The message of Easter, according to Fr. James Martin,
is that life is stronger than death,
love is stronger than hatred,
and hope is stronger than despair.
These days we hear that lots of folks
are walking away from the church—
pollsters call them “nones”—
N O N E S, not N U N S.
The thing I find interesting about these “nones”
is that most of them
practice some kind of spirituality,
but it’s not organized religion.
Something else we hear a lot about
is the “militant atheism”
of writers like Richard Dawkins.
The thing I find interesting about Dawkins
is that he equates religion
with a literal reading of the texts
and then uses that misunderstanding
as a basis for throwing everything out.
Dawkins is totally certain that he’s right.
He’s not like those “nones,”
who keep on seeking God
when religion stops making sense to them.
He’s not a “Doubting Thomas,” not at all.
Thomas questioned and doubted,
but he stayed open
to experience of the divine.
When Thomas hears that his friends were hiding
and Jesus came to them
with a message of peace,
he doesn’t believe them.
Then, the following week,
when Thomas himself experiences
the same presence of Jesus
that the other disciples had,
his doubt turns to faith.
He never did put his finger in Jesus’ wounds.
Even though scholars conclude that today’s gospel
does not report a historical event,
it’s true that the evangelist
is telling a real story of how faith works.
Just like the apostles can’t get away from Jesus,
we can’t get away from him, either.
For many years I struggled with the faith.
That’s an experience
that many of us went through before Vatican II.
At one point of that journey
I found James Fowler’s descriptions
of the six levels of faith development helpful.
One of its pieces of wisdom is its description
of the reflective Stage 4 of young adulthood,
when people begin to examine their beliefs critically
and become disillusioned with their former faith.
This is the stage when people
who cling to the earlier stages of development
label the Stage 4 people
as backsliders and atheists
when, in fact,
the Stage 4 folks have started to move forward.
I remember well my spiritual director, Fr. Earl Loeffler,
and his patience with me through those years.
He walked with me
while I came to grips
with the loss of my childhood belief
and grappled with all those questions.
It took years.
I still smile when I remember the day he told me,
“Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.”
Eventually I really did move on,
and somewhere in mid-life
began to return to the sacred stories
without getting stuck in a theological box.
Richard Dawkins seems to be stuck in those boxes of literal faith,
unable to embrace an adult faith of any kind
and making money from heaping scorn on people
who manage to go beyond the understanding
of their childhood and teen years.
The basic issue in this gospel story
is coming to believe
that Jesus is risen and alive among us,
and that’s always the work of the Spirit.
We don’t come to belief through proofs;
we come to belief through living,
It’s a journey—
a path through life that has stops and starts,
racing and resting,
uphill and down.
Anne LaMott said that the opposite of faith is not doubt.
Growing to a more mature faith
leads to accepting mystery
and living with questions and doubts.
So we have four gospels
with four different stories about Jesus’ resurrection,
and we still don’t know the historical facts
of what really happened.
We may wonder about it, speculate even,
but we don’t have to know.
We believe that resurrection is real.
We see new life again and again.
We experience hope after times of despair.
When we rise, we want to help others rise.
And that leads us, eventually,
into what Fowler calls the “universalizing faith,”
the final level of faith development
where we live our lives to the full
in service of others
without any real worries or doubts.
In Evangelii Gaudium—The Joy of the Gospel—
Pope Francis describes it like this:
“Where all seems to be dead,
signs of the resurrection suddenly spring up.
Each day in our world beauty is born anew,
it rises transformed through the storms of history.
Values always tend to reappear under new guises,
and human beings have arisen time after time
from situations that seemed doomed.
Such is the power of the resurrection.”
Holy Spirit Catholic Community
Saturdays at 4:30 p.m./Sundays at 5:30 p.m.
Holy Thursday, April 13, 5:30 p.m. Mass of the Lord's Supper
Easter Mass of the Resurrection, Saturday, April 15, 5:30 p.m.
at 3925 West Central Avenue
Toledo, OH 43606
Rev. Dr. Bev Bingle, Pastor
Mailing address: 3156 Doyle Street, Toledo, OH 43608-2006