I am often amazed at how dynamic, how full of contrasting ideas, our faith is. As followers of Jesus we often find ourselves holding opposing concepts at the same time. Jesus is both God and human. Mary is both virgin and mother. The Church is holy, but made up of sinners. The list goes on. It causes us to think and that’s one of the places where the Holy Spirit is at work.
Today’s readings illustrate another of those dynamics. We live our faith as a community and in public, but at the same time our faith is profoundly intimate and personal.
In our first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, we see the strength of faith lived in community. We read that the disciples “devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.” We see that Christianity is a communal faith, one that requires its followers to be actively involved with others. We do not live our faith in a vacuum. In this community your salvation must be as much a concern to me as is my own salvation. Our sins are not just against God, but against the Body of Christ, the Church. The early Christians lived this, and every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
In juxtaposition we have the Gospel reading about Thomas. Thomas gets a bad rap when we call him doubting Thomas. Thomas’ journey to faith is more dramatic than most but is one that we can all relate to.
The story begins with Christ appearing to the disciples in the locked room. This appearance of Jesus is a communal experience. The community of disciples rejoices to see the risen Lord, but we do not hear the reactions of any individual- in fact we don’t even know who was there. No names are mentioned- except that of Thomas, the absent one.
The community of disciples tells Thomas about their joy and the peace Jesus gave them. But Thomas does not get his faith from the community. The community brings him to the locked room a week later. When Jesus reappears, Thomas receives faith in an intimate encounter with Jesus. Can you think of anything more profoundly intimate than being invited to place your hand into Jesus’ side, into the very wound that poured out blood and water on the cross? Perhaps only receiving the body and blood of Christ into our bodies as the Eucharist can compare.
So Thomas receives faith and proclaims Jesus as ‘My Lord and my God’. He is the first of the disciples to proclaim Jesus as God.
We to are brought to the Lord, to the Gospel, in communal worship. But we receive faith from an intimate encounter with the risen Lord.
When you think about it, the Mass perfectly represents the dynamic of living our faith as a community, while at the same profoundly intimate. At Mass we listen to the Gospel as a community. We sing praises and pray, we stand and kneel communally. Yet there is a moment at Mass when we individually and intimately rejoice at seeing the risen Lord. Our faith is based on that encounter.
For us as Catholics the question is not communal worship or intimate personal encounter. We need both. Humans are made to be communal, and at the same time we encounter God intimately and personally- in a burning bush in the desert, on a mountaintop, in the privacy of the Annunciation, and in the presence of the Lord at the sacrifice of the Mass.
These are challenging times. We know that the Mass is being offered many times a day in the parishes of our diocese but we are not able to be physically present. How then do we maintain communal worship when we are necessarily separated one from the other?
The TV Masses help. When you participate in a TV Mass, set that time apart as holy to the Lord. Turn off your phone. Listen attentively and follow the actions of the Mass- standing, sitting, kneeling. Make the same physical gestures of prayer as other Catholics around the world to be in union with them.
On days that you do not watch Mass, read and study the daily Mass readings. You can find them online at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website. Make it a family activity or form a virtual group using your favorite meeting ap. Knowing that you are in union with Catholics around the world who are reading and praying those same scripture can be a powerful source of community.
The Church provides opportunities for simultaneous prayer in practices that are linked to time, such as the noon Angelus, the Liturgy of the Hours or in praying the Rosary or the Chaplet of Divine Mercy at 3:00 each day. Our joining in prayer at the same time is yet another way of manifesting the universal Church. Gathering for prayer in the home does not take the place of the Eucharist but it is an opportunity for us to be able to experience, in very real ways, other manifestations of Christ’s presence that the Church has always rejoiced in.
Contemplate those who are praying along with you at Mass- not just fellow parishioners, but also the entire Communion of Saints, who the Church teaches are always spiritually present at Mass. Without the physical communion of the Eucharist or an immediate community, the Communion of Saints becomes even more vital. Our spiritual bond with is with the saints in heaven, with the profound spiritual connection we share with the Church Militant on earth and with the Church suffering in purgatory.
We live our faith as a community, as communal and public as the disciples’ shared joy at the risen Lord but at the same time our faith is profoundly intimate, as personal as Thomas’s declaration of faith. Brothers and sisters, now more than ever let us understand clearly that our community is not defined as a matter of what and where, but on the basis of our worship of God; as a community at one table around the risen Christ, who gathers and unites us wherever we may be.