to believe the ridiculous, he’d have to have wondered why Jesus didn’t appear while he was there.
It must have been a nasty six days.
Whatever the case, somewhere in there, Thomas tells his brothers what it would take for him to believe: if he puts his finger in the nail marks and his hand in Jesus' side, then he’ll believe.
Finally, Jesus comes again. He starts off by saying, “Peace be with you” as he has three times before. He then speaks to Thomas and doesn’t chastise him or reprove him; instead, he meets his criterion – sort of a “This is what you need? Oh, then do it.”
Thomas probes the nail marks. He physically places his hand inside Jesus’ body, and then proclaims him as God.
As you may know, Thomas was faithful, even to the point of death. When you go home today, look at a map. See the distance between Israel and southern India. Tradition tells us that Thomas walked it and brought people there to Jesus. He preached and taught until he was tortured to death with spears. He held that faith so well.
Back to that upper room now. Jesus says “Peace be with you” three times. The Greek word Jesus uses for “Peace” refers not to an inner contentment, but a communal relationship. He’s addressing the fights that have occurred among the disciples, and the fights that will come. He’s declaring “Peace” after what must have been six days of war. His very resurrection is such a colossal event that it changes all the rules: it unifies them in a way not many other things could. Wherever they go from that day forward, they are bound by the wonder and beauty of having seen Jesus risen from the dead. Their fight with each other is over, they are commissioned to go into the world in unity and forgive sins in his name, bringing people to God through their testimony.
This unity speaks to us today: we are here because of that moment. Look around your parish. Look at who is there. What would bring us all together on Sunday mornings other than our firm, heartfelt conviction that he is risen and that he calls to us? What a wonderful and amazing thing that is.
We believe something unbelievable: God took our sins and guilt upon himself and died, killing those things with him. He rose from that death and calls us to enter into a deep personal relationship with him, lived out in a Catholic community of believers. Within this community, we must be patient and loving with the process of conversion into which each one must enter .
Fear can never be a part of this process of conversion. We don’t need to be afraid of our doubts or of other people’s doubts. Be confident enough in what we believe to hold it up to our intellect with humility and love. If someone comes to you with their doubts, don’t be angry with them, gently walk with them until they see the beauty and wonder of what Christ teaches. If you struggle with doubts, share them with a knowledgeable, patient and loving person within this community. Ask them to bring you to truth.
Here is our chance to understand that God’s mercy is not just about what we’ve done wrong, but in how right God wants us to be in mind, soul and body. We can be confident in what Jesus teaches us: confident enough that we are patient with those who struggle: especially ourselves. Mercy requires that we understand that conversion is a process, a process that begins with our struggles and ends with our crying out to Jesus in wonder and awe, “My Lord and My God!”
What better thing can we say than that?
Enjoy another day in God’s presence.