Jesus said to “Doubting” Thomas, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and believed.”
This gospel passage has a very fond and special place in my heart, because when I was younger it used to really tick me off. If I had had my choice between either seeing and believing, or not seeing and being blessed, I’d have picked the seeing option every time. But now looking back, I realize that if Jesus had actually appeared to me in a vision that would have just raised more doubts and questions in me. I once shared my various frustrations about faith and doubt with a priest. After he had patiently listened, He suggested that perhaps I was going through these kinds of trials so that I could help others through similar trials someday. At the time, that also ticked me off… but he was right. I hope that six lessons I’ve learned in the years since will be of help for you today. Today the Church celebrates Divine Mercy Sunday, but on account of Doubting Thomas one might also call it Doubter’s Sunday. I feel a lot of mercy for the doubters out there, and Jesus does too.
Lesson One: Jesus does not condemn the honest doubter, the sincere questioner, the genuine seeker.
When Jesus appears to doubting Thomas notice that he is not angry with him. He says, “Peace be with you!” Then he says, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving but believe.” The Gospel does not say whether Thomas actually took Jesus up on touching his wounds, but Jesus was not patronizing him when he made the offer—it was an sincere invitation that met Thomas where he was at.
Still today, Jesus is not angered by our honest questions. In fact, it is a compliment to him to ask tough questions of our faith because it shows that we believe there are good answers out there to be found. Honest questions make our faith stronger, not weaker. However, our questioning must be sincere. We must not build a comfortable home upon our doubts, doing nothing to answer or resolve them. This sort of questioning is not sincere, but often self-serving. Jesus wants to give to those who ask, to reveal to those who seek, to open for those who knock, so that they will not be unbelieving, but believe. But, when we refuse to ask, or to seek, or to knock, we frustrate the Lord. Jesus is pleased, however, by the genuine seeker because the genuine seeker will find him.
Lesson Two: Having beliefs is unavoidable and our faith is reasonable.
Some people object to faith saying that “reason” or “science” is certain while “belief” is doubtful. But in reality, all of our knowledge depends upon trusted beliefs. We cannot live, or even reason, without accepting beliefs. Before the scientist calmly walks across the street he assumes a thousand things without certain proof of them. We can learn many valuable things from science, but science itself cannot prove all of its own assumptions. There are even questions that science cannot answer, such as the transcendent goodness, worth, or purpose of things. Our faith answers such questions and our faith is not unreasonable. Our true faith is no more in conflict with reason than the truth could contradict the truth. Not everyone shares our faith, but you cannot live as fully alive without it.
Lesson Three: If you ever worry about whether you really believe in God, you shouldn’t be worried.
Some people experience real spiritual anxiety when they ask themselves, “Do I really believe in God?” Realize this: people who don’t believe in God, don’t spend time worrying about whether they believe in God. Only a believer would do that. So if you ever worry about your belief in God, you shouldn’t be worried; you’re actually a believer and your mind should be at ease.
Lesson Four: You already have enough faith to do what Jesus asks of you today.
Some people say, “I believe in Jesus Christ, but I just don’t have enough faith to do what he wants me to do.” These people experience a spiritual paralysis: they’re waiting for faith to show up, before they’ll take the next step in living the Gospel, whatever that might be. They’re actually psyching themselves out. They are like the apostles who once begged the Lord, “Increase our faith!” Jesus told them if they had faith the size of a mustard seed they could uproot trees or mountains with a word and plant them in the sea. At first this might seem like a word of discouragement, but it is actually a word of hope. Your tiny, microscopic speck of faith is already enough for you to accomplish everything Christ asks of you today. Your faith right now may be only a pinhole-sized trust in him, but the God who can fit a camel through the eye of a needle can pour a river through your pinhole-sized faith. You already have enough faith to do what Jesus asks of you today.
Lesson Five: Faith grows through being exercised.
We often keep very low expectations of God. Maybe we think that if we don’t expect too much from him he won’t expect too much from us. Or maybe we think we won’t be disappointed by him, if we never get our hopes up. In this way our faith stays small. Our faith, which is our openness to the Gospel and our trust in Jesus Christ, remains small and weak because our faith is so rarely exercised. Do we really want to come to the end of our lives and have to look back and wonder what our lives could have been if we had committed ourselves more completely to Jesus Christ and his Gospel?
Consider this question: If you had all the faith in the world, how would you pray, what would you pray for, and what would you do? If you want to see you faith grow, if you want to see the power of Jesus Christ active in your life, then try doing these things today.
Now sometimes Christ comes out of nowhere and powerfully reveals himself to those who have never really striven for him, or even looked for him, but it is more often the case with Christ that the more we give him the more we get. Imagine you hold in your hand seeds which symbolize your life; your time, your talents, and your treasure. You received all these seeds from Christ as pure gift. As long as we cling to the seeds in our hand, they will never bear fruit. But once we begin letting Christ plant these seeds, and we see the good fruit they produce, we will eagerly give him more and more. In this way, our faith grows through being exercised.
And finally, the sixth lesson: Faith is about trusting in Jesus Christ.
Faith is not so much about generating a certain feeling, or a feeling of certainty, about particular facts. The demons know that Jesus is Lord—and shudder. Faith is more about trust, trusting in a person who is worthy of our trust, Jesus Christ. Living-out such trust requires a personal relationship of knowledge and love with him.
What might be holding us back in the life of faith could be that we have unresolved sins, past and present, impeding our relationship with Christ. This Divine Mercy Sunday we celebrate the infinite mercy God shows toward all those who ask for it. Through the sacrament of reconciliation, we can receive a fresh start, a clean slate, an infusion of grace, a healing of the heart and mind, a full restoration of personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Whenever I go to confession, I encounter Christ through the priest, like Thomas encountered Jesus in the upper room. Jesus enters into the locked inner room of my heart, where I would otherwise hide out of fear on account of my sins. I see his wounds, I admit the ways that I helped to put them there, and I tell him I’m sorry. And his response is always the same: mercy. “Peace be with you. Your sins are forgiven.” Confession gives us pardon and peace, it increases our trust and love for Jesus Christ, and strengthens our faith in him.
This Divine Mercy Sunday, let us pray the prayer that he has given us for our uncertain times: “Jesus, I trust in you.”