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  • Writer's pictureFather Nicholas Lang

The Second Sunday of Easter


John Patrick Shanley’s play, Doubt, is set in St. Nicholas Catholic School, in the Bronx, during the fall of 1964. In the movie version, Meryl Streep does an amazing portrayal in the role of Sister Aloysius Beauvier, the school’s principal, a Sister of Charity, who has strong suspicions about the inappropriate behavior of the parish’s curate, Father Brendan Flynn.

 

Throughout the movie she observes his comings and goings and interactions with the eighth-grade boys building the case that he is a pedophile. Near the end of the film, she corners him in her office and gives him an ultimatum: leave the parish and parish ministry or she will report him to church authorities. He denies the accusation vehemently and calls her bluff—he tells her she has absolutely no proof of this allegation.

 

“But I do, she tells him. I’ve been in touch with the sister principal at the last parish where you served, and she has confirmed my suspicions.” Flynn does resign from the parish only to be sent to another—which was the tragedy of clergy abuse cases in those days.

 

The last scene is rather chilling: Sister Aloysious sits alone in the convent garden soon joined by young Sister James. “How did you, know?” Sister James asks her? How did you know to call that other nun?” Sister Aloysius looks at her and says flatly, “There was no such call.” And immediately, she begins to weep and fall into the arms of Sister James as she cries, “Oh, Sister James, I have such doubts! I have such doubts!”

 

I wonder if Thomas said the same thing to his friends that Easter evening.

I wonder if he wept with feelings of guilt for not believing. I wonder if he was afraid that Jesus was really risen, and he would have to fess up to his unbelief.


Sadly, Thomas’ claim to fame has won him the label “Doubting Thomas,” now also ascribed to anyone who won’t accept a particular principle. History may forget that when Jesus turned his face toward Jerusalem the disciples thought that it would be certain death for all of them.


Surprisingly, it was Thomas who said: “Then let us go so that we may die with him.” It was a courageous statement, yet we don't remember him for that nor that in this story of Thomas' doubt we have the one place in the all the Gospels where the Divinity of Christ is bluntly and unequivocally stated. It is interesting, is it not, that the story that gives Thomas his infamous nickname, is the same story that has Thomas making an earth-shattering confession of faith.


In her book Things Seen and Unseen, Nora Gallagher, describes an Easter Day experience in church. “Belief and disbelief in the Resurrection,” she says, “trade places in my heart like watchmen taking shifts. I’ve known for years that even those words – “belief” and “disbelief” – don’t really describe what I think when I think about the resurrection. Something happened to him, is the way I put it to myself. Something happens to me.

Because Jesus lived fully in hope, fully in love, something happened to him. Nothing kept him, nothing held onto him, the past didn’t weigh him down. Nothing is hopeless any more.


Then the watchmen take their shifts. I think this is amazing, and then, how do we know it’s true? We could be making all this up sitting in the pews. The people in front of me stand up one by one and walk forward to the communion rail. I get up to join them. Whether or not I believe in the resurrection makes no difference if I don’t make a different life. We are the ongoing story.”


Theologian Frederick Buechner coined a memorable phrase: “Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith; they keep it alive and moving.”  The church that Jesus gave us, the church we have become, the church to which we invite others to make their home is not a church with all the answers. Sometimes it offers more questions.

 

Most of us, at one time or another, continue to struggle with any of number of anguished questions. But the best of religion is a search for meaning and community—a community which invites and includes everyone, no matter who they are or where they may be on their faith exploration.


We tell the story of Thomas’ uncertainty every year on this Sunday after Easter because it is crucial to faith. We all have our doubts, and we all have our fears. Sometimes it is easy to believe and sometimes it is not. Faith is a struggle, not a given. It was no easier for Thomas and the other disciples than it is for us.


The difference between the disciples’ uncertainty and ours is that we are the “blessed” ones of whom Jesus speaks in this passage—those who have not seen yet do our best to believe. The eternal truth is that the same spectacular, awesome good news awaits us on this Sunday after Easter.


God will walk right through our locked doors—which for us may be our difficulty in believing, fears about our security, our self-esteem, our desperation, our human vulnerability. And God will intrude in our lives just as Jesus did that Easter night to bring us a blessing of peace and acceptance.


What the Easter appearances of the risen Jesus to his friends guarantees is that there is no door in our life secure enough, bolted sturdily enough, that will prevent God from forgiving us and bringing us Shalom,  the blessing of peace.  This is, indeed, a story with a happy ending. For Thomas. For the rest of the disciples. For Sister Aloysius Beauvier. And for us.

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