Doubting Thomas

So recently I’ve found myself having a sincere affinity for the disciple St. Thomas or “doubting Thomas” as he’s more commonly referred to in Christian circles. He is always brought up as an example of what not to do in the spiritual life and gets sort of rebuked by Jesus who tells him “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are they who have not seen and have believed” (John 20:29).

Today possibly for the first time I’m really sympathizing with Thomas. I took a minute to imagine the larger context and what he might have been feeling. Jesus who he loved more than anything, who he had sacrificed everything to follow, had been tortured and killed in an agonizing and humiliating crucifixion.  And I imagine that as Jesus died so many of Thomas’ hopes and dreams died with Him.

Thomas must not only have been afraid, thinking of his own uncertain future, but also heartbroken and feeling like everything he’d ever worked for and wanted had come to naught. Then in the midst of this nothingness, of totally black despair, he hears that Jesus is alive. I imagine he must have had so many emotions. If it was true, what joy. If it was false, he’d have to go through the emotional rollercoaster all over again. Maybe he sensed that Jesus was asking him to have faith, but maybe there was a larger part of him, of his own will and own thoughts, that reminded him of the pain he’d just endured. Maybe he could hear in his interior that broken voice of bitterness and disappointment warning him that he needed to protect himself from further hurt because God hadn’t, look where he’d ended up by following God. I imagine it must have been from this place that he uttered his line recorded in the Bible, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25).

I imagine I would have done the same thing. I am struggling with the same thing now. With disappointments, with expectations that weren’t met and dreams which I felt God has called me to but which haven’t come true. The little voice in my soul telling me to keep moving forward in faith, hope and love is being drowned out by the emotional barrage of doubt, pain and an unwillingness to endure more which I imagine St. Thomas was also wrestling with.  And from that place I find myself wanting to say the same thing he said.

Thomas would find out a week later with the appearance of Jesus that God keeps His promises. He would see Jesus and touch his pierced hands and side. He would know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus was the Son of God, the long-awaited Messiah who had conquered death for all and ushered in the Kingdom of God.

In the midst of the battle of life do we know this also? Will we choose to cling to the words of Jesus? To hope in what we do not see but which we hope with all our hearts to see? If Jesus were to come back tomorrow would he find us living in that love and in that hope which we are called to live as His disciples?

These are dark times in which we live I won’t deny it. There are struggles that affect the world and struggles that affect our own individual spheres. I personally can’t promise Jesus that I can do this perfectly but I do promise to try and have faith in the dark, to believe without seeing and to live in the hope that one day like Thomas I too will see Jesus and at last come home to that place beyond the light which I have longed to see.

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A Can’t Do Attitude

For as long as I can remember I’ve been told all about the power of positive thinking summarized by many an older and wiser person telling me, “the trick is to have a can-do attitude” in order to achieve everything from my short-term goals to my deepest held dreams and desires.

The older I’m getting (I turn 27 in ONE MONTH) the more I’m discovering that this well-intentioned advice may have missed the mark. Or maybe it’s just that my goals have changed. Regardless of the reason, I’m finding at the forefront of my desires is a desire to love that far exceeds my actual capacity to love. In short, I want to love like God does, and I can’t.

I just can’t. It’s something I’ve lamented to my spiritual director to varying degrees over the course of last year and I’ve had about a million temptations to discouragement. Not the kind of discouragement that tempts me to stop altogether, the kind that tells me to lower my aim, shoot for the middle, keep my head down and be “normal” (never my forte I admit). Yet the desire persists.

And with the help of many, I am finally coming to understand that I have come to end of what I can do and it is time now to let God do everything for me. It’s time not for strength but for weakness, because God’s power is made perfect in weakness, it’s time not for success but for humility, a time of total surrender and not control, but most of all a time to empty myself totally to receive unconditional love so that I may give it as totally and as generously and mercifully as God gives it to me.

It sounds counterintuitive and it may be the hardest thing I’ve ever done after a lifetime of plans and project management, of selfishness and pride. But as I join Christians around the world in preparing for Advent I can’t help be full of joyful hope and a sincere desire to wait in confident expectation for the coming of my Lord. And I hope this can’t-do attitude remains with me as I grow in deeper trust. I hope you have a blessed season of Advent!

Wait for it?

So my brother and I fell into an interesting conversation this morning as we were commuting into the city of Pittsburgh. The song “Wait for It” from Hamilton came on his Itunes shuffle and my brother asked me, seeing as were both young adult professionals at the start of our respective careers, whether it’s better to be more like the relentlessly ambitious Alexander Hamilton who seizes every opportunity or more like the soloist of the song, the character Aaron Burr, who wonders “if there is a reason [he’s] still alive when so many have died” and is willing to wait to find out what that reason might be.

The answer to that question is tricky.

It’s tricky because it hinges on what you believe to be truth. As a Christian, I believe not only that God “formed my inmost being… [and] knit me in my mother’s womb.” (Psalm 139: 13-14) but also that when He made me He had a specific and eternal plan for my existence that He reveals to me little by little in time and will be revealed in full in Heaven.

It can be hard to cling to that truth in what Fr. Michael Gaitley aptly calls the “darkness of the ordinary” or those days that feel so average they seem insignificant as you go to and from work, interact with your family, run errands etc. Nevertheless, in spite of the easy temptations to doubt that spring up in the midst of ordinary living, I still believe in God’s plan for my life and for yours.    

So, with this truth in mind, I see no problem in waiting to discover what you were born for but it does beg the question what does that look like for the every day?

Our more worldly counterparts usually chime in that this view is the enemy to “progress” and that the only catalyst to change is ACTION, championing causes, writing the congressman, running 5ks, getting lots of followers on social media, etc. The might throw a lot of secular quotes in your face from successful (read: wealthy) people encouraging you to become more like them.

However, I have always had a problem with the “utopia now” set because even if they achieved every social and political cause they took upon themselves to champion, even if the world was overrun with the wealthy, science-minded, culturally-elite, atheistic, innovative collaborators public schools seem to be aimed at creating, even if poverty was eliminated, wars ended, and perfect knowledge achieved still everyone in this dreamy existence would cease to exist. Every single person in utopia would eventually die simply because no one lives forever.

So all these attempts at creating heaven on earth rather than pursuing eternal life in heaven to me seem short-sighted at best. The Hamiltonian idea that greatness consists only in great actions that result in an impressive earthly legacy is one which I reject. I’ve never thought that Alexander Hamilton or George Washington gain any eternal happiness by knowing that they are featured in many statues, town names, and American currency and (as much as I admittedly studied a lot of history and really like George Washington). I believe that as time passes even they will fade into obscurity like the Roman emperors of old who sat on the thrones of empires and were likened to Gods but who myself or the majority of people living today probably couldn’t name.

Living with an eternal perspective lends not only a patience and calm to thinks that might seem otherwise devastating but as a Christian my hope stems from not just a vague idea of paradise or idealistic reflections of justice, but a firm belief that a life of union with God will satisfy my every desire for justice, peace, happiness, love, and mercy. It takes the anxiety, the “now or never,” out of the equation because I do believe I will see this in my lifetime it’s just that I don’t confine that lifetime to include only my temporal life on earth. So until that day, I found my ultimate answer to my brother’s question is that I too am willing to wait for it.