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Nostalgia for Paradise

Every heart suffers with nostalgia for paradise. Pascha is the season for cultivating that nostalgia. We must nourish it in every part of life. This nostalgia inspired St. Thomas’ holy doubt. This nostalgia makes men into saints. The same nostalgia is the part of our soul we must tap into if we wish to move deeper towards God.

“[Thomas] was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe’” (John 20:19-31).

Christ has revealed himself to the faithful. In the opening scene of our scriptures the disciples were locked behind doors, scared for their fate. Christ was crucified. The Jews had turned against them. They were like sheep without a shepherd. Then Christ appeared with those timeless words, “Peace be with you.” In many ways, this scene embodies our Pascha weekend, with its long vigil, and the bright Mass and banquet in the morning.

Now we are one week ahead. Who do we find but Doubting Thomas? The Church gives us this reading some few days after Pascha, knowing our struggles. The Pascha joy can feel a little distant at this time. It is harder to keep a feast then to keep a fast. Far harder than abstaining from food for forty days is the endeavor to remain grateful and joyful for forty days. We celebrated the resurrection and then we got caught up in life. We are back to the ordinary grind. Where is the Resurrected Christ?

All these events in the scriptures took place two thousand years ago. Where are we now? We are not so unlike Doubting Thomas. We were not in that room when Christ revealed himself. It is easy to feel a little gloomy about this. We were left out, right alongside with St. Thomas. His words resonate:

“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

His words are saturated in nostalgia — a nostalgia for meaning, for intimacy, for God. How does God respond? He honor St. Thomas. He honors him because of his desire, and this is why the Christian faith deserves so much praise.

“A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’”

God does not punish St. Thomas for his doubts. Neither does he ignore him. On the contrary, Christ rewards him. He appears to St. Thomas, and so he appears to all of us who genuinely seek Him.

In his lecture, The Weight of Glory, C. S. Lewis comments on the mistake far too many make in misunderstanding Christianity. We think God wants blind followers. He does not want. He is not interested in submissive sheep, lumbering along like sleep walkers. God wants followers that are awake and alert. He wants us to want Him.

“If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

There are two kinds of doubt. Far too often, what people call doubt is really only indifference. No one lacks faith in God because he cannot find him. More often, lack of faith stems from lack of interest. No one who wants God genuinely will be disappointed in the end. Only when we are too busy, too distracted, too disinterested, will we fail to discover God.

The second kind of doubt is a holy doubt. It is not a lack of interest. It is the desire for more, a relentless insistence to cling to God. This was the intention in St. Thomas’s honest words:

“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

He wanted to touch God, and so God let him.

How do we reach out to God? The german philosopher, Joseph Pieper, once wrote this about contemplation:

“What a glorious thing fresh, cold water is…How splendid water is, or a rose, a tree, an apple…In the midst of our workaday cares we raise our heads and unexpectedly gaze into a face turned towards us, and in that instant we see: everything which is, is good, worthy of love, and loved by God.”

We have to learn to gaze at the heart of things. Open your eyes. We are surrounded by God’s presence. We have to learn to see the divine in the little things and give thanks. We have to learn to reach out in everything, the way St. Thomas reached out to feel the mark of the nails in Christ’s hands.

This is our work in Paschaltide.

“As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Psalm 42:1-2).

What do we really want? Can we use the little time left us to cultivate our desire? May God stir in our hearts the nostalgia for paradise.


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