|Words from Fr. Frank Cordaro|
April 7, 2002
Second Sunday of Easter, 2002
Acts 2:42-47, 1 Peter 1:3-9, John 20:9-31
There are seven weeks, fifty days in the Easter Season. Our Easter liturgical calendar takes its timetable from Lukeís Easter to Pentecost story. Luke is the only gospel writer who gives the Easter to Pentecost events a fifty day span.
This weekís gospel from John is the same gospel for the Second Sunday of Easter for all three cycles of the lectionary. The first half of todayís text (vs. 19-23) is also the same gospel used for Pentecost Sunday of all three cycles. This is Johnís account of the Pentecost experience. John manages to do in a one day span what Luke takes fifty days to accomplish. Because we will revisit this half of todayís gospel at Pentecost, Iím going to direct my attention to the second half of the Gospel, the story of Doubting Thomas.
One obvious reason this gospel was chosen for the Second Sunday of Easter is because in Johnís gospel narrative the main action regarding Thomas happens one week after Jesusí resurrection, the First Sunday after Easter in liturgical time. Thomas was absent for the Easter night appearance of Jesus in the Upper Room. After Jesusí appearance the rest of the disciples tell Thomas of the experience. Thomas refuses to believe, not until he sees with his eyes and touches with his hands the wounds of Jesus will he believe.
The very next Sunday, seven days after Easter, the disciples are back in the Upper Room, only this time Thomas is with them. Despite the locked doors and the fear that continues to envelope the community of disciples, Jesus appears same as he did on Easter Sunday night. Only this time Jesus turns his attention to Thomas, the doubter. Jesus tells Thomas to see for himself and touch for himself the reality of his Risen body, so clearly marked by the wounds of his death. He tells Thomas to stop his disbelief.
1. The resurrected body: The resurrected body of Jesus is real. He is not a ghost or some kind of a spirit. Jesusí resurrected body is made of real stuff. Itís fleshy. Itís in the world. Itís also beyond this world, not beyond this place or outside this world, more like ahead of this world, ahead in time.
The resurrected body of Jesus is the body of the first citizen of Godís kingdom, who comes back in time, back for the end time, where Godís final victory over evil and death are fully realized. The Risen Jesus comes back from the future into the present to assure his disciples that his death on the cross was not his end, that all he promised would come true. They have only to believe and live his ways for them to share in his Fatherís glory.
2. Why the wounds? Wouldnít a resurrected body from eternity be perfect, unblemished, and whole? Why did Jesus return from a perfect future with a body marked by the scars of his death, from an imperfect time? The wounds remain on Jesusí resurrected body to show his disciples and us that the price for a place in Godís kingdom doesnít come cheap. The wounds reveal the cost and the consequence for belonging and identifying with Jesus and his way of life.
In this transitional time, between the Easter-Pentecost experience and the end of time what we have is the promise of Godís ultimate victory over sin and evil, fear and death, violence and injustice. Until the time Godís promise is fulfilled we are to take it on faith that it is a done deal. We are to live as if it has already happened and be ready to pay the price with our lives for living in the ways of Jesus in a world still in the grip of sin and evil.
3. Seeing and not seeing. The state of Missouri has a motto, "Seeing is believing." It implies to see something is to believe something. Todayís gospel story about Thomas is telling us the exact opposite. It is only in believing that one sees the truth in Jesus.
The story of Doubting Thomas is recorded in John for the benefit of all Christians who followed the first generation of disciples. The difference between them and us is that they actually knew Jesus in his non-resurrected, earthly state. John is telling us that the first generation disciples had no advantage over those who followed them in faith. In fact, all four gospels make it abundantly clear in the way they portray the disciples in their gospel narratives that the disciples were often the last to understand his message, if they got it at all. In the end they abandoned Jesus, Judas betrayed him, and Peter denied him. So much for being there.
It was only after the resurrection that Jesusí original followers came to believe and understand what he was all about. It was only after Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit that they lost their fear, gained the courage, and started to proclaim and live the Jesus Way.
And although their conversions to belief changed everything about them, that which converted them could not be verified by any of the five senses. There was no fact that they could point to, to prove their belief. The fact is, when it comes anything of value that is lasting, eternal, divine, or human, seeing doesnít do it - only believing.
The only time we hear from the Acts of the Apostles in the Sunday lectionary is during the Season of Easter. Instead of the usual First Testament text for the first reading, during Easter we have text from Acts. Written by Luke as a sequel to his gospel, Acts of the Apostles tells the story of the development of the early Church from the day of Resurrection to Paulís first Roman imprisonment.
Every year on the Second Sunday of Easter, the text from Acts is one of the three brief summary descriptions (2:42-47, 4:32-37, or 5:12-16) of what the apostolic community looked like in Jerusalem. Each of the summaries describe a communal attempt to live the hope and vision of the promised Kingdom of God in the here and now.
This year have the first of the three summary descriptions. The very first verse (Acts 2:42) names the four marks of this apostolic community, the Apostlesí work, the common life, the breaking of the bread, and prayer. The rest of the reading comments on each of the four marks. It is understood that all four marks are necessary and interdependent. If any one mark is ignored or weaker, the whole communal witness is diminished.
It strikes me that we First World Catholics have at least three of these original apostolic marks down. We are good at the apostolic work of passing on the essentials of the faith. We do the breaking of the bread with our strong Eucharistic focus, and we have a deeply developed tradition of prayer. What we donít do well is live the lifestyle implied in the stated common life where, "All who believed were together and had all things in common. They would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to one"s needs. (Acts 2:44-45)
The mark of common life goes beyond mere charity. It calls for a life style that creates a real leveling out of wealth and possessions. It makes all claims of private property conditioned on the needs of the most needy. Any honest attempt at living this common life must be measured by a close proximity of the Christian communityís standard of living to those who live in real poverty. By this standard, most first world Catholics donít measure up.
It used to be that our religious orders came close to living this common life. Yet, even though individual community members take vows of poverty, the collective wealth of their first world communities distance them from the truly poor.
When two-thirds of the Worldís Catholics live in third world countries, we Catholics who live in the privilege of the top one-fifth of the human race, who take our basic needs of food, water, shelter, and clothing for granted, the challenge of the common life in todayís text from Acts cannot be ignored. If we really want to claim the apostolic connection that our Catholic faith claims, we really need to address this concern.
NOT A GOOD TIME TO BE A PRIEST - INSIDE OR OUT
Like any Catholic who loves his Church, I am deeply saddened and grieved by the recent scandals that have come light about pedophile priests and sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. This is not a good time to be a Catholic priest, especially locked up in a prison or jail. The daily media revelations and disclosures keep the issue alive and a daily topic of discussion and ribbing from my fellow inmates. I was never so happy when the press clippings from my trial arrived so I could prove my reason for incarceration. It used to be my being locked up as a protesting priest, most guys wanted to know why I protest. This time, the issue is my priesthood. Itís no fun being the brunt of crude and vulgar jokes about altar boys and nuns, nor being placed in the position of always trying to explain my reasons for staying in the Church as a priest.
Side by side with my sorrow and grief is a real disappointment and discouragement with our Church leadership. They have fostered a climate of fear within the Church, silencing any voices critical of fear within the Church, silencing any voices critical of the clerical culture and governing structures that have helped put us in this sorry situation and now act clueless on what can be done.