I’ve been recently sampling a popular HBO show I hadn’t watched before, which actually just aired its final episode forever. It’s called Girls, and although it’s not my usual television fare, I got into it. Girls delves into the daily experiences of a group of twenty-something girls living in New York City, often dealing with humiliating and disastrous events regarding young adulthood, relationships and sexuality. It’s a pretty good show, it draws you in---sometimes in its shockingly honest portrayals of modern day choices. It has been controversial, but it has also won several Emmys, Golden Globes, Peabody and other television awards.
As a screenwriter, I appreciate that the characters on the show are deeply flawed, like most of us real people. They are also often self-absorbed and cynical about life, and their issues and crises are familiar to anyone who has friends or children in that stage of their lives.
They remind me of many of the young people I have taught for the last 20 years, whose youth is evident in their unlined faces, in their ignorance of history, in their awkwardness with adult responsibilities.
Those young people have been a blessing to me. I have loved being with them, getting to know them personally, learning about what matters to them, what bothers them, what they dream about.
And yet sometimes I get a sense that those 18 or 20 short years on the earth have done something to them, and it’s not always a good thing. Sometimes I wonder how they have become so cynical, how they have come to see the world with such jaded eyes. Somewhere along the way, the sense of wonder has been lost.
Not entirely, for sure. They still soar with infatuation, get wildly enthusiastic over their music, reveal a goodness and innocence in wanting to make the world a better place.
But they also come with so many doubts about their future, about the way the world works, about the underlying motivations of people. They don’t believe too easily, and it often appears that beneath the seemingly good economic and social circumstances of their lives, they have had a hard time of it. It is sometimes painful to see their negativity, their apathy, and their cynicism.
At the Catholic university where I have taught, most of the students were raised as Catholics. On a given Sunday, only about 10% attend one of the multiple Masses offered on campus. Part of that is normal for adolescents who are attempting to discover what they really believe. But it is also obvious from my many conversations with them that the Church has failed to be an attractive or relevant force in their lives.
The world that our children grow up in these days also plays a very big part. Our time could never be called an ‘Age of Innocence’, as Edith Wharton ironically entitled her novel about New York in the late 1800’s. Just watch one episode of Girls and you will undoubtedly agree.
Everywhere you look—in politics, art, commerce, sports---we are surrounded by a deep skepticism about the motivations of institutions, businesses, politicians, entertainers, athletes, and religious leaders. That sometimes gets transferred to our co-workers, our neighbors, and even our family members. People who practice altruism, who are deeply generous, merciful, compassionate and selfless, people who advocate for those qualities in our communities, are considered naïve or too accommodating or too trusting.
In our world, it is not easy to believe in and act on something that is simply good and true.
So let me ask you a question. How would you rate yourself? A hopeful person, an optimistic person, a person who is sometimes called naïve, or gullible, or a starry-eyed dreamer? Or are you--do others see you as-- a realist, or a pragmatist, or a rational person? Or are you perhaps a pessimist, a doubter, a disbeliever, or someone who has difficulty trusting the world and the people around you?
Here’s another question to ponder. When you entered into this room a few minutes ago from the parking lot, did you expect to see Jesus? Did you expect that you would encounter the Risen Lord in the next hour or so?
It’s OK if you didn't. It’s OK if you came here because you felt obligated, or because you believed that you would be committing a sin if you didn't come to Mass. It’s OK if you came because you were sort of forced to by your parents or someone else. It’s OK if you came because you thought it would probably do you some good, maybe even make you feel a little better. It’s OK if you didn’t really expect to see Jesus right here and right now.
It is so easy to be doubtful about a lot of things. That was Thomas’s problem, too. When Jesus was alive, and giving life to everyone around him, it was easy to believe and easier to hope. It was a great time for those guys, his followers, because they had found the one they had been looking for all their lives. He had set their hearts on fire, and nothing was ever the same again for them. And then, he was disgraced and tortured and executed as a fraud and a criminal, and it was very very hard for them to hope anymore, or to believe in anything. It seemed to hit Thomas harder than the rest. You wonder if this great disappointment had been the last straw in a life that had delivered him a lot of disappointments. You wonder what wounds of his own Thomas was enduring.
Who here hasn’t been there? Who hasn’t lost hope, or their dreams? Who here hasn’t had their faith shaken to the core, at one time or another in their lives? I'm pretty sure that there isn’t a single person sitting in this room whose heart hasn’t been broken at one time or another. Pick up the pieces, move on, risk again giving your heart to another potential girlfriend or boyfriend? No way. No way. Your heart hardens, you learn to be very cautious, sometimes you wall yourself off from it all. And I know it all very personally. I’ve been there, just like you.
You look around at the world, you listen to the news, it can be hard to hope. There is such mistrust, such bitterness, such anger, such hatred.
We see pictures of death and violence, of broken bodies of young children who make themselves into human bombs, of soldiers and tanks shooting innocent civilians. We are shocked and horrified and we wonder how humanity can sink so low.
We hear of betrayals—in the bedroom, in the boardroom, in the rectories of our churches.
We experience the bitterness directly—the nasty notes, the silent treatment, the fingered gestures from car windows.
And sometimes, we are the sources of the same.
It can be hard to hope, and harder sometimes, to believe.
A few years ago I had a student who was a wonderful person. He was a boy with a big smile and an infectious laugh. He had many friends and was much loved by his teachers and his peers. But underneath it all he was struggling with lots of issues, some not so awful, some more central to his life. Among them, he was dealing with the fact that he was gay. It gave him a great deal of heartache, anxiety, and fear. He was subjected to a lot of rejection and ridicule and some downright hatred. But you know, he deeply believed in Jesus as his Savior, and he believed that God loved him as a gay young man.
But then he faced an even greater challenge. He was diagnosed with a terrible disease that ravaged his body. Throughout all the treatments and medical procedures, he smiled and carried on with hope. His faith was inspiring, and infectious, including to me.
Then one day I visited him in the hospital, and I suddenly met Thomas, lying in the bed, filled with fear and doubt. Show me the wounds, he was saying. I’ll believe it when I see it. For the first time, with me at least, he wasn’t so sure of the saving part of Jesus, for him. He was probably at his lowest point in the illness. I tried hard to raise his spirits, to give him hope, but it got to me too. It wasn't easy to hide my sadness.
Several months later, just before he died, he told me that he had seen Jesus, and believed. Where, I asked, where did you see Jesus? He smiled. “I saw him in you, when you cried with me when I was so depressed.” I saw the tears in his own eyes as he looked at me.
I didn’t know what to say. It was humbling. I know how poor my faith is. I know how often I doubt. But I think I understood what he meant.
I can’t prove to you that there is a God, or that Jesus is Him, and I find it scary since I’m betting my life that there is one and He is it. I can’t prove it, but I do catch of glimpse of Him or her, from time to time. I’m looking at Him right now.
I mean right here in this Church, looking at your faces and the pain and the burdens and the insecurities that they reveal, I see the goodness of your hearts, and for me, that is a wonder-filled blessing. I believe I see God at this very moment, and that if I choose, I will see Him today, and tomorrow, and all the days of my life.
Can I lose faith? It’s so easy to be Thomas, and faith only exists in tension with doubt. Otherwise it's not faith, it's a sure thing. If you’re looking for proofs, if you are looking to put your fingers in the actual wounds, well, maybe this is the wrong place to be sitting.
But you know, there are wounds to touch, and perhaps we should not quickly dismiss Thomas' instincts. Perhaps there is something for us in touching the wounds.
There are the wounds of an elderly relative afraid of being abandoned. There are the wounds of an adolescent, suffering his first rejection in love. There are the wounds of the co-worker, suffering under an unjust boss. There are the wounds of a little girl, who thinks she isn’t as loved as her brother. There are the wounds of your wife and your husband, your brother and your sister, your mother and your father.
And there are your own wounds to touch, the wounds of the doubter.
What are your wounds? Have you suffered a great loss? Were you not loved enough? Do you feel like you are not good enough? Are you addicted? ? Are you physically limited or in pain a lot? Are you lonely? Do you wonder if you have made all the wrong choices? Do you think your life has no purpose?
The wounds to touch may be our own, dear Thomas, and in those wounds you may find what Thomas Didymus was looking for as well. "My Lord, and my God."
For it is in the wounds of Jesus, your wounds, our wounds together, that you will know the love that was shed for you, is shed for you right now. And that realization is enough to overcome all the doubts and heal the wounds of your heart. For that wonderful gift there is only one word that comes to mind in this Easter season: Alleluia!