Like New-Born Babes

Like New-Born Babes

Second Sunday of Easter (Low Sunday). Fr Edward Booth preaches on the appearance of the Risen Christ to the disciples and then to Thomas.

The plainchant music and words for this Sunday have an unforgettable seductive quality:

Quasimodo geniti infantes …

Like new-born babes, long for the rational milk without deceit …

Perhaps it was the memory of those beautiful modulations which led to the naming of this Sunday by the French as la Quasimodo.

When Saint Paul said he had given milk, not solid food, to the church at Corinth, it was a rebuke, but here the Church relishes in the contemplation of babe-like innocence which is the effect of the working of grace on the newly baptised, who may be quite adult in their years.

And the source of rich substantial innocence plays over the concluding chapters of Saint John’s gospel. Heaven, gained and now offered to mankind, spreads itself from the body of the resurrected Christ and enfolds all who are present. It is unspoken of, and that makes the silence about it even more eloquent.

All anxiety is melted as in this passage the apostles, except for Thomas on the first appearance of Christ, are suffused by it: not as though it were too much for human flesh to bear, but rather as though they were brought rapidly to a state of fulfilment.

Peace be with you …

And they were filled suddenly with joy – even though he was showing to them those disfiguring wounds. The hole in His side, made by the lance was big enough for Thomas to put his hand right inside.

Objects in themselves of horror. But in their joy the apostles showed no horror. That heavenliness which went out from the body of Christ, and contained all those present, contained everything disfiguring, rendering it acceptable.

Here John makes no reference to any visual signs of glory, any special radiance, such as artists fall back on. That would have disturbed the purity of the encounter, not as being merely factual, but as distorting the intensity of infinite power and beauty which all those present revealed by concealing.

From this human presence of the Risen Christ, both soliciting and communicating that reality that we designate as ‘faith’, come intimate human words which, in communicating a function, at the same time reveal the depths of the simplicity of divinity.

Christ gives them by a breathing, a sign of the enlivening of a soul, which is itself as invisible as a breath, the Holy Spirit. For in His Godhead, even in His communicating the Holy Spirit, the Son, and the inseparable now glorified humanity of Christ, is totally transparent to the Holy Spirit.

Receive the Holy Spirit, to judge sinners and to forgive, or not forgive, their sins.

We can perceive in this judging a derivation from the function of the Father, to which Son and Holy Spirit are in turn totally transparent.

Thomas’s doubts do not really disturb the complete narrative. They represent in a different way that defensiveness, that persistent loyalty through contrary appearances, which had driven them to a securely locked room. And as that fear had dissolved in the presence of the Risen Christ, so did the doubts of Thomas which had not been concealed from the omnipresent Christ on the previous Sunday.

That Thomas must place his finger in the nail-holes of his hands, and his whole hand into the mangled but now undisturbing hole in His side, is, at the same time, a concession to Thomas’s doubting, and a modest rebuke. And Christ takes the hand of Thomas and guides it so that it goes right into the deep and wide wound:

Doubt no longer, but believe …

Thomas’s words are the climax, to which the whole Gospel narrative was leading from the beginning:

the Word was God … and the Word was made flesh …

My Lord and my God!

In answer to which, with infinite gentleness, Christ says that seeing Him is not a necessary condition for believing. For to believe is to see the visible surfaces of things but not to stop there; it is to find the way to the underlying Heaven which spreads itself from the resurrected Christ who invisibly enfolds the person, soliciting and communicating faith. Amen.

Readings: Acts 2:42-47 | 1 Pet 1:3-9 | John 20:19-31

fr. Edward Booth was chaplain to the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Mary in Stykkishólmur, Iceland. May he rest in peace.