I was watching a TV programme about the beginning of the Universe recently, and as I was told about quarks, and that the Universe began 13.5 billion years ago, I was reminded that there is so much that we believe in, that we cannot see; and indeed that the scientists cannot see either, but can only deduce from mathematical calculations. The first man who produced scientific evidence that the Universe had a beginning was actually George Le Maitre, and it might surprise you to learn that as well as being a physicist, he was a Catholic priest. At first the scientific community dismissed him as someone who had made a mathematical mistake, but later they did apologise and admit that what he said was not just his belief but was backed up by the evidence
So when Jesus says, in today’s Gospel, (John 20:19-31) “Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe” we must be careful not to think that this only applies to religious belief. We base so much of life on what we believe, rather than what can be proved. People get married and spend their lives together because they believe that the love they feel they are being offered by their partner is real. It is wonderful when that belief is backed up by a lifetime’s experience. But it all starts from belief.
What is important to remember is that the “appearances” of Jesus, including the one demanded by Thomas, are not the Resurrection.The appearances are given to a few for a short while to help them with their faith. But the Resurrection is not something that happened back then, but a reality for now, in which God in and through Jesus offers everyone a new kind of life, a life in union with Jesus that we can both live now, and a life that can take us beyond death to be with him for ever. This is the belief held by millions and millions of us Christians, from then till now, on which we have based our lives.
Of course, this belief in God and his power is backed up by reason. That TV programme showed me that the Universe is not chaotic, that its expansion can be plotted mathematically, ever expanding at a faster and faster speed. I can look too at the sun rising each day at a time that can be predicted, and at so much else in our beautiful world that has order and pattern to it. So our belief that there is a creative power underlying all this is not crazy, even if we cannot prove it.
I say all this because we live in a world where many people are saying that they do not believe in God or in the Resurrection; but seem to conveniently forget that they believe in all sorts of other things that science proclaims as true, without actually seeing the evidence themselves. Like Thomas, I am a great doubter. Indeed the Book I have written about my life and my faith has the subtitle “A Doubter’s Path to the Catholic Priesthood”; so I need to constantly remind myself that although I cannot prove what I believe, it does make sense.
Thomas cannot trust what his fellow disciples are telling him, that Jesus is alive in an amazing new way, and at that crucial moment is given something that we never receive, a moment to see the evidence for himself. Looking back at my life as described in my Book, I realise that my faith depends not on evidence, but on the faith of other people I have met on the way. For some of you, that may well be your parents, but lovely as they were, my parents were sceptical about God and the Church, and so for me it was various friends : a friend called Maurice when I was 12, and another called Eamon when I was 18, and then one called Frances after that. It is through them that I came to believe, and ended up much to my astonishment as a priest. Think for a moment who those people are for you, family or friends, those who helped you to believe without seeing; and give thanks to God for them.
St Peter sums it up beautifully in our 2nd Reading today. (1 Peter 1”3-9) “You did not see him, yet you love him; and still without seeing him, you are already filled with a joy so glorious that it cannot be described, because you believe; and you are sure of the end to which your faith looks forward, that is, the salvation of your souls.”