2020-04-19 Father François Beyrouti's Homily:"See Before You Believe."
This is the link to Sunday's homily: https://youtu.be/Ee4wkSreWx4
The full text of the homily and the readings are below.
See Before You Believe.
Sunday, April 19, 2020. Sunday of Saint Thomas.
Acts of the Apostles 5:12-20. John 20:19-31.
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Father François Beyrouti, Ph.D./D.Th.
Holy Cross Melkite Catholic Church
451 West Madison Avenue
Placentia, CA 92870-4537
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419 years ago, in the year 1601, the Italian artist Caravaggio did a painting of today’s Gospel reading. Although this is a very powerful and famous painting Caravaggio, as did many other artists, got something very important wrong. In Caravaggio’s painting Saint Thomas puts his finger tip into the open side of Jesus. However, the Gospel of John does not say that Saint Thomas touched Jesus.
In the first part of the Gospel, Jesus appears to the disciples but Saint Thomas was not there. When Saint Thomas returns, the disciples tell him “we have seen the Lord” (John 20:25a). Saint Thomas tells them “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25b).
Jesus appears a second time and tells Saint Thomas: “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe” (John 20:27). Although Jesus invites Saint Thomas to touch His wound, he actually does not. Rather, the Gospel tell us, immediately Saint Thomas answers “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28) What Caravaggio and so many others overlook is that Jesus invites Saint Thomas to touch his wounds but Thomas does not. He simply sees and believes.
This theme of seeing and believing is repeated over ten times in the Gospel of John. In chapter one Jesus tells Nathanael: “Because I said to you, I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You shall see greater things than these.” (John 1:50. See also: John 4:48, 6:30, 6:36, 6:40, 11:40, 11:45, 20:25, 20:29, 21:24). Jesus also tells the crowd in John 6: “This is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:40)
Why is Caravaggio’s mistake an important one? Sometimes we want God to impress us. We tell God what we need Him to do for us and we put conditions on believing in Him. This is not the right approach. God invites us to deepen our journey of faith by seeing and believing. We need our eyes to see. But more important, we see more by closing our eyes and opening the eyes of our heart and mind.
At times we need to keep our eyes wide open, like when we are driving. A good driver keeps his or her eyes on the road. While driving it does not help to try to see more with our eyes closed. If you do this, you will get in a car accident and you can’t tell the police officer that the priest told us we can see more with our eyes closed.
Other than when you are in your car, think of the many ways that you have seen more with your eyes closed and your heart and mind open. When you look from your heart at your children, brothers, sisters, or friends, do you see more than what you can see with your physical eyes? Parents are proud of their children, because they can see exceptional talents of creativity, logic, humor, and a multitude of other gifts. We can see the talents that are there and we can also see how if these gifts are developed they will grow to exceptional levels.
In a similar way, every day Jesus gives us opportunities to see and believe many things that are not immediately obvious or visible to us. It is important to ask ourselves why we believe and what we need to continue to grow in our faith.
Can you identify moments in your spiritual journey when you first believed? Can you identify different stages in your journey and how you progressed from a certain level of faith to a deeper one? Then think of practical ways to continue to build on the faith you have.
I can identify definite stages in my spiritual life. Our family went to Church every Sunday. We always had dinner together and prayed with each other. In grade 8, I learned how to pray the rosary and prayed it every single day. These were great opportunities to thank God, invite Him into the decisions I was making, and to ask for direction.
In Grade 11, during the Easter Sunday homily, the priest said “Jesus rose from the dead but no other spiritual leader ever did.” For some reason this moved me and at that moment I felt a deep feeling of peace and joy. This unique feeling filled my mind, heart, and also felt like it filled my whole body. From that moment, I entered a new level of absolute certainty about my faith.
I also had a very similar feeling while praying in front of an icon in the Church of the Holy Resurrection in Jerusalem. I saw and felt, not with my eyes, but with my whole body and in a way that is more convincing than anything visual.
When you see something, sometimes you need to focus to see it clearly. When you hear something, you need to be attentive to make sure you hear and understand properly. When you are thinking through an idea you have to concentrate to formulate it clearly. Our experiences today of the Risen Lord are not visual or physical in the same way we see a traffic light, but they are more physical, emotional, and intellectual than anything we can possibly experience because when we see with the eyes of faith, this transforms our hearts, minds, and bodies sometimes in a second. We end up seeing something we had been searching for all our life, in less than one second. This kind of seeing changes everything.
For the disciples and the early Christian community, the resurrection changed everything. The disciples were confused and disappointed when Jesus died. Their faith disappeared because they thought Jesus was going to save them from something in this world, whereas Jesus wanted to save them and wants to change us from something greater; sin and death. It was only when Jesus appeared to them that they saw and believed. They did not only see Jesus physically. They saw his power over death and they saw what his resurrection meant for their life.
Our spiritual journey is very much like that, we need to sometimes keep our eyes open to see the blessings that God has put in our life, but more often we need to see beyond what our physical eyes can see. Saint Paul describes this experience in 1 Corinthians 2:9, where he quotes Isaiah 64:3, “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.”
The problem with Caravaggio’s painting is that it looks like Saint Thomas only believed when he touched physically, but Saint Thomas did not believe because he saw and touched the physical body of Jesus. He believed because he saw the risen Lord and this led him to a new and transformed stage in his life of faith.
Jesus told his disciples and Jesus tells us: “Peace be with you.” Jesus first gives us temporary peace when our hearts are full of questions and Jesus gives us permanent peace when we go beyond the physical to see and believe. Saint Thomas did not believe because he touched but because he saw in a way that was more than just visual and physical.
Jesus gives us much to see by rising from the dead. Jesus invites us to believe and to see even more than what we see with only our physical eyes. Faith does not mean closing our eyes to what is real. Rather, faith opens the eyes of our hearts and minds, to see the many layers of God’s love. For 40 days we repeat “Christ is Risen, He is Truly Risen” to remind us we have seen His resurrection and continue to see it in so many new and exciting ways.
Epistle. Acts of the Apostles 5:12-20
In those days by the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people (and with one accord, they all would meet in Solomon’s portico; but of the rest, no one dared to associate with them, yet the people made much of them. And the multitude of men and women who believed in the Lord continued to increase), so that they carried the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and pallets, in order that, as Peter went by, at least his shadow would fall upon some of them. And crowds also came to Jerusalem from neighboring towns, and they brought the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits — and all of them were healed. But the High Priest rose up, and all his supporters (that is, the members of the Sadducean sect), and being filled with hatred, they laid their hands upon the apostles and threw them into the public jail. But during the night, an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the prison, and led them out, saying: “Go, and standing in the temple, speak to the people all the words of this life.”
Gospel of the Feast. John 20:19-31.
When it was late, that same day, the first of the week, though the doors where the disciples gathered had been closed for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst and said to them, “Peace be to you!” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples therefore rejoiced at the sight of the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be to you! As the Father has sent me, I also send you.” When he had said this, he breathed upon them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit; whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.” Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into his side I will not believe.” And after eight days, his disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being closed, and stood in their midst, and said, “Peace be to you!” Then he said to Thomas. “Bring here your finger, and see my hands; and bring here your hand, and put it into my side; and be not unbelieving, but believing.” Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen me, Thomas, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed.” Many other signs also Jesus worked in the sight of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.