The Missing Person comes back to the Lord! Fr.Barry Homily
[See the Gospel for April 24th, the Second Sunday of Easter.]
With Thomas the Apostle and the Gospel account of him being “missing” during that first Easter appearance to the apostles—it has me thinking of other missing people who have come back to the Church.
I’ve met many returnees to the Catholic Church and to the Catholic Faith. Some call themselves as “reverts” (as different from converts, who switch into our Catholicism); but reverts come back to something once started. In my young adult journey, I recall a man at a job place I had worked—I saw this man who was named Mike, a revert. We worked every day together, along with a third man, Dan. All three of us were Catholics; I the much younger of the trio It was in the late 1970’s. .Mike had seen much action in Vietnam, and it resulted in his coming back to The States as a very dysfunctional, psychologically-wounded, and lost man. He had dealt with the hell of war in some of the typical unhealthy ways of the military—cursing, complaining, escaping in substance abuse or lewd behavior—not advocated by the U.S. government for their war-torn soldiers but their usual coping behavior. Mike had hit bottom in his return home and there were few people offering to help him out of his pit of destruction. Except for Dan. Dan was a practicing Catholic and Canadian single fellow—and who had it all together, as they say—and much more. Dan had found a deeper relationship with the Lord Jesus and in the Holy Spirit through some renewal and growth programs—and He knew a Lord of Healing. He had done something of a Life in the Spirit course, like the one I am leading for a few parishioners now on Mondays, Dan was now strong in faith, and he was interested in sharing that discovery, too. Maybe finding someone to join their small parish group he was in. Anyway, one Sunday Dan was there at Mass at a Silver Spring parish when the mess of a man Mike walked in, wondering if there even was any hope for post-Vietnam life ahead. Dan became his friend, and it ended up that Mike got a lot of positive conversion, healing and faith from the group and his friend. It was then that I got a job at a place and met Dan and Mike.
I learned quickly what a prodigal son person looked like—in Mike—though a modern Catholic story of one. I learned what a supportive older brother could mean, as seen by Dan to Mike. I saw the Loving Everlasting Father in the whole thing. I saw a dynamic Catholic experience of conversion going on, and how my normal Catholic upbringing could use an upgrade in Holy Spirit blessing. My working relationship and friendship with Dan and Mike led to a Catholic renewal in me at 19 and 20 years old. I learned that there were movements in the Church for revival or renewal or lively relationships with Jesus—and I have been involved with them since—though I think the parish model of being friends with Jesus and to one another is the main way to live and for me to promote.
I saw in Mike a man missing from the faithful who had come back to his Catholic roots. He had been to hell and back really, with those war stories he had lived through and those he had to process now back home. He had seen too much agony and death up close of fellow and enemy soldiers in Vietnam’s jungles and waterways. He came back to the Church looking for help; just wandering in, remember the Holy Week and Easter story of a Crucified Savior Jesus Who became a Risen One.
I tie it all in to St. Thomas and today’s gospel story. Many have speculated as to why Thomas went missing from the others that original Sunday after Good Friday. I can speculate, too, that likely he was just devastated by the Crucifixion of the Master. He had to disappear, off to himself, to just go fall apart. He couldn’t deal with being with the other apostles in this doom.
This finish to the Lord Jesus’ life was all too hard for Thomas to take—so I think. You can hear it already in John 11, as of back to when Jesus told the apostles they were going back to the ever-dangerous Jerusalem area, to see Lazarus, and then head into the holy city for Passover. That was shocking to hear for Thomas’ ears and mind. He said: “Then let us all go to die with you.” I hear some shock and depression in that comment, though I also hear courage, because Thomas was willing to go on with Jesus into this difficult situation ahead.
The enemies of Jesus were all lurking there in Jerusalem, ready to pounce and do away with this rebel rabbi who would dare claim and do things as he did. Thomas saw the situation for Jesus as like a “lamb going to Jerusalem for the Passover sacrifice.” He was right about that—though he saw not clearly the spiritual work going on of how Jesus Christ would use it for saving sinners.
Jesus did get arrested, charged and crucified on that Passover time of 33 a.d. In final result, Thomas took off in severe pain about it, and was not seen by his friends for eight to ten days. But there and then he came to the Upper Room on the next Sunday—the one following the Pasch—and he would view the wounds on Jesus’ body but sees The Lord as Risen, just as the other apostles had told Tom would be, once he showed up again. He fell down in awe, saying “My Lord and My God!,” then came on many hallelujahs.
Today’s gospel is “Thomas comes back.” He would be an amazing apostle from that point on. But one thing to say here: I think he is a patron for all reverts to the Catholic Faith, who return home.
We had seven persons in our pandemic RCIA this past year. In the Archdiocese there were many hundreds of them in parishes. Just as like in other years, people joined the Church or got sacraments of initiation to be fully a Catholic. Some were reverts looking for a dramatic return home to the Church and to Christ Jesus her head.
I think of another Thomas figure, of a man who came home to Maryland from Hollywood. He joined an RCIA program I was leading in a parish near his place of upbringing. He had come back to Md. to take care of family property and business, but also to get his spiritual life together. We ended up meeting. He came for counsel and then into the convert/revert class we had on Monday nights in church. He was an actor, who was raised Catholic, but the life in theatre and drama had put him into a “sinful mileau,” as he put it. Maybe due to all the pretenses in acting, the sin was dismissed by most Christian-raised fellow actors around him. The other actors were mostly pagans from the start. Once he got in to the Hollywood actors scene, he fell into the same lustful, wayward, self-centered and prideful ways so many others have fallen for there. “The Hollywood sign should have a flashy devil on it,” he commented.
His story is that in the year he came back home to Maryland did become a time to reconnect with God, the Holy Mass, and with prayer, and with seeing himself as a temple of the Holy Spirit. His walking into our RCIA class was a welcoming experience, as I bet Thomas’ was as coming into the Upper Room. The Maryland man also heard reports from some of how “we’ve met the Risen Lord” in the RCIA and parish. That is our mission: to proclaim Jesus as Lord and Alive. He is come here to save us, be within us, abide with us, and get us to Glory!”
I love those stories of people being lost then found, or being in a faith that went so much deeper and stronger once the persons committed to it and to Jesus.
Sadly, we’ve lost more than had people come back to the Church. You know of people who have strayed and are still gone. Lots of them. Caught up in something. Duped over something. Disappointed or even devastated over something.
We pray they see a road back home to Jesus and the Church He founded: us. May we be used for the welcome home.
Some say to me —I can’t come home because I cannot handle some of the clergy abuse cases that took place. Yes, they’ve been awful, I agree. Think, as well, of how Thomas felt about Judas Iscariot—who betrayed Jesus and set up the whole scenario for Crucifixion. Thomas went through that. He can be a patron for renewal and a revert path fully home to the Lord and His Church.
Thomas also had gone and hid—and he can intercede for people who do the same. We have many that need to come out of their particular hiding.
Of scandal–I have to also deal with many laity scandals—in the hundreds, maybe a thousand over the years. I’ve experienced them first hand. Some have been rough to deal with. I knew a few clergy who left over such scandal or hypocrisy or tepidity. Fr. Mark. Fr. Rich. Fr. Sam. Too many others. It’s surprising it has not been all of us who’ve left.
But the Church is home, and Jesus is the Reason for Church. Peter said: “Lord to Whom Else, where else, would we go? You have the words of everlasting life!” So I agree. I bet you do, too.
I knew a few clergy who came back to service, after a sabbatical. Whatever grace Thomas the apostle had to return to the Upper Room and be with his brothers in faith—those priests found it too, by the good help of the Holy Spirit, and likely with the encouragement of someone.
Mercy calls us home, too. With the news of the passing of Vicky Thorn, who founded Project Rachel in the Church back in 1984, I recall how she has had the ministry of life reconciliation of so many Catholics to come back home. All the names of women that were referred to me for counsel, confession and to the Rachels’ Vineyard retreats for post-abortion recovery—they came because of the ministry Thorn founded. So many women, and some men, and from right around in this county here, came back to the Church, became fully pro-life, and got healed of their former decision, and reconciled with God and to the children they once spurned.
There is a Thomas the apostle blessing in a return home to the Gospel of Life—which is the only Gospel version—of these persons. There is a joy in it to celebrate and defend God’s image of life in His children by this Gospel of Life. Thorn founded a abortion recovery ministry because she knew a friend in pain from an abortion decision. It went on to become a national ministry, to try to do some healing for people involved in the 61 million abortions in this USA so far since Roe/Wade opened the gates. 61 million. But of a few hundred healings here in this area, and repentance to God and to the babies, with them named and acknowledged, this has brought people back home from the separation and sadness or denial. I have been blessed by what this ministry has afforded people.
It’s a Thomas like story, these three ones I have shared with you. Of Coming Back.
St. Thomas, according to tradition, was named Judas Thomas or Judas the Twin. The literal meaning of Thomas is twin originated from Te’oma in Aramaic and Didymos in Greek (John 11:16). Probably St. Thomas had a twin brother or sister. According to the Syriac tradition, St. Thomas is also known as Mar Thoma Sleeha which means Lord Thomas the Apostle. His greatest apostolic work took place in India. It lasts to today. As I did an Indian wedding two weekends ago, I can tell you that no other apostle or saint means so much to the Catholics in India or to those living here in America, as to St. Thomas.
He is a saint acquainted closely with the Divine Mercy and with Signs. He asked for a sign. In His Divine Mercy, Jesus gives the bitter yet honest Thomas precisely what he asked for: He spoke to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; look, here are my hands. Give me your hand; put it into my side. Do not be unbelieving any more but believe.’ Thomas replied, ‘My Lord and my God!’ (Jn 20:27-28)
Today many Catholics say those words silently at the consecration and at reception of the Eucharist at Holy Mass, of “My Lord and My God!”
You give me the signs to come Home to God, and here I am coming.
The Scriptures later in Easter time will have Thomas and others reassemble in Jerusalem and by the Upper Room, and to be ready for the Pentecost Event of the Lord’s Promise. As we see in Acts 1…
“Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. (Acts 1:12) When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. (Acts 1:13) They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers. (Acts 1:14)
By Acts 2, the Spirit comes. Pentecost! The Birth of The Church.