Monday, 12 April 2010

2nd Sunday of Easter Year C

Pentecost is familiarly described in the Acts of the Apostles. Today’s Gospel taken from John gives us another version of Pentecost. Christ, risen and triumphant, appeared to the Apostles showing them His wounds, giving them His peace, breathing upon them His Spirit and sending them on His mission to preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins.

The sentence is mouthful, but, it really describes the beginning of the Church. And, guess what is also startlingly revealing? There, right at the inception of the Church, we encounter doubt.

When we speak of doubt, we often associate it with the lack of faith. But, doubt and faith are not mutually exclusive. For example: often the unspoken statement for “I don’t believe in God” is “I believe in something else, namely, the canon of science”. In a sense, doubt might be considered a form of belief; just not a belief in God. And, in terms of faith, doubt may be a prelude to belief as in the case of Thomas, doubt was his faith searching for foundation. Fortunately or unfortunately, the foundation which we know most and are comfortable with is science. The difficulty is that faith has a reason or foundation that is far deeper than science and this explains why faith and science are often thought of as incompatible.

Today we shall try to reconcile faith and doubt because Divine Mercy Sunday can help us address the doubt of Thomas.

First, shall we accept that the greatest threat to “belief” is not science, given that one has a deeper foundation than the other? Instead, the threat to faith comes from doubt of a certain kind and this form of doubt is related to science. How is that so? Science has afforded us greater control than ever before, over ourselves through medicine or psychology [1], and over nature through technologies or applied sciences. This self-actualisation, as a consequence of controlling or dominating our inner and physical world, has lulled us into a false sense of invincibility. [2] Furthermore, science gives the illusion that its propositions or claims can be proven systematically whereas the claims of religion cannot be proven and therefore must be relegated to the realm of private experience. The conclusion is, science is logical, and more dependable, whereas religion is not always so. Is it not true that much blood has been shed because of religion? And now, the Catholic priesthood is in the limelight for the wrong reason. As such, we are left with doubts that religion can adequately answer mankind’s search for meaning. In the absence of “wholeness” or “integrity”, dependable and logical science poses organised religion this challenging question: [3] If God is good, how can He allow bad things to happen? This doubt of a certain kind comes from our experiences and there are so many bad experiences. [4]

Perhaps, the doubt that many people have is not so much with the existence of God. Instead, their doubt resides at the level of logical contradiction. Our problem is not with God. Rather, our problem today is with what God purports to do or what God does not do. And often, the behaviour of religious people do not help.

Therefore, the Gospel is apt for the celebration of Divine Mercy as well as to confront doubt. Do you know why Christ, after He greeted the Apostles with peace, showed them His hands and His side? A clean or stylised crucifix does not tell the whole story. In fact, a sanitised cross may belong to a jaded memory. This may explain why Christ kept the marks of His wounds on His risen body. You would think that a risen body should be “perfect”. On the contrary, the wounds were necessary to help the Apostles remember or recognise Him.

Hence, if doubt is not really about the existence of God, you can say that doubt begins with forgetfulness. History tells us that the Church began to use the crucifix as a Christian symbol a few centuries later and not during the apostolic era. Maybe, just maybe, she began to turn to the crucifix because she was beginning to forget what the Lord and Saviour had done for her. When we sanitise our symbols, that is, our sacraments, and our liturgy, we begin to forget. Now, you may understand why some parents do not want to clean the room of their child who has been taken away in an untimely manner. They leave the room as it was because it helps them to remember better the departed child.

Doubt arises when we fail to remember or when we cannot remember. Is that not the case that in a relationship, after a period of inaction, we begin to ask, “Is it true”? When a relationship falls into disuse, we doubt the friendship. But, the doubt does not betray a lack of belief but is rather a symptom of a failing memory. Thus, the command by Christ that we have faithfully carried out for the last two thousand years is “Do this in memory of me”. We celebrate the Eucharist so that we can remember. In fact, as Pope Leo the Great said: What was visible in Christ has now passed into the Sacraments [5] and in the Gospel today, there were at least 2 Sacraments—Confirmation and Confession. Every sacrament is a memory of what Christ has done for us. This is why the use of matter—the outward sign or the ritual—for the celebration of the sacrament has to be generous. That was one of the reasons why we made the Elect enter the pool to douse them amply with the waters of baptism so that they can remember better their being washed clean of sins. Likewise, in the context of the copious use of “water, oil, incense, wine” etc, you begin to appreciate why “dressing up” is important. When a person goes for a date, the place is carefully chosen, make-up applied, expensive perfume is used, the appropriate dress is selected, Miu Miu handbag must match the Prada shoes. Why? It is in order that the date can be memorable. You prepare before an occasion so that you can remember long after the occasion has passed. Now you know why I take the trouble to make sure that the blessings with Holy Water cover everyone. Careful attention to our rituals is an aid to the remembrance of what God has done for us.

Our struggle is always with remembering [6]. Sin is a result of forgetfulness. Adam’s sin was not because He ate the apple but because He forgot God’s injunction to him. The Israelites were punished in the desert not because they murmured but because they forgot God’s goodness to them. They lost faith when they forgot God. [7]

Today, for Mercy Sunday, even though Christ has risen and is victorious, He comes to us with His wounded body to tell us: “Look at my hands and my side and remember that for you I have died. Doubt no longer”.


[1] Just check out the familiar soundtrack from a screaming chorus of “self-help” literature which is premised on a “build-your-own-reality” philosophy of life.
[2] In fact, the whole science of “youthfulness” is premised on the invincibility of the physical world. Our craving for youthfulness is emblematic of this quixotic mission to stave off death—to control our physical world.
[3] One of the things we all struggle with is “illogicality”. Science is logical. This is why computer works because they are programmed to do what is asked of them. They follow a certain logic that what goes in must come out. With Man what we encounter is often the perplexing behaviour of Man. We know something is wrong and yet we often do not follow our moral compass. The contrary is true. We know something to be morally wrong and yet do it.
[4] Actually science is not entirely free of the “illogicality” of emotion. In other words, science is not always “objective. For example, the reason scientists chose to study certain questions may come not from “logic” but rather “emotion”.
[5]Sermo 74, 2: PL 54,358
[6] For parents dealing with a child who is naughty and a child who is ungrateful (read = one who has forgotten), the “pain” inflicted seems to be more acute when coming from an ungrateful child.
[7]Faith does not guarantee that we will not be hurt. In fact, faith sometimes makes us feel even more acutely the pains of suffering—just like Christ did. However, what faith guarantees is that nothing, not even death can be the last word in the world; the resurrection of Christ is.