When I was first exposed to Catholicism in 5th grade, I thought that I might be Jewish. This God thing was great, and I was totally on board, and I would regularly pray, even as a 5th grader. But Jesus was a bit harder to swallow (pro-tip: that doubles as a Eucharist joke). Namely, I found it hard to believe that Jesus performed miracles. They just seemed so unscientific, so I would look for any other possible explanation. That blind guy he healed? Well, Jesus must have known that the chemical composition of his spit, paired with the elements in that specific bit of soil, would somehow get rid of this guy’s cataracts. Or Lazarus? Maybe he was in a coma or something. This was especially true of the Resurrection: I wanted Jesus to somehow be faking his death, or have a twin, or something that did not involve breaking the laws of nature. These doubts and reservations persisted through high school.
Then one day, when I was 17 or 18 years old, I was on a family vacation on shores of Lake Erie getting reading for my afternoon siesta, when I asked myself: why not? Why not believe the Church and the Scriptures? Why not believe that Jesus actually beat death and rose from the grave? See, at this point, I was attracted to the Church, and really trusted Catholic theology. I mean, the greatest minds for millennia of Western history were Catholic, and the Church not only spans eras but spans cultures, too. Plus, Catholic moral teaching specifically had saved me from becoming a typical teenage hedonist, and I knew it, and was thankful for it. So why not go all the way and believe the Jesus stuff, too?
St. Thomas faces a similar choice in today’s Gospel. On the one hand, believing that someone has risen from the dead seems crazy. It has never happened before, so why should it happen now? On the other hand, he has some pretty good evidences: For one, there were the sayings of Jesus pointing to resurrection which, admittedly, were misunderstood by the other disciples, too. For another, there is the empty tomb, which Thomas himself would have seen. And finally, all of his closest friends were telling him that they had seen Jesus.
Well, St. Thomas and I, faced with the same choice, took two different paths. St. Thomas persisted in his stubbornness, even in the face of those evidences, and said that he would not believe until he could see Jesus himself. I, on the other hand, said yes, I trust the Church, I trust the Catholic religion. Even though I do not understand how these miracles could have happened, I will allow myself to believe.
My friends, the different between these two experiences is something called faith. The letter to the Hebrews defines faith as “the conviction of things not seen”, which is exactly what Jesus is talking about when he says “blessed are those who do not see and yet believe”.
So, to keep it simple, here are three points about faith.
First, faith is reasonable, but it goes beyond reason. Someone like Bill Maher or Richard Dawkins will tell you that faith is for stupid people. Faith is checking your reason at the door and giving in to church brainwashing. But this is completely untrue! Faith always has reasons. Faith is always reasonable. St. Thomas had sayings, and events, and witnesses all pointing him toward what seemed to be impossible. I had the entire Catholic intellectual tradition backing up the miracle of the Resurrection. These are sufficient evidences. It is reasonable to believe. But these evidences are not rock-solid proofs. A person who did not want to be convinced could always find another counter argument. This is why faith goes beyond reason. Faith allows us to be convicted, even if there is still some room for doubt. Faith allows us to believe crazy things like the Resurrection, even if the evidences only take us 80% of the way. Faith is reasonable, but it goes beyond reason.
Second, faith is not just a “religious thing.” We rely on faith more today than ever before in human history. Why? Because there is too much information out there for us to be able to see everything with our own eyes. We generally trust the evening news, and our school text books, and our friends when they tell us a story. This is all, to some extent, faith. And, in the secular context, it is pretty clear when someone lacks faith. Those people who think 9/11 was an inside job? It is not that they are mentally unbalanced, necessarily, but that they refuse to have faith in the government and the media. Even given plenty of evidence, they remain unconvinced. And they look crazy to us because we, as a matter of course, do have faith in the government and in the media. Well, that is an easy example, but it can happen to any of us in far less obvious ways. Sometimes, we really, really do not want to be convinced. So, no matter what evidences are offered, we always find something not to trust, something not to agree with. This happens in our politics. Sometimes it happens when we really do not like someone. These are all examples of lacking faith. Now put it back in the religious context: is there something in our faith life that we really, really do not want to change our opinion on? Have people tried to convince us, and we refuse to budge? Maybe we are more trusting of our school text books than we are of our Church, and we should ask ourselves why that is. To Thomas’ credit, when he was given the proof that he asked for, he did not persist in his stubbornness, but believed.
Finally, faith is a theological virtue. This means that, one, it is entirely a grace given by God. Only he can give you faith. But, two, it is also a habit that we have to build. What this means is that faith requires openness. You have to be open, so that God can give it to you. And you have to practice this openness, so that it becomes a habit. In other words, we receive faith by asking for it, and then asking for it again, and again, and again, until we are constantly and continually asking God for faith. Whether I knew it or not, I asked God for faith lying on my bed on the shores of Lake Erie, and he gave it to me right there. And that moment turned into a journey of struggling with my faith, and having doubts, and questioning the Church and her teachings, but always, always at the end of the day turning to God and asking him to help me believe.
So there it is. Faith. Without faith, no progress in the spiritual life is possible. Now, maybe, we can end by listening with new ears to the words of St. Peter in our second reading: “Although you have not seen him you love him; even though you do not see him now yet believe in him, you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, as you attain the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”