Faith may come through hearing, but it grows through experience

All of us have had the experience of “missing out” on an event and then having friends and family tell us “you should have been here” before they go on to describe what happened without us.

I remember missing the 40th birthday celebration of one of my friends.  For this friend, a birthday was an opportunity to PARTY BIG … and the 40th birthday was time for a birthday “spectacular” rather than a mere party.  There was the great guest list, special food  treats, and of course, “a TV game show format” to honor the 40-year-old.  Well, as the party was described to me, I got a sense of the list of “whose who” were present, the hilarity of the night, and of course the delight of the honoree.  But, this was one of those events where you  really “had to have been here” to truly experience what had happened.  Because I was not there, I could only sense the experience through the experience of another person.

The opposite is true also:  how do we adequately explain to someone else something we have experienced.  For example:  I traveled to Rome in 2000 with Bishop Jude Speyrer for the canonization ceremonies for St. Katharine Drexel … a saint special to our town and to the parish I was serving, because she had visited there on a number of occasions.  While I had been to Rome before and had actually been in the square for a beatification ceremony, this was special — hanging on to the cassock-tails on Bp. Speyrer, there I was up on the platform near the altar — the action right before my eyes.  The pouring rain could not dampen the power of the moment and thrill of being near the altar …. and seeing first hand the rich African tradition honoring St. Josephine Bakita who was also canonized that day.  Back home, the usual, “how was your trip?”, was asked ….. “tell me what it was like!”  I did my best, but words and even photos could not re-create the moment.

Try telling someone about love when they have never FELT loved!!

Today’s Gospel (John 20:19-31) recounts the story/experience of Thomas who missed out on the resurrection appearance of Jesus to the apostles in the upper room.  Discounting the story of the apostles, Thomas said, “Unless I see — unless I put my finger into the nailmarks, unless I put my hand into his side” …. I will not believe.  Hear that again:  Unless I see, unless I put” …. I will not believe.

Then, the following week Jesus comes back …. and INVITES Thomas to probe the wounds and to “experience” what he asked to know …. and then, he DID believe.

This is very similar to the experience John describes in today’s second reading (Revelation 1:9-19), when he describes what it was like when he CAUGHT SIGHT OF HIM.

Recently, Newark, NJ mayor Corey Booker decided to live on what food stamps for a few weeks in order to understand what those who lived on food stamps had to experience.  Seeing firsthand the choices that had to be made, limiting himself to only what food stamps would allow …. Mayor Booker came to a new knowledge of what those on food stamps endured.  It is easy to point the finger at those who might abuse the system, but for any of us blessed with a full pantry and freezer to KNOW what those on food stamps must do —— try it, live it, experience it.

As a minister, I believe that I have done a pretty good job of comforting parents who have lost a child.  I have done my best to be present —- to listen, to comfort, to encourage, to renew hope.  BUT, who knows more about what this is like than another parent who has lost a child???  As part of my ministry,  I have tried to connect the grieving parent with someone who had already “been there”, someone who knew first-hand what this loss was like, and what the days ahead might look like.

These weeks of Easter are an opportunity for us to EXPERIENCE once again what death and resurrection are truly about.  The Church gives us 50 days to recall past experiences and to be open to new experiences of the Jesus who SUFFERED, died and then rose from the dead.

Here are FOUR challenges:  

1.  Reflect on the wounds of Jesus — by his stripes we have been healed.  Jesus’ death on the cross — and the hours leading up to the crucifixion — were no walk in the park.  There was pain and suffering — for me and for you.  The History Channel’s showing of the Bible recently portrayed what the last day of Jesus’ pre-glory days life was like.  Many have told me that it was hard to watch.

Express gratitude in prayer for the gift of his suffering for our sins.

2. Think of others who have sacrificed or suffered for us — our mothers who gave us birth, parents who raised us, a friend who stood by our side in a difficult moment, those who have GIVEN UP TIME to help us.  Be grateful as we count our blessings.

3.  Know our own woundedness and wounds —  look at your hands, reflect on your heart, measure your soul —  touch your wounds to the wounds of Jesus so that healing can occur — TIME DOES NOT HEAL ALL WOUNDS ……JESUS WORKING IN TIME HEALS ALL WOUNDS.  Are there painful memories that plague us — of a sin for which we have been forgiven, but we won’t let go?  Of a divorce?  A missed opportunity?  A rejection in love?  A betrayal?  A failure of the Church?

We have all been hurt, wounded by someone.  We all carry the wounds of failure.  We have all been let down and saddened.  Let the wounds of Jesus bring healing to our wounds.

4.  See the wounds of Jesus in our streets — the Jesus who lives in our neighbors invites us to probe the nailmarks and to put our hands into the wounded side …

> when visiting a nursing home, spend a moment with a stranger …. not just the loved one we have gone to see.  Look into his/her eyes …. make a real connection.

> instead of just putting old clothes into the GOODWILL dumpster, go into the store, talk with a clerk, SEE those who gladly shop for the old clothes for which we no longer have a use.

> do your best to imagine what life is like inside that old run down house you pass on a regular basis.  Imagine what life is like when you have to depend on that old rusted car …or public transportation … to get to work.

People make so much over Pope Francis riding the bus to work in Argentina.  Why?  Because it seems so UNUSUAL that a “high and mighty Church leader” would do something so common …..with the “common people”.

News was made recently when Sen Robert Portman changed his stance on same-gender marriage.  He was very honest about what changed his mind:  the EXPERIENCE of learning that his son, Will, was gay.  And, he wanted for Will what he wanted for his other children.  What had been a concept, now became something very real and very emotional.

Yes, faith may come through hearing.  But we all know that faith grows through experience …. and I dare say, we all got a lot of growing to do.


About thegospelforliving

Retired Catholic Priest - now serving the community as a paralegal and charter school consultant.
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