Sunday Homily – Fr. Luke Uebler- April 11, 2021
” Get Connected”
“With great power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great favor was accorded them all. Indeed, the community of believers was of one heart and mind.” Words from our first reading today from the 4th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles – sisters and brothers, may the Lord give to you his peace and his joy.
Today’s Gospel features the infamous story of poor, Doubting Thomas. As we know, Thomas wasn’t among the rest of the disciples when Jesus first appeared to them in the Upper Room that Easter Sunday. The best guess I could come up with is that he was probably out doing some grocery shopping at all the outlet Malls here on Transit Road, since all the leftovers from the Last Supper were gone at this point. And with eleven mouths to feed, the food disappears rather quickly, even more so during such stressful times. So, when Thomas returned from shopping and the disciples told him that they had seen the Lord, Thomas was probably thinking to himself, “Why exactly am I staying with a bunch of crazy people who are seeing things? We just saw Jesus murdered in plain daylight. If he was indeed alive – which is hard enough to believe – how then did he physically get into the room to see you when all the doors were locked? How do you know you weren’t imagining things or seeing a ghost? Why didn’t you put your fingers into the wounds that you claim he showed you? The trauma of it all is really getting to you.” And so, the name has since stuck: he is forever been known as doubting Thomas.
I want to point out that what is often overlooked in this story is the fact that Thomas remained with the group. Let that sink in for a minute. If he didn’t believe their story, he had no real reason to stick around. The dream was dead. Jesus was gone. The disciples seem to be delusional. And with everyone waiting to persecute Jesus’ followers next, this would be a good time to get out of Jerusalem and go home. Yet, for some reason, Thomas was still with them at the end of the week. There is something to be said, then, of the witness of the community of disciples that reached out to Thomas so that the next time Jesus appeared, Thomas was still found with them. And really, it was only within the presence of the community, there in that upper room, that Thomas was able to encounter for himself the Risen Lord. The reality is that we need each other. The etymology of the word, ‘religion’ comes from the Latin ligare, meaning ‘to be connected’. Thomas was struggling with the death of his friend, the fear of persecution, and personal doubts of faith. Yet Thomas remained connected to the community of believers, and because he remained connected in spite of his misgivings, he was able to experience Jesus.
Unfortunately, many people today will often say, “I’m spiritual but not religious”. So, while most Americans do still believe in God or in some kind of higher power, the latest Gallup poll, I’m sure you’ve heard, shows that more than half the country is no longer affiliated with a religious tradition. Moreover, our culture in a rail against institutions is desperately trying to privatize the faith and categorize it as something individuals go off and do by themselves – just don’t bring it into public life. Now, faith is indeed very personal, and we cannot overlook this, but in the end, any notion of an exclusive relationship between God and Me will leave us like the Thomas who doubted – ‘I haven’t experienced the Lord in that way, so it can’t be true.’ But the faith that has been handed on to us is not between God and Me, but between God and Us. It is this collective witness to the risen Christ that we need to make our own, experience for ourselves, and live out in the context of our lives. The Acts of the Apostles reminds us that the disciples of the early Church were of one heart and mind. All of us are connected to each other. In this communion, we are connected to each other as a parish community, as a Church of Buffalo, as the Roman Catholic Church; we are also connected to our relatives and friends who have gone before us, and their relatives and friends who have gone before them all the way back to the Apostles themselves; and we are connected to all those who will come after us who will receive the faith in turn. It is impossible to live out our faith alone. We are a part of each other. And with each other, we are together connected to Christ. That is what we are celebrating here at this Eucharist, that we have communion with each other together in the Lord.
When Thomas could accept that, when Thomas remained connected and lived in communion with others, it was then and only then that Thomas could encounter Jesus for himself. And rather than doubting, he became the first disciple in turn to acclaim Jesus, not merely as the promised Messiah, but indeed as the one true Lord and God himself! Indeed, Thomas had a greater profession of faith than any of his peers in any of the Gospels. Such is the power of religion, of being connected, of living in communion… We are spiritual and religious. The lesson of today is that, if we want to encounter Jesus, then we need to be a part of this communion, like Thomas was. We need to gather together with 2 or 3 others in his name, for then he comes into our midst. This communal aspect of faith is something that we need to reclaim today. Private Faith, Interior Morality, Virtual Engagement through the Computer, notions of ‘well, I’m a Good Person’ can only get us so far. When people find themselves off on their own, they realize that something is missing, that none of these are good substitutes for being present to and connected with each other, and because of this individualism, that some part of their humanity is cheapened. Seriously, what does a faith that is spiritual but not religious look like in practice? Disconnected from the life-giving vine, it eventually dies out… By ourselves, we will be stuck in our doubts, like Thomas. But also like Thomas, with others, we can experience the Risen Christ. Disciples stick together. Are we together in mind and heart with the disciples? Do we realize the great witness we exhibit when we come together as Church that others may come to believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and God? Let us not give up on communion, but live out the relationship between God and Us so that God’s favor might yet be accorded to all.