Dear Preachers:

I have just returned from preaching at St. Ann Parish. Once again I was inspired by the people I meet in our parishes. After this past season of Lenten parish retreat preaching I can bear witness to the faith commitment and hard work of parish staff, volunteers and parishioners I have met in parishes in different parts of the country.

Still, I don’t get to see any parish reflect the ideals of the first generation of Christians glowingly described today in our reading from Acts. If I did, I would quit the road and settle in that parish – it would be a taste of heaven! Imagine a faith community fully dedicated to (1) the teaching of the apostles; (2) community life; (3) Eucharistic celebration; (4) prayer; (5) the sharing of possessions, with a concern for those members in need. Imagine how many people would join the membership of such a parish!

Biblical scholars agree Luke has idealized the community of first believers – after all, there were the dishonest Ananias and Sapphira who were struck dead for withholding their property from the community (Acts 5:1-11). So, the early church we idealize wasn’t such a perfect community after all, and neither are we.

Still, there must have been something remarkable about the witness to Christ’s Resurrection by those new Christians, because Acts does narrate the rapid growth of the early church. “And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (2:47). Their lives were an attraction to those around them.

Which gives us cause to reflect on the witness we give to our faith. Acts says observers were in “awe” of the infant church. But those first believers were not icons or holy cards, they lived in the real world – just as we do. How much do our lives reflect the gospel of Jesus? Do we show in concrete ways the mercy and compassion for those in need which it seems characterized the earliest Christian community?

How about our local parish life? Granted we have our personal preferences for the kinds of worship we like and which parish activities we join, but even with those differences, do we still radiate our core beliefs and live together as people of “one mind and heart” united by the Spirit of Christ? The Acts reading expresses the fulfillment we Christians hope for, but have to admit, is not yet true in our local or international church. Our prayer today is that the same Spirit which gave life to the closed-in, frightened disciples gathered in the room, continues to animate us and help us fulfill the dream Christ has for us – that our lives together will witness to the presence and ongoing ministry of the Risen Lord in our midst.

Thomas gets the role of the fall guy among the apostles. He’s the doubter (“Doubting Thomas), the one we love to critique for being weak in faith. But let’s face it, aren’t we glad Thomas was there and voiced the kinds of doubt anyone of us rational people would have raised? After all, there’s no precedent that a person whose death was witnessed by so many would then rise from the dead. “Dead is dead,” we would say, “that’s the end of that!”

I wonder what he was doing that caused Thomas to be absent when Jesus appeared to the locked-away and fearful disciples? Was he packing up his possessions, saying goodbye to friends or grieving by himself after seeing his life and dreams collapse along with Jesus nailed to the cross? But the other disciples were also disconsolate over Jesus’ death. At least they stayed together. It’s like what we Catholics are doing these days, having been shaken by the clergy scandals; we struggle to stay together and hope against hope for Jesus to make a new appearance in our midst and speak reconciling words again to those of us who have fallen short of the mark, “Peace be with you.”

Just staying together in fear wouldn’t be a very good witness to the outside world. Who would want to join a group of trembling sad sacks? What made the difference though, is that Jesus came into their midst, not with words of reproof for their past failures, but with a word of reconciliation, “Peace be with you.” The past was over.

But what about the future? It was obvious from past performance on their own that these disciples didn’t have what it would take to leave the locked room and go out into the dangerous world. But Jesus doesn’t send them out on their own; he gives them the Holy Spirit. With that Spirit they set about the task of reconciliation which Jesus gave them. The first person they reach out to is their separated brother Thomas. They share their experience with him, but he requires more concrete evidence – to touch Jesus’ wounds.

We are not told if Thomas actually touched the wounds. What we are told is that Jesus invited him to believe. Perhaps touching the wounds isn’t the important thing. What is important is the leap faith requires; even when that leap flies in the face of logic and “reasonable action.”

Well, thank God for Thomas! We’re happy he was there to voice our rational doubts. We are also happy that the church was there, those new, Spirit-animated disciples who didn’t give up on their recalcitrant member. Let’s hope we modern Christians stay true to our call to be a forgiving community and also a healing one for those hurting in spirit and body.

As we gather for prayer today we can think of ourselves as the modern equivalent of those upper-room disciples. For a short time today, like them, we are together in a room. We bring here our past sins and shortcomings and receive Jesus’ words of reconciliation, “Peace be with you.” We give thanks for those first witnesses to the resurrection. Because of their testimony and the testimony and witness of those we have known and encouraged faith in us – preachers, teachers, parents, friends, etc. – we are the ones Jesus now calls “blessed.” We are the blessed, “who have not seen and have believed.” So, we could offer prayers of thanks today for those who have helped us come to faith – who have helped us believe without seeing.

As we listen to the Word we not only hear good news for ourselves, but we get our marching orders, which are spelled out in Acts today. When we leave here we shall go out and, with our words and how we live in community, we will spread the news of the new Kingdom Jesus has inaugurated. But before we leave this “dining room” we will be nourished for the tasks that await us. We will feast with one another and our risen Lord.

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings: