We are so blessed as a Church, to celebrate so many things this weekend! Pride of place, of course, should go to our celebration of the Mass as we bring to a close the Octave or Eight Days of Easter, with this Divine Mercy Sunday. But as a Church, we celebrate also the canonization of not one, but two popes of happy memory; we celebrate the elevation to this honour of St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II. The massive crowds in Rome, estimated at 3 million people are a testament to the joy, the vibrancy and yes, even the relevance of the Church and the communion of saints to huge numbers of people in the 21st century.
It is through their lived example, more than anything else, that these two men are now counted among the Saints in the Canon of the Church. While we may be tempted to think that it was because of their position, or the wide influence of their office, it has more to do with who each man was, grounded in their identities as sons of God and disciples of Jesus. This is the real mark of a saint – not the size of their following, but rather the lengths to which they will go in their own lives in surrendering self to build up the Body of Christ.
One of the things, particularly in our culture, that is most difficult to surrender, is our own ego. Whether it is larger than life or subtle, we all have our own preconceptions, likes and dislikes, biases and fears. In spiritual direction, one of the greatest challenges for anyone is to confront their own ego, and seek ways to diminish it, to surrender it, in growing a more profound and deep relationship with God and, by extension, with others.
For Christians, disciples of Christ, this becomes particularly crucial. We cannot build up Christ’s Body if we cling to our own ways, thoughts, preconceptions, and refuse to be open to the possibility that God works within the confines of our own daily lives, our own circumstances; unless we are open to God moving in the most incredible and strange and even bizarre ways that, at times, can challenge everything we have ever thought about ourselves, others and our place in the world as children of God.
St. Thomas confronts the unimaginable when the disciples on tell him that Jesus has risen from the dead and has appeared to them. He, like the others, has followed Jesus through His public ministry, lived with Him, heard His teaching and watched His miracles – and like the others he ran away and hid when Jesus endured His passion and death.
But it is in this resurrection moment, when the remaining disciples bear witness to the Risen Christ, that Thomas really struggles. That flood of what happened over the course of that first Good Friday crashes into that wave of excited news that the other disciples are sharing with Him, and in that moment, it becomes too much for St. Thomas and he retreats back into himself – into his own terms of reference, of what ‘makes sense’ in his own little world; because to accept what the other disciples are saying means to accept that Jesus is much more than a wise teacher, a healer or a prophet. It means to accept that He is in fact, God Incarnate and with Him, all things are possible. It also means that His disciples are not only called to accept this reality, but to bear witness to it to others.
Thomas would have to weigh in his own mind what this meant – that he would be expected to go out and tell people that this Jesus was Risen from the Dead; so many questions would come into play – how will people react to that message? How will they respond to me? Will they call me a liar, a fanatic, crazy? The temptation to retreat from witnessing to others that message of the first Easter would be incredibly strong, particularly if Thomas was worried about how he would be received. His own ego would scream out against putting himself in that difficult situation.
And so it can be with us. We might say we don’t care what people think of us – if they accept us or not, when we proclaim Christ is risen, when we preach the Gospel; but in all of us, the constant struggle is with our own egos, because at some level we all want to be accepted, part of the ‘crowd’, generally liked. Nothing threatens the ego quite like the demand of the Gospels, particularly the notion of putting God above all else, and loving our neighbours as ourselves, and then being a living witness to the truth of who Jesus really is in our secular world.
Yet in that struggle, we have the calming words of Jesus, recorded for us in this gospel passage from St. John, when he greets those disciples who are amazed, confused and even fearful with the words, “peace be with you”. Those words are not only for the disciples two thousand years ago; they are for us here, now, trying to make sense of our own struggles and trials as we continue our own journeys of faith. Through the intercession of St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II, may we all be graced with that peace of Christ in our own hearts, as we all strive to enter more deeply into that profound and deep mystery of love and mercy that God invites us into each day.
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!