Low Sunday—30 March AD 2008
“This is the victory that overcomes the world, our
Caravaggio’s Doubting Thomas
[Ordinary of the Mass]
In the Old Testament Law of Moses, judicial proceedings
(and a fortiori, the death penalty) were sustained by the testimony of at
least two witnesses, and our Lord and His Apostles confirm this in the New
Of course, there was an opportunity to produce opposing witnesses or to cross
examine the witnesses to see that their testimonies agreed with each other.
Just a few weeks ago, during Lent, we read the story of Daniel and Susanna,
where two false witnesses against her were rebutted by taking their testimonies
separately and finding that they did not agree.
On several occasions, our Lord spoke to the Pharisees,
insisting that they believe His teachings because He spoke not only with His own
authority but with that of His Father in Heaven.
“It is I who bear witness to Myself, and He who sent Me, the Father, bears
witness to Me.”
Now, one might object, on behalf of the Pharisees, that Jesus’ second witness
was not around to be seen, and perhaps, that being one’s own witness was not
very reassuring for those asked to believe. But this was not exactly true.
Certainly, a good number of flesh and blood witnesses could give testimony to
the Baptism of Jesus, when the Holy Ghost appeared visibly and “descended upon
Him in the bodily form of a dove,” and the voice of the Father came from
Heaven, “Thou art my beloved Son, in Thee I am will pleased.”
Indeed, this testimony is given in nearly identical words in all three of the
synoptic Gospels. And there is the same matching of testimony at the time
of the Transfiguration, witnessed by Peter, James, and John.
There is a hint in today’s epistle that the Father and the Holy Ghost bear
witness to the Son. “The testimony of God is greater than that of men,
He has borne witness concerning His Son.”
The miracles of our Lord also provided testimony to His
teaching: “the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the
deaf hear, the dead rise, and the poor have the Gospel preached to them.”
Perhaps in isolation it might be possible to chalk up a miracle or two to dumb
luck or psychosomatic cure—but when you consider the large number of miracles
and the ease with which He worked them, they surely bear witness to His divinity
and the truth of His teaching.
The healing of lepers is particularly significant because
it was the priests of the Temple who made the determination that a man had
leprosy in the first place, and it was again the priests who had the exclusive
ability to pronounce that the same man had been cured.
Jesus Healed lepers on a number of recorded occasions, and priests who examined
them should have been highly influential witnesses on His behalf—Jesus always
sent them to the priests.
The Gospels record that our Lord raised people from the
dead on at least three different occasions: the son of a widow at Naim, the
daughter of the synagogue president, and Lazarus at Bethany.
Not to mention His own resurrection from the dead, such miracles are again
powerful testimony in favor of our Lord and His teaching.
But even among His own Apostles—men who traveled with
Him, sharing the hardships of His mission and seeing all that He did—even
among these there was incredulity. Last Monday we read that two disciples
on the road to Emmaus doubted the possibility of the Resurrection until they met
Jesus Himself, and recognized Him “in the breaking of the bread.”
And today we read about Saint Thomas, who refused to believe his fellow Apostles
until he not only saw Jesus for himself, but was able to touch the wounds of the
crucifixion with his own hands.
All of these things are recorded, Saint John tells us so
that we “may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and believing
[we] may have life in His name.”
If anything, the initial disbelief of Thomas, and the physical evidence which he
examined, followed by his overwhelming belief, make us even more certain of this
This “belief” is called “faith.” It is belief
in something we could not have known through natural reason, but only because
God has chosen to reveal it—either directly as He did to the prophets in the
Old Testament or to the disciples of Jesus in the New Testament—or indirectly
as it is revealed to us through their testimony as it is recorded in Scripture
and Tradition, and passed down through the Church. We believe the things
of faith because they are revealed by God—God who is unchanging and incapable
of deception for He is Truth Itself—His Son Jesus speaks of
Himself as “the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes
to the Father but through Me.”
The sin of disbelief, then, is the sin of hearing God’s
word about Himself, and refusing to accept what He tells us. The sin of
disbelief is essentially the sin of making God out to be a liar. The sin
of disbelief is invariably accompanied by coldness of heart, for the unbeliever
can never love God.
Be sure that you understand that faith is not simply an act
of the human intellect. God reaches out with what we call “prevenient
grace,” to prepare our minds to accept His truth. But man always retains
his free will, and a person who is too highly attached to the things of the
world, may well push this grace aside—particularly if he sees unwelcome
responsibilities and onerous duties associated with profession of the Catholic
But it is precisely, as Saint John says, “our Faith which
overcomes the world.” Faith is not a guarantee that things
will always go well for us. It is not a matter of faith that
we will always be successful in our endeavors; not a matter
of faith that we will always be free from hunger and thirst and sickness.
But we do know by Faith that “God will not tempt us beyond our strength, but
with the temptation will always give us a way out.”
But the point is that by holding fast to what God has reveled about Himself, and
what He wants of us, we will be rewarded with nothing less than the direct
perpetual vision of God Himself. To the degree that such a thing is
possible, the creature will possess the Creator in eternity.
Those who believe; those who reach out and accept
God’s gift of grace, will believe everything He has revealed, on His authority
alone. By their belief they will know God and come to love Him. This
Faith and this Charity give us Hope, the virtue by which we prudently expect the
rewards of Heaven, as we overcome and go beyond the things of the world.
“This is the victory that overcomes the world, our