domenica 23 aprile 2017

«Non videntes, credentes autem»

As we were saying during the Paschal Triduum, on Eastertide the Church does not read the Old Testament. So, the first reading, during this liturgical season, is usually taken from the Acts of the Apostles, which is the book of the New Testament that narrates the infancy of the Church. The Risen Lord continues to be present in the world through his Church. Today we have read the first of three summaries that outline the chief characteristics of the Jerusalem community. Luke, the author of Acts, enumerates four of these features: the first Christians were faithful to the teaching of the apostles; they lived together and put all things in common; they used to break the bread together (which means that they celebrated the Eucharist); and they went regularly to the temple for prayer. But I would like to emphasize a detail in this passage: the first Christians are described as “those who believed;” they are believers by definition: what distinguishes Christians from others is faith.

As second reading during the Easter Time this year we read the first letter of Saint Peter. This letter appears to be a baptismal homily, suitable for this liturgical season, which is the time of mystagogy, that is, the catechetical period following immediately after reception of Baptism in the Easter Vigil. In today’s passage, we have heard the so-called “blessing” at the beginning of the letter: Peter praises and thanks God for the gift of Baptism, depicted as a “new birth.” But what is interesting in this reading is what Peter says about faith: he reminds the newly baptized that their faith, like gold, will be tested through various trials. And then he adds: “Although you have not seen [Jesus Christ], you love him; even though you do not see him now yet believe in him (non videntes, credentes autem).” That is the condition of Christians: they believe in Jesus Christ without seeing him.

This condition is stressed by today’s gospel. First of all, we are told about the experience of the apostles. They had not immediately believed what the women had told them, that, according to a vision of angels, Jesus had risen. But then Jesus appeared to them and showed them his wounds, thus forcing them to believe. They believed, because they saw. “We have seen the Lord” is their witness to Thomas, who was not present when Jesus appeared to them. But Thomas refused to believe the words of his fellow apostles: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands … and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” In order to believe, Thomas wants to see. And he is satisfied: eight days later Jesus appears again to his disciples. This time Thomas is present, and he is reproached by Jesus: “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.” After Thomas’ act of faith—“My Lord and my God”—Jesus continues his reprimand: “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” Jesus reminds Thomas, and all of us, that there is no need of seeing, to believe; indeed, there is true faith when we do not see; if we see, it is not faith any more, but vision. Of course, it was necessary that someone should see the Risen Lord, so that we could believe on the basis of their testimony. But we cannot say: “They are lucky that they have seen!” Jesus tells us the exact opposite: “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” Our condition is better than the apostles’.

Why is faith so important? The apostles explain it to us. Peter, at the end of the second reading, tells us what is the goal of our faith: the salvation of our souls. If we want to be saved, we have to believe. John, at the end of his gospel, informs us that Jesus did many other signs in addition to those narrated in the gospel. Then he adds: “These are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.” Faith is necessary, if we want to live. We can attain eternal life, provided that we believe. No faith, no life.