2nd Sunday of Easter Acts of the Apostles 2:42–47; 1 Peter 1:3–9; John 20:19–31
Rediscovering faith today One way to strengthen faith is to live the teachings of Jesus more faithfully.
There’s a movie called The Seventh Seal. In one scene death takes the form of a human person and appears to a knight.
A conversation follows in which the knight talks to Death about God. The conversation goes something like this:
Knight: Why does God hide himself? Why doesn’t he reveal himself? Why doesn’t God stretch out his hand and touch us? Why doesn’t he, at least, say something to us?
Death: But God doesn’t do this, does he? He doesn’t reach out. He doesn’t speak. He just remains silent. Knight: That’s right! He doesn’t do a thing. He doesn’t touch us; he doesn’t speak to us. Sometimes I wonder if he’s really out there.
Death: Well, maybe he’s not there. Maybe no one’s out there. Maybe we’re here all alone. Did you ever think about that?
All of us can relate to this conversation. There are times when we seem to be all alone in the world. There are times when we wonder if God is really out there. We long for some sign, some touch, some word to reassure us that he’s really there. This raises a question.
Is there any way we can become more sure of what we believe? Is there anything we can do to make our faith stronger?
The answer to that question is yes. There’s definitely something we can do to strengthen our faith. There’s something very practical we can do.
We all know that if we don’t use a muscle, it begins to weaken. In fact, it can become so weak that it will begin to atrophy or die.
Something like that can happen to our faith.
If we don’t exercise our faith, it too can grow weak. In fact, it can become so weak that for all practical purposes it dies. Therefore, one very practical way to strengthen our faith is to exercise it, to live it. An example will illustrate.
A man was vacationing alone in a small cabin in the California mountains. He was feeling lonely and depressed. Something was radically wrong with his life. God seemed to have deserted him. His faith was flickering and threatening to go out.
In desperation the man turned to God and promised that he would do anything God wanted, if God would give him back his peace of mind.
Then something strange happened. God seemed to speak to the man. God seemed to say to him, “Start living the gospels. Start living out the teachings of Jesus, even though you don’t understand them.”
At that moment the man made a big decision.
He resolved then and there to live his life according to the teachings of Jesus.
This decision turned the man’s life around. It wasn’t easy at first. He fell back into his old ways again and again. But that one decision made all the difference.
In an article entitled “Living the Word,” the man says that his cabin experience taught him a lesson that he never forgot the rest of his life. I learned, he says, to hear the word and to act on it?
Consider another example. Blaise Pascal was horn in 17th-century France. He was a mathematical genius. By the age of 18 he had designed and built several computing machines, pioneers to our modern computers.
Pascal was not only deeply intelligent but also deeply religious. Commenting on the question of faith, he wrote:
If you want to strengthen your faith, do not augment your arguments but weed out your passions.
In other words, the way to strengthen our faith is to live it, to put it into practice in our daily lives. If we do this, we too will experience a turnaround in our life, just as the man in the California cabin did.
One final point should be noted here. Faith is a lot like life.
It too has peak moments and zero moments. It too has high points and low points. It too has mountaintop moments and valley moments.
The nature of faith is such that no matter how faithfully we live the word of God, there will be times when our faith will be like the faith of Thomas in today’s gospel. It will seem to flicker and threaten to go out on us.
When we are standing on a mountaintop, our faith seems strong and bright. It’s like a powerful beacon giving light to the entire world.
When we are standing in a valley, however, our faith seems weak and dim. It’s like a tiny flame of a candle flickering in a storm.
Or to use another analogy, our faith is a lot like the sun. Sometimes it is big and bright and clearly visible in the sky.
At other times we can’t even see it. It has disappeared behind a layer of clouds and seems to have vanished from the sky.
We know from experience, however, that the sun is always somewhere in the sky. It’s just that we can’t see it all of the time. Faith is a lot like that too. When low points in our faith come, and surely they will, we should not be disturbed by them. Rather, we should use them as opportunities to show God our love and our trust.
When low points in our faith come, we should recall the words of Peter in today’s second reading:
It may now be necessary for you to be sad for a while because of the many kinds of trials you suffer. Their purpose is to prove that your faith is genuine. Even gold, which can be destroyed, is tested by fire; and so your faith, which is much more precious than gold,must also be tested, so that it may endure. Then you will receive praise and glory and honor on the Day when Jesus Christ is revealed.
Series II 2nd Sunday of Easter Acts of the Apostles 2:42–47; 1 Peter 1:3–9; John 20:19–31
The road of faith The road of faith is not a freeway but a narrow path.
One cold December morning in Russia in 1849, 20 political prisoners were lined up to be shot by a firing squad. But just before the order was given, an officer rode up, shouting, “Stop! Stop!”
Czar Nicholas I had just commuted their sentence to ten years of hard labor in Siberia.
One of the prisoners was a young man named Feodor Dostoevski. His mother died when he was only 16; his father was murdered a few years later.
When Dostoevski got to Siberia, he found a copy of the New Testament and began to read it. By the time he finished it, he was a firm believer. Describing his impression of Christ, he wrote to a friend:
[No one is] more beautiful . . . and more perfect than Christ. . . . If anyone proved to me that Christ was outside of the truth . . . I would prefer to remain outside with Christ than inside with the truth.
After his release from prison, Dostoevski turned to writing novels. In quick succession he wrote such classics as Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov. Both of these novels were destined to be made into Hollywood movies. But success turned Dostoevski’s head, and he began to drink and to gamble heavily. Worse yet, he set aside his faith.
Shortly before he died, however, Dostoevski returned to the faith. This irritated his atheistic friends. They ridiculed him, regarding his return to the faith as the sick act of a sick man. Commenting on their ridicule, Dostoevski wrote in his diary:
These fools could not even conceive so strong a denial of God as the one to which I gave expression. . . . It is not like a child that I believe in Christ and confess him. My hosanna has come forth from the crucible of doubt. Dostoevski’s story is not unlike the story of Thomas in today’s gospel.
Like Thomas, Dostoevski once placed all his faith in Jesus. Like Thomas, Dostoevski abandoned his faith in Jesus. And like Thomas, Dostoevski returned to his faith in Jesus. All of us can relate to the stories of Thomas and Dostoevski. After placing all our faith in Jesus, we too went on to abandon Jesus, just as they did. Or if we didn’t abandon Jesus, we didn’t follow him as closely as we should have.
Anyone who has traveled the road of faith knows that it’s not a wide paved highway. Rather, it’s a narrow dirt road. Jesus himself said of the road of faith:
“[T]he gate to life is narrow and the way that leads to it is hard.” Matthew 7:14
Let’s take a closer look at the road of faith.
When we analyze it closely, we see that it involves three things: loving trust in God, constant struggle, and times of darkness.
First, faith involves loving trust in God. In other words, it’s not something totally intellectual.
Years ago there was a movie called The Exorcist. In it an old priest said of faith:
In the final analysis, I think belief in God is not a matter of the head: I think it’s a matter of the heart accepting the possibility that God could love us.
In other words, faith is not something purely intellectual, like seeing the solution to a math problem. It’s something much more personal and profound. It’s trusting God, even when the intellect is confused. Recall the story of Abraham.
When God asked him to sacrifice his son Isaac, Abraham’s intellect was confused. Sacrificing his son meant sacrificing the person through whom God promised him descendants.
Had Abraham relied solely on his own reason, he would have set aside his trust in God. But he didn’t; he chose to trust God. And as a result, God blessed him greatly.
And so the first thing about faith is that it involves loving trust in God, even in the face of intellectual difficulties.
Second, faith involves constant struggle on our part. It’s something that never ends for us. Again, recall the story of Abraham.
When God promised to give Abraham descendants through his son Isaac, Abraham believed. He never doubted. Then, when God told him to sacrifice Isaac, Abraham was faced with his first reason for doubting God.
That episode taught Abraham an important truth about faith. Faith involves much more than a one-time decision to believe.
Rather, it involves a series of ongoing decisions to continue to believe. There is no such thing as “getting the faith” and never having to struggle with it again.
And so the second thing about faith is that it involves constant struggle. And this struggle will go on until we actually see God face-to-face. Third, faith involves times of darkness. By this we mean there are times when our faith seems to go behind a cloud. There are times when we find it hard to believe. Our faith seems to disappear like the sun on a cloudy day.
In other words, there are times when God tests our faith, just as he tested Abraham’s faith by asking him to sacrifice his only son. When these times of testing or darkness come, we might recall the words of a fugitive from the Nazis in World War II. He wrote on the wall of a basement in which he was hiding:
I believe in the sun even when it is not shining. I believe in love even when I do not feel it. I believe in God even when he is silent.
And so, by way of conclusion, traveling the road of faith involves three things: loving trust in God, constant struggle, and times of darkness or testing.
Dostoevski experienced these things. Thomas the Apostle experienced them. And we too will experience them.
Let’s close with these words of today’s gospel, which Jesus addressed to Thomas:
“Do you believe because you see me? How happy are those who believe without seeing me!”
Series III 2nd Sunday of Easter Acts of the Apostles 2:42–47; 1 Peter 1:3–9; John 20:19–31
Faith Involves periods of darkness.
J esus said to Thomas, Do you believe because you see me? Happy are those who believe without seeing me! John 20:29
One rainy night, a young man was waiting for a bus. Suddenly, out of the darkness came an older man who had had too much to drink.
Tapping the young man on the chest with an empty beer bottle, he asked, “Do you believe in God!”
The young man thought, What a question to ask? Is this guy putting me on?
He ignored the older man, hoping he’d move on quietly. But the older man persisted. Finally, fully expecting verbal abuse or an argument, the younger man said, “Yes, I do believe in God!”
But the older man didn’t verbally abuse him. He just stood there unsteadily, looked the young man in the eye, and said, “Man! Are you ever lucky!”
With that, the older man staggered off into the darkness. Retold from Ludolf Ulrich
The remark,“Man! Are you ever lucky!” is a touching reminder that faith is, indeed, a gift.
And for some reason, the older man who staggered off into the darkness did not receive the gift or had lost it. That story fits in with the story of Thomas, the apostle, and how the crucifixion of Jesus impacted his faith.
You might expect Thomas, an apostle who walked with Jesus for three years, to be unshakable in his faith. Not so! The experience of Thomas bears out what Jesus said about the road of faith. It is not a six-lane freeway. It is not even a two-way highway. It is more a narrow dirt road. Matthew 7:14 Let’s take a closer look at what Jesus had in mind when he said the road is narrow and difficult To begin with, faith is a lot like the sun. There are times when the sky is clear and the sun shines bright and beautiful. There are other times when the sky clouds up and the sun vanishes from sight.
Our faith is a lot like that.
There are times when our faith is bright and beautiful, and we wonder how we could ever have doubts about it. There are other times when our faith fairly glows, leaving us in virtual darkness.
These times of darkness are usually traceable to one of three sources: our human nature, ourselves, or God. First, they may be traceable to our human nature. They simply reflect the natural mood swings of life.
We all know that on some days everything goes right; and everyone is cheerful and pleasant. Life is great. On other days everything goes wrong; and everyone is cross and cranky. Life is difficult.
Our faith goes through similar mood swings. They go with the territory of being human. Second, times of faith darkness may be due to ourselves. We can bring them on by neglecting our faith. That is, we can let our faith grow weak from sin or lack of spiritual nourishment.
In other words, just as our body grows weak from abuse or lack of nourishment, our soul does the same thing. Third, times of faith darkness may be traceable to God.
Just as God uses physical suffering to help us grow in our faith, so can God use spiritual darkness to deepen and mature our faith.
Take the case of Abraham. When God told Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, Abraham was bewildered. He couldn’t believe his ears. God was telling him to sacrifice someone whom he loved even more than himself.
God was asking Abraham to sacrifice the one through whom God had promised to give him descendants as many as the stars in the sky. Suddenly, Abraham felt his faith tested to the breaking point.
Had Abraham relied solely on reason, his faith would have died right there and then. Instead, Abraham trusted God and his faith deepened and matured to a level that he never dreamed possible.
When it matured to that level, God was able to do great things through him. And God did do great things through him. Regardless of the source of faith darkness, the spiritual agony it can cause is great. It can even lead to a temporary eclipse of our faith. This seems to have happened in the case of Thomas in today’s Gospel.
In his novel The Devil’s Advocate, Morris West has one of the characters go through an eclipse of faith. The character says:
I groped for God and could not find him. I prayed to God . . . he did not answer. I wept at night for the loss of God. . . .
Then one day, God was there again. . . . I had a Father and he knew me. . . . I had never understood till this moment the meaning of the words “gift of faith.”
Let us close with a poem that summarizes what we have been talking about. It also summarizes how we should respond to it. The poem reads:
The road of life was bright. It stretched before my sight. The Lord was at my side to be my friend and guide. And so I started out.
But then the sky turned dark; the road grew steep and stark. Rocks and ruts cut my feet. My legs grew sore and weak. I scarce could travel on.
I turned and cried, “My Lord! Why this pain; why this plight? Why these ruts; why these rocks? Where’s the road; Where’s the light?” I cannot carry on!
The Lord turned and said, “My child, where is your faith? Where is your childlike trust? Love chose this road for you. Just trust and travel on.” M. L.