Ampleforth Abbey

14 December 2017

St Thomas

Homily preached by Fr Gabriel Everitt OSB at the Conventual Mass on the Second Sunday of Easter, 27th April 2014. Fr Gabriel is Headmaster of Ampleforth College.

Welcome to Mass today on this second Sunday in Eastertide, within the Easter Octave and known sometimes as ‘Divine Mercy’ Sunday, especially a welcome to the members of the Ampleforth Lourdes hospitalité, here on retreat. This morning in Rome, witin the past hour in fact, two Popes of the 20th Century, John XXIII and John Paul II have been declared saints. Not many (or indeed any) of us, we may think are going to be Popes, but we may be saints. So we begin Mass, as always, by calling to mind the things thus far that stop us being saints and we ask God to do away with them.

This morning the risen Jesus stands among us just as he did, in the Gospel reading, in Jerusalem on that Easter day and as he does in every celebration of Mass. He can be a wonderful, yet also at times a most disconcerting presence, an upturning of our minds and our lives. The figure much catching our attention in the morning’s gospel is of course that of St Thomas the Apostle, doubting Thomas. St Thomas’ feast day is in July; on that day in the Ampleforth office, there is a wonderful reading from Monsignor Ronnie Knox, a significant past English Catholic. He says:

Thomas, as we know from his record, was loyal to a fault: he had been the first to suggest that they should all go and die with their Master. But he was one of those people who will always ask the inconvenient question. One of those hard headed, you might almost say bullet headed people, people who give so much trouble on juries and on committees of every sort, by refusing to take the majority view until they, personally, are satisfied. He has been chosen to be an eye-witness, vouching personally for every event in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. As as he was not an eye witness of this appearance in the upper room it will not do. How can they be certain it was really their Master they saw? What tests did they make? Until I have seen the mark of the nails on his hands, until I have put my finger into the mark of the nails, and put my hand into his side, you will never make me believe’.

So Monsignor Knox. Bullet headed people and committees of every sort. Ah yes. And we may indeed know a few Thomases ourselves or we may honestly say that there is a bit of doubting Thomas, his mixture of integrity and stubbornness, in us too. But blessed are they who have not seen and yet believe. Maybe though our task may seem harder than that of Thomas, who did in the end, see; we do not see and yet are invited and challenged to believe that the very best has happened and is possible too even for us, the gift of a transformed eternal life.

Yet it is so easy, is it not, to be among life’s pessimists, the ‘wishful thinking, too good to be true’ brigade and we may feel that in the world around us and in our own experiences and in our own lives, the balance of evidence is not so favourable to the view that all will be well. Pope St John XXIII has a wonderful passage, which has been quoted in recent days:

Consult not your fears but your hopes and your dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what is still possible for you to do.

Did you notice, I am sure you did, three frightful Fs here? – fears, frustrations, failures. We know about these. And instead? Hopes, dreams, unfulfilled potential, what it is still possible to be and do. There may come the nasty undermining voice, the doubt ‘you cannot be that’ ‘you are not good enough’, a cynical demoralising voice, which may be someone else but is as likely and more so to be a voice within. But the dream does not have to be a big and unrealistic dream to become a big reality. More often indeed the seed will be small, that falls in the ground and dies, but then yields a rich harvest. Fr Kevin quoted to the girls of St Bede’s and then to the U6th in their year retreat, astonishing words of St Catherine of Siena: ‘Be who God created you to be and you will set the world on fire’. The magnitude is not in the beginning, in the call, but in the end and in the power and the glory. The risen Lord here and now calls to you, doubt no longer but believe, be who I call you to be.