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Paschal Nostalgia

Nurture in your heart a joyful nostalgia. Pascha is the season for nostalgia, for love sickness and resolute longing for home. Of course, our home is not here on earth, nor in our past, nor in another country. Home is in paradise with our resurrected Lord.

What weighed on St. Thomas’ heart that morning the disciples told him they had seen Christ?

“Thomas, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’

You can imagine the jubilee in the air. When Thomas had last seen them, the apostles were cowering in fear. All of them despaired. All of them doubted. Today, they were different men, exuberant and courageous. But not Thomas. Their joy was like salt on an open wound. He had not seen the Lord. He had not even seen the angels. They shouted, “Christ is Risen!” All he knew and felt was a bleak and meaningless world.

“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 20:25).

St. Thomas is a hero for us today in modern times. We live in a disenchanted world. For most of history, men and women saw spirits in nearly every movement in the forest and every breeze in the air. The thunder in the sky, the flights of birds, and the buzz of the bumblebee, men and women took for granted that behind it all were mysterious spiritual forces (They were closer to the truth of things than we are, despite our microscopes and encyclopedias). It was as easy to believe in God as to believe in water, but not so for us. We live in the same state of mind as St. Thomas that day long ago — a spiritual fog.

Where is God? Where is the resurrected Jesus? The Church sings ‘Alleluia’ but the noisy traffic looks the same, the politics are the same, the humdrum is the same. The Church calls it Bright Week, but the clouds seem rather gray. Unsure and disappointed, you can imagine the tension in Thomas’ heart. We can identify all too well, when the promises of the gospel do not align with the more palpable struggles in our lives.

“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 20:25).

St. Thomas is a hero not because he doubted. He is a hero because, within his doubting, he longed for truth. No one lacks faith in God because he cannot find God. More often, lack of faith stems from lack of interest. The road to hell is not paved with good intentions, it is paved with no intentions, indifference, apathy, distraction.

St. Thomas missed out on Christ’s appearance. So did we. How should we respond? Do we shrug our shoulders and just move along. Do we say, “Not enough evidence,” and busy ourselves with career, health, games and distractions?

St. Thomas did not merely doubt God, he desired God. “Unless I see.” “Unless I touch.” His words are saturated in nostalgia — a nostalgia for meaning, for intimacy. He longed for home.

The test is in the doing. Christ did appear. Thomas’s longing was strong enough. He desire for communion overpowered the doubt. He appeared, and told Thomas to look at the mark of the nails. He encouraged Thomas to touch the scar in his side.

St. Thomas did. Would we? Do we yearn for God with the same earnestness? If we were to see God, and touch him, would we even then follow God? The noble St. Thomas challenges all of us in our doubts and struggles — what do we seek?

Christ calls us to live in a perpetual state of nostalgia — longing for God.

The word, ‘nostalgia’ has a long and fascinating history. It was first used in Homer’s Odyssey. The famous king was estranged from his wife and home, and persevered through all number of adventures. Why did he forego every temptation? Why did he always press on with so little reason for hope? Nostalgia drove him forward — a longing for his nostimon emar — the “Day of Return.” Eventually, the word ‘nostalgia’ developed from two Greek words: ‘nostos’ meaning ‘homecoming,’ and ‘algos’ meaning pain, grief, and distress.

At times, nostalgia has been classified as a mental disorder. It was once considered the disease that crippled sailors, convicts, and slaves. The 1833 Cyclopaedia of Practical Medicine, labelled nostalgia as, “The concourse of depressing symptoms which sometimes arise in persons who are absent from their native country, when they are seized with a longing desire of returning to their home and friends and the scenes of their youth.”

But nostalgia has a positive side. C. S. Lewis had this to say:

“Apparently…our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside, is no mere neurotic fancy, but the truest index of our real situation. And to be at last summoned inside would be both glory and honour beyond all our merits and also the healing of that old ache.”

All our life, we have ached inside because we long for home. All our sadness is sadness because we know we are exiled. All our pain is pain from being absent from God.

There is only one path home. It is the same path that drove Odysseus back to his wife. It is the same path that lead St. Thomas to eventually find Jesus Christ and touch his side. It is holy nostalgia — a blessed discontent, insistence to never settle for less until we can see and touch God. Nostalgia will kill a soul when put in the wrong place. It will save a soul when put in the right place. Nostalgia is another word for listening to your heart ache, and knowing the real reason it aches.

“O GOD, thou art my God; early will I seek thee. My soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth after thee, in a barren and dry land where no water is. Thus have I looked for thee” (Psalm 63:1).

Question God. Question the world. Question your heart.

Cherish a beautiful song, and notice the sadness in your heart when the song ends. Savor a delicious meal, and notice the disappointment when you know you cannot eat any more. Appreciate your relationships, and be bold enough to feel the pain that comes at separation, through distance or death. Everything beautiful is a glimpse into paradise. Everything sad, is sad, because it reveals our distance from paradise. All life pierces our heart with nostalgia for one purpose, to urge us on to God.

Reach out and touch Him.


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