Ars praedicandi: Second Sunday of Easter, Year B, Ed Foley

by Fr. Edward Foley, Capuchin

Today’s gospel relates a well-known tale
featuring the lectionary’s most celebrated apostolic doubter
who, according to the Gospel of John,
engineered a stunning pivot
from doubter to believer.

A reversal whose suddenness and velocity was so spectacular
it certainly rendered other masters of the pivot
– from snowboarding’s flying tomato
to diving legend Greg Louganis –
at least slightly envious.

Without a doubt, this gospel is very much about Thomas’ faith,
but it strikes me as naïve to think
that his believing began in earnest
when he finally came face to face with the risen Lord.

I don’t think Thomas was that – dare I say – “shallow.”
The gospels actually depict him as quite daring
and very unvarnished.

An episode a little earlier in the Gospel of John comes to mind.
During the last supper discourse in chapter 14 of John,
Jesus is waxing on about him going ahead
to prepare a place.
He concludes this part of his speech
by saying to his inner circle
“and you know the way where I am going.”

Apparently, all of the disciples were nodding their heads
agreeing to something they clearly did not understand,
like so many undergraduates in their first physics’ lecture.

But undeterred Thomas unmasks the elephant in the room.
The poet Malcolm Guite thus deems him the
courageous master of the awkward question
“[who] spoke the words the others dared not say
…cut[ting] through their evasion and abstraction”
by blurting out – but we don’t know where you are going
so how can we know the way?

Candid Thomas,
straightforward Thomas,
guileless Thomas
was a blunt pursuer of truth,
a discerning disciple of true faith.

And my instinct is that it was his long pursuit
of a flesh and blood faith
that brought him to this culminating credal moment
rather than assuming that this one individual encounter
birthed his legendary faith.

And how had Thomas evolved as a faith-seeker?
And what might his journey have to teach us
about our own credal pursuits?

One unlikely clue might reside in the very meaning of his name,
which at its root means “twin.”
The New Testament actually doubles down on his twinness
when it calls him Thomas Didymus,
which could be translated as Twin the Twin.
I think there might be something there worth pondering.

Just something like 3% of all live births in the U.S. produce twins.
So, if you are a twin, you are in a very select population.
If you are an identical twin you are .45% of the population
A 1 in 250 phenomena.

Twins have a national twin day – the 18th of December
and are hosted at a variety of festivals.
The largest of which occurs, where else, but in “Twinsburg,” Ohio
annually drawing somewhere around 2,000 sets of twins.

Such gatherings generate innumerable stories
of double-takes and mistaken identities,
of amusing gaffs and well-planned deceptions.

One twin related going down an escalator looked across
and saw his twin brother.
He got very excited and yelled “hey bro”
waving for his attention.
It turns out, he was waving at himself in a mirror.

Another set of twins would always shop for clothes together.
Twin 1 would find an item she liked
then twin 2 would go into the changing room and
come out and model for her
so she could see how it looked on her.

Of course, there are endless stories
of twins substituting for each other on dates,
taking each other’s driving exams,
and even applying for jobs for each other.
I had one such experience teaching at Notre Dame years ago:
twin brothers would often sign each other in for attendance
Their mistake, however, was signing two names
when there was no identical face in the room.
That practice didn’t survive very long.

Apart from the funny or embarrassing stories
of mistaken identities or disastrous dates,
there are also twin tales from the dark side.

One of the most disturbing was a study of twins
conducted in the 1960s and 1970s
by two psychologists who worked
with a now-defunct adoption agency.

Without the consent of participants or their adoptive families,
the agency and researchers
separated twins and placed them with different families
never disclosing that the child had a twin
or in one celebrated case, was a triplet.

The researchers monitored the separated siblings for decades
under the pretense of ensuring that each was doing well
in their respective families.

The study abruptly ended in 1990, with records sealed until 2065
and only limited information shared:
one woman discovered she had a twin when she was 49.

Various news reports and documentaries
Brought the unethical behavior of the researchers to light.
For example, the productions Three Identical Strangers
and The Twinning Reaction.

While these films clearly documented the palpable joy
of twins and even triplets discovering each other,
they also revealed the profound grief and anger that emerged
when learning about a severed life.
One twin noted that her sister “should’ve been the closest
person to me in the world, and she wasn’t.”

Twin expert Professor Nancy Segal concurred
that the damage done by separating twins & triplets at birth
Is immeasurable.

I have often wondered what drove Thomas
out of that apostolic cave
where he had been huddling with the other disciples.
I doubt whether he was just stepping out for some fresh air,
needed to pick up some groceries for the boys,
or had to check in on his pets.

In my imagination, Thomas abandoned the hideaway
because his twinning impulse, his twinning instincts kicked in.
So, he was out on the streets
not looking for his own biological sibling
but searching out Jesus’ twins:
those who bore in their flesh or in on their souls
fresh marks of crucifixion.

Thomas had heard the story from Peter
about seeing the resurrected Lord
and probably knew the report of Mary Magdalene
who had mistaken Jesus for the gardener.

He was unconvinced, however,
maybe because their stories
did not report the scars, the wounds,
the marks of violence that remained even after the resurrection.

I imagine Thomas long pondered Jesus’ Last supper response
to his awkward admission about not knowing the way.
Jesus answered that he was the way and truth and life
and the events of the Friday we call good
had clarified for Thomas that this redemptive path
led directly through Calvary.

I think Thomas had come to have faith through the wounds
as incontrovertible signs of a resurrection path.

Thus, he set out on a journey to touch the wounds,
to stand in solidarity with victims of racism
on the streets of New York and Minneapolis,
to weep with the survivors and grieve the losses
in Atlanta, and Houston and Orange,
to lament the starvation of children in Yemen
and the military oppression in Myanmar.

And when he finally returned to that apostolic hideaway
Thomas could profess faith
In a Lord whose body was yet scarred and disfigured
Because he had comforted and consoled Jesus’ twins
who had suffered their own passion
and whose souls were thus forever welded together
with the Only Begotten in the sting of crucifixion
and the promise of resurrection.

My instinct is that is why Thomas didn’t need
to touch anew the wounds of the risen one
for he had already touched the wounds of Jesus’ twins.
Thomas recognized the authenticity of the Christ
for his resurrection did not erase the scars of his suffering,
nor would it stop the scarring and suffering
of all other seeking eternal life.
Rather, Thomas came to understand
that true resurrection
always bears the marks of both hurt and hope.

Quite a few years ago,
I had the opportunity to visit South Africa and Zimbabwe.
One memory that remains fresh is meeting Fr. Michael Lapsley.
Born in New Zealand, he joined a missionary community
and was transferred to South Africa in 1973.

Lapsley was expelled from South Africa 4 years later.
He lived for a while among exiles in Lesotho
then moved to Zimbabwe where he lived with armed guards since he was on a South African Government hit list.

In April of 1990, right after the announcement
that Nelson Mandela was to be released from prison,
he received a package from South Africa.

The letter bomb hidden inside religious journals
severed his hands, blinded him in one eye,
and damaged his sight in the other.

All his senses were altered, including his sense of mission.
His maimed body, however, did not prevent his resurrection.
Rather, it allowed him to render the bombing a redemptive act.

He said that he always grieves, especially for his hands
but that he is no longer a victim nor even simply a survivor
He calls himself a victor, over evil, hatred and even death.
So claims the founder
of the Institute for the Healing of Memories.

I understand that it’s Easter,
and all of us would like to put Good Friday behind us.
I understand that it’s starting to feel like spring
and we would like to put
this winter of discontent permanently to rest.
I understand vaccines are increasingly in the offing
and we’d like to stop worrying about this pandemic
and get back to the living we remember.

But wounds yet abound:
in the victims of violence
who will forever carry the scars of their assaults;
in the millions of school-age kids
disfigured by disrupted learning and peer isolation;
in the unemployed
whose deformed finances and mutilated careers
may never recover;
and in the grieving:
those innumerable family and friends
whose lives will have an unhealable ache,
whose hearts have an unpatchable hole
because of a beloved lost to COVID.

The hard truth and great promise of resurrection,
as our spiritual twin Thomas understood all too well,
is that rising from the grave does not erase nail marks,
vacating a tomb does not vacate the pain of violence and loss,
and conquering death does not remove death
from our future agenda.

Rather, resurrection offers us the same courage,
the same zeal,
the same faith as our sibling Thomas
to touch the wounds,
acknowledge the scars,
and in doing so recognize the resurrected one in our midst,
wounded yet Risen,
our promise and our hope,
whose mission we pledge to continue
forever and ever.

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