April 7, Doubting Thomas

In today’s Gospel Story Jesus appears to his disciples. Thomas is not with them, and says he will not believe until he physically touches him. Jesus appears again, Thomas then believes. Thomas comes to be known as Doubting Thomas. In both parts of the Story Jesus comes through fearfully locked doors and offers his peace to the disciples. We can expect the same thing in our own story. The Risen Christ shatters their notions about God, and about many other things, as he does in our life when we let him. And he also offers us his peace, if we want to accept it. Many of us were raised to believe that doubting God is not a good thing. But doubting, questioning, are an important, maybe even essential, part of our journey of being open to the Spirit, who calls us to grow and deepen, not remain at a superficial level, not just dance on the surface of the waves, but to go into their depths and discern what She is saying to us in any situation, which is a lot. We move along the lines of “I know what a doctrine says, but what does it mean for me in my particular situation right now? What is the Spirit calling me to do here and now?”.  

If we are open to it, we can see the Story reflected in our own life. Jesus comes through our defenses, meets us where we are and takes us to the next step on our journey with him. We see how Thomas grew, and the same sort of experience can happen with us, if we are open. It is quite an adventure. Wherever we are is the only place we can be for our next step. It will not happen without our consent. In fact, if we have any kind of a prayer practice or prayer period, a good way to prepare might be along the lines of praying, “I love you, Jesus, I consent to what you are doing in my life”. Pope Francis says we argue positions, but we discern situations. The Spirit is not in the theoretical arguments, only in the practical real here and now of our life as we make our daily choices and decisions. Auxiliary Bishop Tom Gumbleton of Detroit, who died this past week, lived this throughout his life, making difficult and costly decisions to do what he thought the Spirit was calling him to do as he helped people, a most courageous man of God and servant of God’s people, with the same sort of enemies Jesus had. 

Jesus invites us into the relationship he shares with his Father and the Spirit, a way of living that reflects how we are created to be. Some have made this into an ideology which must be virulently defended, and cannot be changed or deviated from in any way at any time ever, which has all the answers, and so which supersedes the Gospel. This creates a accusatory and judgmental mindset that removes love and replaces it with fear and punishment, and negates the need and opportunities for growth. When everything is neatly figured out it’s okay to judge others and inflict one’s views on them, as so many do. And so the question, what is the Spirit calling me to do in my life?  

What do I do when the way a tradition says how my life should be and how I should see things, does not reflect my actual experience, how I encounter other people in my life, and how I think I should live? What about persons a tradition says are intrinsically disordered, while I find them to be pleasant, kind, caring, loving people, following their own conscience and doing their best to live as they feel God is calling and creating them to live? And who in many ways feel hurt by religion just for being who they are? Can I judge another’s moral position when I have trouble discerning my own? There are few easy answers in life, and many gray areas. What is the Spirit saying to me here?

If people feel the Spirit is calling them to do or move in a direction that a given tradition says is wrong, can I say with any certainty that they are not following the Spirit because they are not doing as I think they should according to how I discern the Spirit? If something is sinful, shouldn’t it be sinful for all traditions? In our time whether a thing is sinful seems determined by where we live or what tradition we belong to. On all sides of any questions people are claiming to speak for God. Some traditions would even impose their views on the citizenry by getting civil laws passed, claiming to act in the name of religious freedom. What is the Spirit saying to me here?

We believe that God comes to us in and through each other, and that each of us is created in God’s image. Does this include the people who some traditions say are living in sin, disordered, etc?  Francis is trying to move the church to be a listening church, not one that thinks it has all the answers already. He says experience is more real than ideas and answers that don’t work anymore. He calls the church to come up with contemporary ways to proclaim and live the Gospel, not impose it as law. He asks how do ordinary people see or not see God in their lives? Are we a church of stale glib answers, or are we on a journey with Christ coming to experience truth? He is ignored by many and actively opposed by others in management. He knows and lives the difficulties of following the Spirit.

Looking back at this Story in different times in my life, I can easily remember myself in a room with locked doors, to protect myself from whatever I feared at the time. And yet, Jesus has always come through my defenses, “gotten my attention” and helped me move to a good place, in and with his peace, leading me constantly to redefine my understand of “safety”. The decisions I’ve made have not always been easy or liked by others, but we have all been in similar positions. Doubt, wondering, questioning, are an important part of our journey with the Risen Christ and the Spirit leading us to know our Father ever more deeply. This can be difficult, even threatening, for folks who need structure and certainty, because there is little of this with the Spirit. Francis knows this, and urges us to be open and trusting in it all. God happens in our life as it is, with everybody who is in our life proximately or remotely, whether we like them or not. This makes no sense, yet we’re on a journey through many uncertainties. The one constant is that we are never alone, even in our darkest times.

The Risen Christ shatters our minds and our beliefs, always inviting us ever more deeply into the mystery of our Father’s love happening in and around us. His peace is real, when I’m open. What is the Spirit calling me to do in my right here and right now? Just askin  .  .  .  Just sayin  .  .  .