Becoming the religious communities we’re called to be
The First Sunday of Easter always brings us the story of Thomas, unfortunately and forever labeled a doubter. We know it well.
“In the evening of that same first day” the still fear-filled disciples huddle together in a locked room in an undisclosed location, they themselves doubtful that the women among them had experienced Jesus alive again that morning.
And just like that Jesus is in their midst … displaying fresh, unhealed wounds, marks of his brutal death, and offering his friends a path toward their own transformation: peace, the Holy Spirit, and the capacity to heal one another.
Thomas missed all of this. He was somewhere else. When he returned, the disciples told him what had happened. Not surprising, Thomas didn’t believe them. Just like they didn’t believe the women. Thomas wants proof, but not just any proof. He wants physical proof of life — touch the wounds, enter the body — no social distancing here. And who can blame him?
Curiously, an entire week passes and despite their experience of Jesus alive again offering a path out of their confinement, they are still locked away in that same room. This time, though, Thomas is with them.
And just like that Jesus is with them again. This time seemingly to oblige Thomas’ very specific demands. Thomas touches the wounds and enters the body. With that his life and world are forever transformed.
To pray this resurrection story in light of the extraordinary efforts that are taking place across the throughout the world to contain a global pandemic invites us to bring our contemplative attention to bear, not on Thomas as an individual but on the disciples as a group.
The disciples to whom Jesus appeared alive again in Thomas’s absence seem to be unaffected by the peace, the Holy Spirit, and the capacity to forgive that the newly resurrected Jesus brought them. Despite having had a profound encounter, John tells us that a week later they’re still locked away out of fear. Little has changed … at least on the surface.
Upon deeper reflection, though, we see the beginnings of a collective interior transformation. Despite the fear that keeps them locked away and closed in on themselves, the disciples have space enough to hold doubt, disbelief, and all their accompanying demands. They don’t exclude Thomas because he doesn’t believe what they believe or share their experience. He remains part of the group just as he is. While they’re not yet able to move beyond barriers that enclose them, they begin to move beyond differences that could divide them. In their grief, sorrow, and fear, acted on by grace and circumstance, the disciples are slowly transformed into something other than a collection of individuals.
Soon the collective energy of this broken group of followers is so galvanized by grace that they become catalysts for social change … and in that, become the community that they were called to be and become in and for the world.
We believe the same about religious institutes today.
As our world is brought to its knees by a devastating virus thriving not on interconnectedness, but on individualism, it is collective efforts that are most needed to contain the spread of the virus, to heal those who are sick, to develop an effective vaccine, and to prepare for the next and future outbreaks of this nature. The need will remain for collective efforts across every sector of society to address the systemic and long-term impacts of the COVID-19 global pandemic. While our individual choices are important, they simply are not adequate — and never really have been — to address the erosion of the common good through systemic disparities of wealth, opportunity, and access to basic resources that has existed for generations in our country and are so nakedly exposed by this global crisis.
Having received both the grace of encounters with the Risen Christ and the charisms of your founders/foundresses, imagine the collective contribution that could be made by religious institutes, together, bringing your resources (social and tangible capital) to bear on the systemic and long-standing disparities further exposed and exacerbated by the spread of COVID-19.
How can you allow this moment to galvanize your collective efforts so that you might respond as the community you were called to be and become for the world? How might you identify and address the long-term systemic disparities most prevalent in your area? What collective efforts to address those needs with other religious institutes and others in the civic community?
Please know that our prayers and thoughts are with you during these uncertain times. Please reach out to let us know how we can help.