RELIGION: Many people no longer feel at home in our world

By Canon Gerry Conroy

This Gospel, it seems to me, is of value for those who feel their faith falls short of what they would like it to be. Those who are seeking to have God in their life, but feel there is something still lacking. That is the faith Thomas and Philip have in Sunday’s Gospel.

Perhaps at least some of the problems we have with our faith arises because for some reason we seem to presume there is going to be a difference between the things that pertain to this life and the things that pertain to God. We imagine it’s one or the other; sometimes we have to choose one or the other, but not all the time. Surely the whole point of the incarnation was to help us find the unity between the two. The problem rises when we lose the balance between the two; and that balance can be lost either way – when we place too much importance on matters that pertain to our life on earth to the exclusion of God or when we place too much importance on the matters that pertain more explicitly to God to the exclusion of things that concern living here and now. ‘Christ said, ‘render unto Caesar, the things that belong to Caesar, and to God, the things that belong to God.’ Faith is about finding God in the ordinary.

In our modern society that opposition seems to have reached such a point that they are almost at war with one another. The reasons why are long and complicated, but it has left us in an unhealthy place, both in terms of religion and in terms of our short span of time here on earth. The alienation the bible speaks of has become quite clear in our own time and one major result is that many people no longer feel at home in our world or even in their own bodies.

But does this drive people to faith or away from faith? Should not faith be comforting, consoling? Life is hard enough without adding to it yet so often faith seems to demand more of us. What people want is for life to be easier.

We heard in the Gospel how Thomas and Philip struggled because for them faith in Christ did not bring clarity. It seemed to raise more questions, more confusion. What Christ said did not always make sense to them from a purely worldly point of view; certainly it didn’t make sense when he spoke to them about the necessity of his death; they did not want to have to deal with the cross. They did not know anything of an Easter faith; all they understood was the cross and that was not something they wanted. Perhaps the cross summed up for them everything they wanted Christ to save them from: all the suffering, the injustice, the hardship, perhaps even death itself. Their fear was surely that in willingly accepting the cross, Jesus was also submitting to these other things as well. Was he somehow or other acquiescing to them?

There is a story told of St Martin of Tours, that the devil appeared to him in the guise of Christ, but St Martin wasn’t fooled, he asked the devil, ‘where are your wounds?’ He had learned from St Thomas to whom Christ appeared after the resurrection complete with his wounds.

Our faith is an Easter faith; it is a faith in the resurrection, but the resurrection comes after the crucifixion; An Easter faith is a trust in Christ despite everything that seems to contradict him. There are times in life for all of us when the faith of Thomas and Philip must be our faith also; a faith that knows it is incomplete but keeps searching, keeps faith with Christ despite everything – just like Thomas and Philip.

Canon Conroy is parish priest of St Patrick’s, Dumbarton, top of page picture, and St Peter’s, Bellsmyre

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