Certain – Arnel Aquino, SJ

John 20:19-31, Divine Mercy Sunday

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I’m sure you’ve seen Caravaggio’s painting entitled, L’incredulitá di San Tommaso, literally, The Incredulity of St. Thomas, or simply, the Doubting Thomas. Thomas is hunched over, his face awfully close to the Risen Christ’s naked chest. One-half of his forefinger is buried in the wound on Jesus’ side. Thomas is transfixed at how deeply his finger disappears into the wound. What I find breathtaking, though, is how Jesus is grasping Thomas’ wrist, and guiding the doubter’s hand into his wound. The grip looks so resolute that the painting may well have spoken the words: “Do not be unbelieving, but believe! Huwag ka na kasing magduda. Maniwala ka na kasi.

I came across a quotation by civil activist and humorist Anne Lamott: “The opposite of faith is not doubt. It is certainty. You can tell you have created God in your image and likeness when it turns out that God hates all the same people as you do.” I find that so true. The more I study and teach Theology, the deeper I realize that through the eras, kind-hearted and God-fearing Christians abandon the Catholic faith not so much because they’ve stopped believing in God, but because those who say they believe seem to have God so figured out that they sound dead sure who will go to heaven and who will go to hell, who are righteous, who are wicked, who are in the state of grace, who are living in sin, who should be allowed to receive communion, who should be banned…and no gray areas between the black and the white, no need for pause and discernment; worst, no room for the Holy Spirit to blow where he wills. Even young people today aren’t too hot about being Catholic, not because they doubt God’s existence, but because, like those who leave our faith, our youth couldn’t countenance why we sound very sure about God and yet be so hurtful, so bigoted, so discriminatory, and worst, so heartless; both priests and lay.

Caravaggio’s Doubting Thomas is very beautiful but very redundant. Even if you have the most serious doubts that Jesus is risen, the mere sight of him would instantaneously erase every suspicion in your mind, wouldn’t it? But I can’t blame Thomas, either. Jesus must’ve been the single greatest disappointment of his life. Do you notice how he doubts everyone now? Not even his friends can convince him Jesus is alive. “Dupe me once, shame on you. Dupe me twice, shame on me,” Thomas must have thought. Whoever is pretending to be the Risen Jesus must pass his exacting scrutiny this time, his inquiry, his criteria for proof, his finger-test. It must all fall far beyond reasonable doubt, his. Thomas demands, therefore, that Jesus conform to his image and likeness, and pass his standards of certainty. Only then will he believe. “Oh, in that case, sure,” Jesus seems to say. Jesus conforms! “Put your finger here, see my hands, bring your hand, put it into my side.” Unbelievable. Always the Incarnational God, Jesus comes down to meet Thomas where he is, and only then, gently redirects him from his ego, outwards to his one true north: his Lord, and his God.

Dear sisters and brothers, when we’ve become so certain about God and think we’ve got God all figured out like a book we’ve read cover to cover, forwards and backwards, and when we begin to assume this ascendancy over sinners and doubters, and when we feel dead sure that God and we share the same enemies—then we might have knocked our Lord and our God from the center of our faith, and replaced him with ourselves, and all our holy prejudices, and all our pious standards for righteousness, our black-and-white, either-or, legalistic thinking. The opposite of faith is not doubt but certainty. In that case, we desperately need the Risen One to appear in our midst. We need reminding that the center of our faith is not us. The heart of our believing is a Risen but wounded Christ. We need reminding that his first utterance was not, “How dare you abandon me and leave me for dead, you sinners who call yourselves my friends. Now, you will know the difference between my mercy and my justice.” Nope. We hear no such thing. Instead, his first and lasting greeting was, “Peace.” No blaming, no accusing, no panunumbat, no unearthing of long buried resentments, no threats, no emotional blackmail—the things we resort to when we demand that people not doubt God…or else! No. “Eireyney hymin,” Christ Risen said, “Peace to you.” That wasn’t just a “hello”. “Peace” was an offer of unconditional forgiveness and reconciliation. What do you feel about that? Does Jesus mean for us to feel uncomfortable about unconditional forgiveness & reconciliation with him? Or does he want us to be certain of it?

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