An evolving church

In the sacred texts for today, we are reacquainted with the earliest believers in Jesus. We are invited to see and appreciate the impact of the risen Jesus on their lives. Because of Jesus, as Luke tells us in Acts, the believers were of one heart and mind. They shared all they had; there was no need to which they did not tend. Graced by God, they bore powerful witness to their risen Lord.

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Second Sunday of Easter
Acts 4:32-35
Psalm 118
1 John 5:1-6
John 20:19-31

Three times in Acts, Luke offers us a glimpse into the life of the nascent church. Three times, we are challenged to ponder our own enthusiasm for the risen Christ. Three times, we are invited to look within and consider the depth of our own transformation by Easter grace.

In today's second reading, the Johannine author reminds us of our heritage. By faith we are begotten by God. We are the blessed sisters and brothers of Jesus who are called to love as he did and obey God as he did. That love and obedience must issue forth in love for another. Begotten and loved by God, believers are thereby empowered, as John says, "to conquer the world" -- that is, to overcome those forces that are hostile to God, to justice, to life and to truth.

Today's Gospel is so very familiar to us, yet perhaps we might look at it with fresh eyes. In addition to following Thomas' journey from doubt and disbelief to faith in Jesus -- "My Lord and my God!" -- we might also consider what William Bausch has called the Thomas Syndrome: "Thomas, called Didimus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came" (Once Upon a Gospel, Twenty-Third Pub., 2008).

Where was he? How could he have been absent? But he was, and as a result of his absence, he didn't see Jesus or hear him speak or receive his peace. He wasn't there when Jesus breathed forth his Spirit on his own. Therefore, he didn't understand; his faith was shaken. He had nothing to hold onto but his doubt.

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Bausch goes on to suggest that we too, at times, are Absent Thomases. "We are absent from sufficient knowledge about our faith." Because we are not as steeped in our tradition as we could be, we don't know how to interpret popular fictions like The Da Vinci Code or how to evaluate the efforts of the Jesus Seminar.

While we may be up-to-date on current events, and while we try to remain current in our job skills, we may not always be so conscientious in enriching our faith and appreciating the rich traditions of our church.

How can we follow the lead of those earliest believers in the great work of evangelization if our religious education and formation ended in grade school or high school? Our religious formation must be continuous. It is a cradle-to-the-grave process.

Had they been left to their own devices, the disciples may have remained silent and fearful behind closed doors. But Jesus came to them, wished them peace and breathed the new life of the Spirit into them. This same Jesus comes to us, breathing the power of the Spirit into us, enabling us to overcome our doubts and fears so as to witness to the Gospel.

We, for our part, are to receive that Spirit and cultivate its presence in our lives. Like Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus, we are to be wise and sit at the feet of Jesus, listening to him and taking his words to heart. We are privileged to avail ourselves of the rich resources offered in the Scriptures, as well as other worthy publications and prayer and study groups that are sponsored by our parishes. This will preclude our being Absent Thomases without clear knowledge of our faith.

Thomas has another valuable lesson to impart to all who struggle to believe. A week later, when he was with the disciples, Jesus invited him to touch his wounds and to believe. Thomas recognized the risen Jesus and made a profound declaration of faith -- "My Lord and my God." He had experienced the Resurrection.

We who also know and believe Jesus-risen are to offer that same experience to others. As Ralph Kuehner and Joseph Juknialis have pointed out (Living the Word, Paluch, 2005), resurrection happens whenever love transforms life; when someone offers forgiveness despite a burning desire for vengeance; when a nation begins to value and protect the rights of all, not just a few; when the poor, hungry, homeless and disenfranchised are attended as brothers and sisters; when immigrants and refugees are not left to drown or incarcerated but are welcomed as the children of God.

Resurrection happens when enemies sit down together to talk instead of planning the other's demise.

Resurrection is happening all around us; let us venture out of our locked doors and celebrate. Jesus, our Lord and our God, lives!

[Patricia Sánchez holds a master's degree in literature and religion of the Bible from a joint degree program at Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary in New York.]

This story appeared in the March 27-April 9, 2015 print issue under the headline: An evolving church .

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