Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture

Homily – Second Sunday of Easter – 15 April 2012 – What Do You Doubt?

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Second Sunday of Easter B – April 15, 2012 – What Do You Doubt?

 Acts 4:32-35; Psalm 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24; 1 John 5:1-6; John 20: 19-31

Complete biblical texts for today

Some two hundred and fifty years ago Benjamin Franklin wrote: “Of two things you can be certain: death and taxes.” What else are we certain about? Without a doubt we know this church building is here. Are we as certain about what causes global warming? That Jesus the Christ rose from the dead? That God is real?

The first reading we heard this morning follows a story in the bible about Peter healing a man who was lame from birth. The local officials questioned Peter and John and then let them go. The Acts of the Apostles was written after the destruction of the temple. Late first century Jews who were becoming Christians were persecuted, frightened and worried that they would not be free to practice their religion. 

So they did what any oppressed group might do. They helped each other out. According to the biblical text this emerging Christian community was of “one mind and one heart” led by their Spirit. None of them knew Jesus personally. They took everything on faith, the testimony and leadership of others. 

Today there are similar assertions that certain government policies could deprive people of religious liberty. One cannot criticize any religious group for working, like the early Christians did, to protect religious freedom. However, are all Catholics today of one mind and heart about these claims or any other issues regarding their religion? Can Catholics who disagree with some non-dogmatic teachings of their church still call themselves Catholic? 

In this week’s issue of The Tablet, a British Catholic newspaper, the editors report that members of the Church in Ireland remain fervent in their religious practice while dissenting from church teachings about sex and gender. [1]

Last week the editors of Commonweal, a magazine published by lay Catholics, challenged the American bishops’ response [2]  to “unprecedented threats to religious freedom” in this country. [3]

In the gospel story today Thomas doubted the physical presence of the resurrected Christ. His friends in that room did not reject him. The risen Christ did not scold him but greeted him with a kiss of peace. Doubting or being uncertain about something whether it is a so-called fact of life, a government policy or a religious doctrine is not anything new.

Cullen Murphy, author of God’s Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World, wrote that moral certainty “sweeps objections aside and makes anything permissible [especially] if pursued with an appeal to a higher justification.” That higher authority, the basis for such certainty, he writes, could be God, history, rationalism, science or even the common good. [4] When someone is so certain about something everything else, everyone else, is deemed wrong or an outsider.

So where does that place good Catholic people who, after prayer and consultation with spouses, partners, friends and pastoral leaders, honestly doubt the certainty of some doctrines taught by their religion? Note for the Blog: Dissent against a dogma of the church is impossible for a Catholic.  [5]

According to Cullen the history of the Catholic church “has long balanced the comfort of certainty against the corrective of doubt.” Challenging certain teachings of government or religion can create a healthy opportunity for authorities to dialogue with their constituents. Together they might come to agree on how time honored doctrines could to be adapted to contemporary issues dealing with, for example, family planning, capital punishment or human torture — whatever the case may be. 

When Thomas asked to see and touch the wounds of the risen Christ he was not saying he did not believe or that he did not want to follow Christ. As a mature human being he wanted to decide for himself whether he would accept what was apparent to others in the room.

Today’s reading from John’s letter suggests that God’s commandments are not burdensome. We who make up the church today are called to help one another make wise decisions about developing our lives. To be united in this effort gives us strength. Whether to doubt or to be certain about time honored principles in our religious tradition will always require a mature and Spirit filled decision on our part.

Have your filed your taxes yet? This year we have until Tuesday April 17th because Monday is a holiday in Washington, DC. It is Emancipation Day. It celebrates the end of captivity for 3000 slaves in the District of Columbia in 1862 before the end of the Civil War. Being free to live freely is a precious gift. We may not be able to do anything about death; maybe there is something we can do about taxes. In the meantime, to doubt or question anything that inhibits or prevents people from growing in God’s eyes may not be such a bad thing to do.  

____

1 From the Editors Desk.  “Listen to the People” The Tablet (April 14, 2011)  http://www.thetablet.co.uk/article/162590

2 USCCB Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty. “Our First Most Cherished Liberty” http://usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/our-first-most-cherished-liberty.cfm

3 Posted by the Editors “Religious Freedom and the US Catholic Bishops” in dotCommonweal (April 12, 2012)  http://www.commonwealmagazine.org/blog/?p=18431

4 Murphy, Cullen. “The Certainty of Doubt” in The New York Times February 12, 2012, SR 12

5 McBrien, Richard. Catholicism: Study Edition (Minneapolis, MN: Winston Press, 1981. See pages 67 ff. 

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Author: Richard S. Vosko

Richard S. Vosko, Ph.D., Hon. AIA, is an internationally known sacred space planner. He is a presbyter in the Diocese of Albany who enjoys the classroom as much as the pulpit. On Sundays he presides at worship at St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Albany, NY. For more information on Vosko’s background, his projects, publications and speaking engagements please go to his website. For his homilies and occasional musings about religion, art and architecture go to his blog. Comments, questions and suggestions are always welcomed there.

6 thoughts on “Homily – Second Sunday of Easter – 15 April 2012 – What Do You Doubt?

  1. THANKS FOR THIS INSIGHTFUL SERMON.WHEN I AM ‘DOUBTING’ I WILL REMEMBER YOUR WORDS AND CONTINUE TO REARRANGE THE DECK CHAIRS ON THE TITANIC ELLEN HALLIGAN

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  2. The Fifth Agreement by Don Miguel Ruiz and Don Jose Ruiz, (2010), refers to healthy doubt as a part of mastering the self. The fifth agreement is “Be skeptical, but learn to listen.” Doubt of our assumptions about the symbols we use, the beliefs we learn, the awareness that we have of ourselves and others, that is the basis for self change and transformation.

    Thank you for your insights.
    Debbie

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  3. You knocked it out of the park!! Great job Father Vosko!

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  4. I confess I struggle to understand the nature of our faith in some of the first things mentioned in this wonderful homily — not global warming or other worldly political issues, but the reality of Jesus’ resurrection and God in daily life. For this cradle Catholic, it is hard to know how far rationality and faith should take us in understanding that the Gospels are not necessarily literally accurate in every detail but that our Catholic faith requires and sustains our belief in the divinity of Jesus. I would love to hear discussion of this topic when the calendar allows.

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  5. Thank you for elucidating the difference between dogma and doctrine, as well as about the invitation of doubt as a potential gift of faith and how moral certainty leaves little room for such gifts. Brilliantly done.

    As someone who lives their faith in an often very public manner via my work as a writer and through social media activity, I am often challenged, being told that I am less than faithful – or simply wrong.

    For me, the greatest gifts of this life have faith have come through the questions far more frequently than the answers alone. This is often hard for people to understand, but your words give me great hope.

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