2nd Sunday of Easter

Doug McManaman
Reproduced with Permission

“Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Jesus is talking about you and me: those who have not seen and yet believe. I remember years ago when I was teaching Philosophy at Chaminade College in Toronto, I had my favorite philosophy professor, Dr. Floyd Centore, drive down from Waterloo to speak to my students. I’ll never forget the time he told them that 95% of the things we do every day are based on faith—not supernatural faith, but natural faith, which is “trusting in what somebody tells you because you have evidence that the speaker is well informed about the subject and is honest.” For example, we have faith in our family doctor that the prescription he writes for us is not going to kill us; we put faith in the Pharmacist that what we are given to take is going to help us. Unless we’ve studied biochemistry or pharmacology, we simply don’t know that what we are taking is going to help us, but we believe it. I once visited a man in the hospital who suffered a stroke because the pharmacist made a mistake and gave him 10 or 20 times the prescribed dosage. He died shortly thereafter.

We trust our mechanic when he tells us he fixed the brakes. We don’t demand that he jack up the car again and prove it to us. We simply get in the car and wait for a red light, and only then do we discover whether our faith was well placed. I often tell my students that they don’t “know” whether the history of philosophy I’ve been teaching them is accurate. I could be making it all up---they don’t know. They simply trust me. The world of science also relies heavily upon faith; no scientist can repeat every experiment or study done in the past, not even the most recent studies. Scientists trust that data has not been falsified. But that trust has been betrayed in the past. In 1998, a British surgeon and medical researcher published a study claiming a link between the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, and autism. It took years to discover that the claim was fraudulent. But in that time, some children died as a result of the faith placed in that claim.

The fact is we simply can’t function without faith; we are too limited. We have to rely on others, we have no choice but to trust them, and at times that trust is betrayed. Moreover, we often too readily put our faith in claims that we should approach with more caution. Very often people will say “this is bad for you, it causes cancer, I know this because I read it in the Star, etc.” But what they read was not a double blinded peer reviewed study. They really don’t know, they just believe what they read, without realizing that there’s often an agenda behind these studies, either political or economic.

Nevertheless, we couldn’t live without faith. Children believe their parents when they are told that brushing their teeth is good for them. But imagine a child who refuses to trust his parents and demands proof before doing anything: “I don’t trust you that this food is edible, or that this toothpaste won’t harm me”. That would be strange, wouldn’t it?

A marriage relationship is based on faith. You just don’t know whether or not this person really loves you or whether he’s just using you and lying. He says he loves you, and you trust him, you put your faith in him. And that’s the beauty of genuine love—it is based on natural faith. Faith is risky. What kind of relationship is based on complete and total security? Certainly not love.

Although faith is an act of the intellect, behind it is a decision, an act of the will. And although 95% of the things we do is based on natural faith, and although we are too ready to put our faith in all sorts of people, some of whom we should not trust, for some reason, many find it very difficult to put their faith in the Person of Christ.

Christian faith is not natural, but supernatural, and it is a gift, a grace that gives us the power to believe what God has revealed about Himself and which exceeds the grasp of human reason. But if a person is given that grace, he or she has to choose to cooperate with it. But some people find that very difficult and even refuse, yet they have no problem trusting the media, their colleagues, their bosses, their friends, etc.

The theological virtue of faith is a decision to believe Christ and his unique claims—and he made some very unique claims. For example: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one can come to the Father except through me”; “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father”; “I am the resurrection. Anyone who believes in me, even though he dies, will live, will never die.” “Sky and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away”; “Before Abraham was, I AM”; “I and the Father are one”; “I am the bread of life”; “It is my Father’s will that whoever sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and that I should raise that person up on the last day”; “Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I shall raise that person up on the last day”. These are astounding claims.

If Jesus is no more than a man, a mere human being, these claims are simply outrageous. It was C.S. Lewis who made the point that if Jesus is not who he claimed to be, then he is insane, or he is a liar. Our sanity is measured by the distance that exists between who we claim to be and who we really are, so if I say I’m the reincarnation of Napoleon, you can be assured that I’m insane. If Jesus is not the Son of God, one in being with the Father, and he did not know that, but claimed to be, then he’s more insane. If he knows he’s not God the Son but claimed to be, he’s the biggest liar in human history.

If you read a gospel and find that Jesus does not have the persona of an insane man or a liar, then the only other option is that he is who he says he is, namely, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, the eternal Son of God in the flesh, the Resurrection and the Life, and that he who believes in him will live forever. That is how far human reason can go in showing that it is reasonable to put your faith in the Person of Christ. That doesn’t prove he is God the Son, but it takes us pretty close and makes the leap of faith that much easier.

Thomas knew Jesus, he witnessed his miracles, he heard Jesus foretell his death and resurrection on the third day, but he refused to believe the testimony of the disciples that they’d seen the risen Lord. He had to see for himself. We can detect a slight rebuke in Jesus’ words to him for his stubbornness: “Do not doubt but believe”. Thomas then declares his faith, but Jesus says: “You believe because you have seen; Blessed are those who believe without having seen.” That must have been somewhat of a humiliating experience for Thomas. Although Thomas is an Apostle, Christ is saying that there are others who will have greater merit, because they will choose to believe without evidence.

St. Catherine of Siena speaks so often about the “light of faith”. There is an interior light, a knowledge that is generated by the act of faith. It comes after the decision to take that risk and believe Christ. St. Augustine said “believe in order to understand”, not the other way around. If you wait to make an act of faith until you have enough intellectual understanding and assurance, you’ll never make the act of faith. God eventually rewards the decision to believe with an interior understanding, which is a gift of the Holy Spirit, but not before that decision.

He said it himself: “Father, I praise you for having kept these truths from the learned and the sophisticated and have revealed them to mere children”. It takes the heart of a child to believe, and the Lord said: “Unless you change and become as little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”. People have a hard time with childhood; they don’t want to be children again. They want to appear and feel sophisticated. And so faith is difficult. The result is they just plod through life, on the ground, like a turtle, weighed down by its shell, and they never experience the exhilaration of flying. With faith we are given wings, and we fly, which can be a scary thing at first, but it is a marvelous thing to be carried along by the Lord, and to come to know through experience the flame of the divine love, enkindled as it is by the wood of the cross (St. Ignatius of Loyola). It’s a marvelous thing to eventually experience the flame of that love, that divine presence in the deepest center of the soul. When you’ve experienced that living flame of the divine love, nothing matters anymore except communicating that flame to others. But there’s no experiencing that without actually getting on that road to the center of that interior castle of the soul where God dwells and is waiting for us. It is supernatural faith, that childlike trusting in Christ, that allows us to begin making our way there. It’s a long road inward, but without allowing ourselves to be led by the hand in a spirit of faith and trust, we’ll never get there. But if we make it to the center, we will know a joy and a peace that this world simply cannot give to us, and there’s nothing in this world that we’ll take in exchange for it. Amen.