23 April 2017

Homily - 23 April 2017 - Why did John not write more?

The Second Sunday of Easter (A)
Divine Mercy Sunday

Dear brothers and sisters,

If, as Saint John says, “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book,” why does he not include some of them in his Gospel (John 20:30)? He writes but one more chapter in which he records the miraculous catch of fish, Jesus’ command for Saint Peter to “feed my sheep,” and the Lord’s prediction of Peter’s death (John 21:17; cf. John 21:19). The final line of his Gospel is this: “But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25). Why, then, does he not mention even one more?

It cannot be an issue of space, for in modern print his Gospel takes up but twenty-two pages. There must, then, be a different reason, one that is not merely a practical consideration. It is, I think, because Saint Thomas “holds that the signs that confirm Jesus’ identity are now above all his wounds, in which he reveals to us how much he loved us.”[1] When the Apostles looked upon the sacred wounds of the Savior, they saw that God “does not limit himself merely to affirming his love, but makes it visible and tangible. Love, after all, can never be just an abstraction.”[2] After the sight of these wounds, after the definitive proof of the Lord’s love and of his Resurrection, what more could John say? What more did he need to write? Seeing the marks of the nails and of the lance was enough for to “give thanks to the Lord, for he is good” because they knew that “his love is everlasting” (Psalm 118:1).

When the Lord extended his hands toward Thomas and said, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side,” he showed the greatness of his mercy by answering Thomas’ doubts (John 20:27). Not only did Thomas doubt the word of his fellow Apostles, he also doubted his own eyes, which is why he said, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). We might say that Thomas wanted to see with his hands; he wanted to do what so many parents warn their children against. It was as if Jesus said to him, “Through all this I have done everything to satisfy what you wanted.”[3]

We often disparage Saint Thomas by calling him “Doubting Thomas.” We can only call him this if we ignore what Saint Matthew tells us at the end of his Gospel, namely, that when the Apostles saw Jesus in Galilee after his Resurrection, “they worshipped him; but they doubted;” it was not only Thomas who doubted (Matthew 28:17).

Have we not all doubted at one time or another? Have we not each doubted the words of another person and desired to ask the Lord that we might touch him? Saint Thomas is called Didymus, a name that means twin (cf. John 11:16). Who is his twin, if not each of us?

Suffering, evil, injustice, death, especially when it strikes the innocent such as children who are victims of war and terrorism, or sickness and hunger, does not all of this put our faith to the test? Paradoxically the disbelief of Thomas is most valuable to us in these cases because it helps to purify all false concepts of God and leads us to discover his true face: the face of a God who, in Christ, has taken upon himself the wounds of injured humanity. Thomas has received from the Lord, and he has in turn transmitted to the Church, the gift of a faith put to the test by the passion and death of Jesus and confirmed by meeting him risen. His faith was almost dead but was born again thanks to his touching the wounds of Christ, those wounds that the Risen One did not hide but showed, and continues to point out to us in the trials and sufferings of every human being.[4]

Through the questioning of Saint Thomas, we see that we do not need to be afraid of our own doubts or our struggles to believe. The Lord does not rebuke Thomas today and neither will he belittle us. Thomas stated clearly what he needed to experience in order to believe; he needed to experience what the other Apostles experienced. He did not fear to make his need known and neither should we fear to do so because the example of Thomas shows us that “every doubt can lead to an outcome brighter than any uncertainty.” [5] Let us not be afraid to allow the Lord to satisfy what we want in order to believe.

In these days of Easter, as we ponder the beautiful and glorious wounds of the Crucified and Risen Lord, let us not be afraid to delve into their mysteries. In the midst of our prayer, let us follow the spiritual direction of Saint Bonaventure, who says to us:

“…with blessed Thomas the apostle not only gaze at the wounds in [Jesus’] hands made by the nails, not only put your finger into the holes made by the nails, not only put your hand into the wound in his side, but totally through the opening in his side enter the very heart of Jesus…”[6]

Saint Marianne Cope put it perhaps more simply: “Creep down into the heart of Jesus,” there to rest in the shelter of his love, safe from the storms of life that stir up so many doubts and fears, there to hear him say to us, “I have risen, and I am with you still” (cf. Psalm 139[138]:18).

Why does the Risen and glorified Lord still bear the scars of his sufferings? It is “not because he was incapable of healing them, but that he might bear for eternity the triumph of his victory” and so that he might show us by what great mercy he has redeemed us.[7] He has kept them to show us how much we are loved.

If you find your faith faltering, do not fear, but approach the Lord with Saint Thomas. Explore his wounds and know that he suffered them for you, that he keeps them for you, and that through them he wishes to give you his peace. But first you must approach and cry out to him, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). After pondering the glorious love displayed in his wounds, what more is there to do than “rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, as you attain the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (I Peter 1:3:9)?

[1] Pope Benedict XVI, General Wednesday Audience, 27 September 2006.
[2] Pope Francis, Misericordiae vultus, 9.
[3] Saint Bonaventure, Commentary on the Gospel of John, 20.57. Robert J. Karris, trans. (Saint Bonaventure, New York: Franciscan Institute Publications, 2007), 979.
[4] Pope Benedict XVI, Easter Message Urbi et Orbi 2007.
[5] Ibid., General Wednesday Audience, 27 September 2006.
[6] Saint Bonaventure, On the Perfection of Life, 6.2.
[7] Ibid., Commentary on the Gospel of John, 20.64.

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