BELONGING, BEGOTTEN, BELIEVING
2nd Sunday of Easter (B)
April 15, 2012
I write from Seoul, South Korea, while awaiting the ordination rites of a fellow Salesian, a former student at our theologate in Paranaque, and who worked for a few years in various settings in Manila and Guam. Being here, and having the possibility to break bread and do Eucharist, together with Korean confreres and others from various nationalities, all belonging to the same family of Don Bosco – the Salesians – is a very good starting point for a reflection for this second Sunday or the Octave of Easter.
The resurrection of the Lord, whilst it is one of the foundations of our Christian faith, goes beyond remembrance of an event. It is THE event, on which a train of other events and realities are intertwined.
Let the three readings speak for themselves, as ought to be, definitely, the case, each Sunday.
The first reading would have us understand what it means to be a follower of the Risen Lord. In plain and simple language, it has to do with belonging. It has to do with being in community. It all has to do with being supported by, and finding recourse to, and definitely also contributing to, the life of people who live their lives, now as one, as a people whose lives are intertwined with one another. “They lived of one heart, and of one mind … and they had everything in common.”
The second reading, for its part, lays the basis for such a deep unity and commonality of life. And that has to do with being united to, and associated with, the one begotten from above, the one born of the Father – Jesus Christ, our Lord. We, too, the reading says, can be born from above if we believe in Jesus as the Christ, if we love God, and keep His commandments. It is then, and only then, that we begin to belong. Only then can we speak of ourselves as also begotten from above.
The Gospel, as usual, is the clincher to the rich tapestry of the Roman Catholic liturgy. Whilst the first two readings remind us of the call for us to belong through being begotten from above, the Gospel tells us what this process of becoming begotten and thus - belonging, to the community of believers means.
It means doing one’s fair share of the work. It means not just waiting, but willing to be initiated to the community of believers. It means not just passive waiting, but active engagement in the process of becoming what we are called to be.
Let me illustrate what this means …
It means, first of all, going through locked doors and asking to be let in a gathering of fearful disciples. It means taking that first bold step to erase one’s doubts and being open to the acceptance of a truth that stares you in the face. It means being open to growing in the truth, and being humble enough to accept that one does not have all the answers all the time. It means that one is strong enough to accept that even runners sometimes stumble, and that one’s strong attachment to the Lord also needs to be tested and tried.
I love Thomas. He has had a bad rap in the biased press of his times and ours. They call him all sorts of names. The one that stuck for all time is “Thomas the Doubter.” But he also has been called, partly, Thomas the unbeliever.
Today, I would like us all to focus on what he eventually became after taking that bold step towards finding the truth, and once, found, accepting it. I would like us to think and speak of him as “Thomas the Believer.”
Why am I sympathetic to Thomas? Simple … He stands for me. He stands, as well, for you and everyone else I know, and everybody else you know. He stands for us all, for who among us did not doubt? Who among us, at some point, did not believer? Who among us did not look for proofs for any little thing we hear and encounter on a daily basis? Who among us did not, at some point or other in our lives, did not succumb to skepticism and disbelief?
I know I do. Very often. Truly. Undeniably.
I doubt that things will get better before they get worse. I doubt about so many politicians who can promise you anything, including raising people from the dead, and end up not doing anything, even far less than that impossible feat. I have lost faith and trust in a dysfunctional political system in my country and perhaps all over the world. But you can say, this is nothing but human doubt and human disbelief.
Yes … but I do worse. Living as I do in a postmodern context, I live and act and behave, at times, like God never existed. Worse, I live and move, and behave, like I never belonged, bitten black and blue by disappointment upon disappointment at the institutional Church that has made me suffer so much in life. At times, I know, I have mistrusted leaders and pastors and superiors, who, in my rash judgment, probably sacrificed my personal welfare on the altar of expediency and that ever-present, subtle, but very real, politics in religious life, in the Congregation, and in the Church.
Having been begotten from above … having belonged to a community of believers for long, I may have acted in so many ways against the good and welfare of this same body or community of believers.
In these occasions, Christ may have risen from the dead, but I personally have remained dead in my skepticism and utter disbelief, and therefore – very much dead and unrisen!
I speak for every Tom, Dick, and Harry (and every Juan de la Cruz of my country), who have been born, belonged for a while, but is dead in his unbelief and disappointment.
Today is a day when we are confronted in our shallow beliefs and even shallower spirit of belongingness. Christ is Risen! Christ, begotten from above, now calls us to perfect begottenness, too, by belonging, and truly believing.
We have one more chance to set things right. And we have today an example that is so brilliant, so becoming, so uplifting. Thomas … He belonged. He was begotten. And he believed, despite all.
“My Lord and my God!” I believe in you. Help my unbelief!
Salesian Provincial House
Seoul, Korea April 14, 2012