Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
The party continues
by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register
(From the April 8, 2010 edition of the Inland Register)
During these enduring days of Easter’s festive dance, I find myself imagining that I hear a great sigh whispering forth from the People of God. It’s not like the sound of a gentle breeze blowing through the trees on a spring morning. It is more like the sound that someone makes who has fallen short of achieving a goal – more like the sigh of exasperation from someone who has just missed the last bus of the night.
Certainly, this sound is merely in my imagination. Nevertheless, it provides a curious point of departure for reflection during this Easter season.
For some time now, the Church has been celebrating the Easter feast. The liturgical party, as it were, does continue for 50 days, until the fireworks of Pentecost. Flowers still decorate church altars; the songs and hymns reflect our new joy. And perhaps greetings of “Happy Easter!” are still found on the lips of many.
During its Easter season Eucharistic liturgy, the Church offers us special selections from Sacred Scripture for our continuing prayer and spiritual growth. We hear again and again about the vitality of the first Christians – how they used to share everything in common; how the praises of God leaped freely and generously from their lips; how the disciples encountered Jesus himself, risen from the dead and alive among them.
After almost 2,000 years we hear this testimony of faith and a certain jealousy subtly sneaks into our hearts. Would it not have been marvelous to have lived in those times? How different would be our enthusiasm for the Lord and his Church! How different would be our commitment to the mission of Christ’s community! How strong our faith would be and how ready we would be to give our personal testimony to the Risen Lord! If only we had lived in those times! Poor us.... (sigh...)
Is it not possible to hear the disappointment in our voices? Our hearts are a bit sad. After all, the times of Jesus have come and gone. Are we not left to live distanced from those times and now isolated from their joy and their guarantee of closeness to the Lord and the excitement of sharing his mission? Poor us.... (another sigh…)
This situation presents us with a crisis of faith. Perhaps our attitude reflects that of St. Thomas, when the other disciples told him that they had seen the Lord. With hardness of heart, we insist on seeing Jesus himself, in the flesh, or else we will not believe. We insist that nothing about Church and the mission of Christ interests us if we are not able to live in the times of Jesus. In other words, we complain that the Christian life and its relation with Christ seems to be reserved to those few persons who had the privilege of personally knowing Jesus in the flesh.
It is true that our attitude at times may indeed like that of St. Thomas. Each of us is the “twin” of Thomas, who is identified very curiously in the Gospel story. There is no historical evidence that Thomas had a twin brother or sister. A search for one is dead-ended. On the contrary: It is very obvious that the Gospel writer wanted his readers to recognize that they themselves were the “twin.” We are invited to stand in the place of St. Thomas, the doubting apostle.
It is true that seeing Jesus risen from the dead would have been a marvelous experience. Thomas’s desire was satisfied. Yet, can we not hear the exasperation in the voice of Jesus when he says to Thomas, “Come here. Touch the wounds in my hands and put your hand into my side”? Moreover, can we not hear a certain hope on the part of Jesus and a spiritual challenge when he adds, “Thomas, from now on, do not be unbelieving, but believe!”? Thomas enjoyed the privilege of touching Jesus – but in itself, that means nothing except the privilege of the moment. In itself it does not confirm his faith and proves nothing. The act of faith is a free decision that must come from the heart. To believe is a very personal and very profound decision that does not depend at all on the availability of the physical body of Jesus.
Jesus adds to his conversation with Thomas: “You believe because you have seen; blessed are those who believe without having seen.” That’s us! For that reason there is no need to sigh during this time of year when we hear the testimony of the first Christians and their experiences of the Lord. There is no way we can return to those times - but it is not necessary to do so, either. The Lord Jesus is truly raised from the dead. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. His presence is just as real in Spokane, Wash., Springfield, Mass., Paris, France, or Signuluo, Zanzibar, as it was for the original disciples. It is not the physical body of Jesus which is the object of our faith, but rather the reality of Christ alive among us – in our own communities of faith. Even the appearance of Jesus in our living rooms would not be able to change the fundamental challenge of faith. Even if Jesus were to appear to us and permit us to touch his wounds, the need to make a personal act of faith would remain the same.
That which is most important for the Christian spiritual journey is not the touching of Jesus in the flesh, but our personal commitment of faith. That which is most important is the making of a decision from our hearts which allows Jesus to appear to us on his own terms. It is a fact that Jesus the Risen Lord continues to reveal himself to the People of God – even in our own times – even in our own parishes and communities of faith. He continues to give us his Holy Spirit, inviting us to share in his mission of reconciling the world according to the saving plan of his heavenly Father. Without a doubt, it is very possible to experience the presence of Jesus the Lord risen from the dead and living among us. There is much – much – to do in his name in each and every community of faith. We have not missed out; the party continues.
(Father Savelesky is the diocese's Director of Deacon Formation and pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane.)
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