Many years ago there was a movie called the “Seventh Seal.” In one scene, death takes the form of a human person, and appears to a man. A conversation followed: The man said to Death, “Why does God hide Himself? Why doesn’t He reveal Himself? Why doesn’t God stretch out His hand and touch us? Why doesn’t He at least say something to us?”
To which Death said, “God doesn’t do this, does He? He doesn’t reach out, He doesn’t speak, He just remains silent.” Then the man said, “That’s right, He doesn’t do a thing. He doesn’t speak to us, and sometimes I wonder if He is really out there.” And Death went on, “Well, maybe He is not there, maybe no one is out there. Maybe we are here all alone, did you ever think of that?”
Did you ever think of that? Ever feel as if there is no God? That there was no one out there, that you are alone? Many of us, I am sure, can relate to the conversation between death and the man. There are times when we seem to be all alone in the world. There are times when we wonder if God is really out there, during loss, illness: we long for some sign that He is out there, and that He cares about us. And we, like Thomas, begin to doubt.
While I was in Catholic University many years ago, I was asked to teach a high school religion class. It went well, except for Tommy. Tommy turned out to be the Atheist in residence. He constantly objected to or smirked at the possibility of an unconditionally loving God.
One day, as he was leaving, he said to me, “Do you think I will ever find God?”
I decided on some shock therapy. “No,” I said, “but I am absolutely certain He will find you.”
Just a few years later, Tommy was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He came to see me, I was at a loss as to what to say. Tommy sensed this and said, “What would you like to know? How I feel about dying? It could be worse. Like being fifty and still thinking that booze and making money are the main things in life.
When I was told that I did not have long, I got serious about locating God. But God did not show Himself, so I quit trying. Then I remembered something we read in your class.”
“The essential sadness is to go through life without loving, but it would be equally sad to go through life and leave this world without ever telling those you loved that you had loved them. So I began with the hardest, my dad.
He did two things he never did before: he cried, and he hugged me, and we talked all night, even though he had work the next day.”
“It was easier with my mom and younger brother. I was only sorry about one thing: that I had waited so long. Here I was in the shadow of death and I was just beginning to open up to my family. Then one day, I turned around and God was there. He did not come to me when I pleaded with Him. I was like an animal trainer, holding out a hoop, telling God to jump through. Apparently, God does things in His own way and time. But the important thing is that He was there. He found me, even after I stopped looking for Him.”
Tommy was saying something very important. He was saying the surest way to find God is not to make Him a private possession, a problem-solver or an instant consolation in time of need, but by reaching up to His love and then reaching out to those around us. Isn’t it interesting that only when Thomas in our Gospel returned to the community, only then was he able to say, my Lord and my God?
It was when young Tommy was reconciled with his family that he was able to let God in. That is why, even if we doubt, we should stick with the community.
If your diet is People magazine, HBO and pop culture, if you hang around skeptical, unbelieving people, then you are in trouble. Your faith is not fed, belief does not do well in faithless company any more than resistance to drugs rarely survives well among drug-taking friends. Faith is like a muscle in the body: if you do not use it, it begins to weaken. If you do not exercise your faith, it too dies.
The way you exercise your faith is by living it. First and foremost, you have to talk to God. We call that prayer. You have to talk to God because you cannot have a relationship with anyone unless you communicate with them. When Death asks the question, “Is there anyone out there” the answer is a firm “Yes!”
If you are a person of faith, hold on to it. Exercise it, use it, it is a gift more precious than gold. You are indeed fortunate when you can say, and believe, the words of St. Thomas, “My Lord and my God.”