A Homily for Divine Mercy Sunday.
Funny, isn’t it, how we never hear about ‘Denying Peter’? Or ‘Arrogant James’. Or ‘Pushy Andrew.’ It’s only Thomas who merits the rebuke of such a title. And behind it is the assumption that to doubt is somehow bad, or wrong, or somehow makes us second-class citizens in the Kingdom of God. Well, that’s not how Jesus views it. Remember that Thomas hadn’t had what the others had – the face to face encounter with the risen Jesus. Yes, they could believe. Thomas was honest, rather like someone in one of those psychological experiments where a roomful of people swear that black is white; the person who is not in on all this then goes along with it, so as not to stand out – it demonstrates the herd mentality – that we all go along with something rather than stand out from the crowd. Thomas doesn’t do that. He wants what the others have had. Nothing, absolutely nothing, wrong with that. Jesus shows understanding, compassion, to his desire to see, and know. And Thomas effortlessly outstrips his friends with he words ‘My Lord and my God.’ There is no fuller, more explicit expression of faith from an apostle since the old days at Caesarea Philippi when ‘Denying’ Simon Peter said to Jesus ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ (Matthew 16.16). No-one else comes up with anything close. So how about ‘Proclaiming’ Thomas. Or ‘Faithful Thomas’?
What of our own doubt? We are brought up and trained in the faith. We are offered interpretation, both inside and outside the church. We hear the gospel proclaimed during Mass, we hear sermons like this one, we pray every day, we read our bibles, we do the things that Christians do as part of a rule of life, as part of the way we show God that we love him, every day, just as he loves us, every day. But we are human, and doubt can creep in. Actually, if you are anything like me, doubt doesn’t creep in. It roars in like a tsunami, affecting everything. Because the truth is that all of us, at some point or another, have doubts about faith, about life, about the things that are important to us. We hang on to the notion that faith is a refuge, a place where we can hide to escape the things that worry us. My experience is different. When I reflect upon these things I find that I am in a small boat, on a massive ocean – not safe, moored in port. And that brings about doubt. So what do I do with it? Why is that doubt is a good, rather than a destructive, thing? In my case the answer is that my doubt makes me go deeper. It engages me, it makes me read, it makes me pray, it has been an enormous catalyst in my journey of faith, it was a crucial part of the call to ordination which I first experienced as a child. I’m reminded of the incredible and prophetic words of the playwright Dennis Potter during the final interview he ever gave, to Melvyn Bragg. Potter was terminally ill with cancer, and kept himself going by taking regular sips of liquid morphine as he spoke. This was one of the memorable things he said.
‘…thank God, religion to me has always been the wound, not the bandage. I don’t see the point of not acknowledging the pain and the misery and the grief of the world, and if you say, “Ah, but God understands” or through that you come to a greater appreciation, I then think, “That’s not God, that’s not my God, that’s not how I see God.” I see God in us or with us, …as shreds and particles and rumours, some knowledge that we have, some feeling why we sing and dance and act, why we paint, why we love, why make art.
Religion is the wound, not the bandage. That’s today’s soundbite to get you through the week. Religion doesn’t merely cover up the scar – it is the scar. It is the actual place where the hurt is, and the healing. And it’s the most incredible thing in the whole of existence that when Thomas expresses the brave and honest truth about how he feels, Jesus gives him precisely what he wants. ‘Put your finger here; look, here are my hands. Give me your hand; put it into my side.’ Jesus is identified by his wounds. And it’s the wounds that persuade Thomas that this is Jesus, his Lord, his God.
So I don’t apologise to you for being a priest who doubts. We shouldn’t worry about it – we should be glad of it. Nor should any of us apologise for any doubts that we may feel, because in doing so we slough off the false skin of unquestioning certainty and allow ourselves to be as those naked before God – the place of utterly vulnerable love. Because here, like nowhere else, is the place where Jesus invites us to touch his wounds. ‘Put your finger here; look, here are my hands. Give me your hand; put it into my side.’ In the Mass we touch, we eat his body; we drink his blood. His wounds tell us that it is real, the most real thing there ever has been or will be. We will reach out to receive his wounded body, reach out to receive his flowing blood. Our Lord, and our God. Doubt no longer, but believe.