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Questioning the Resurrection

Fr. Lou DelFra | Wednesday, April 3, 2013

For five years, five-days-a-week, I taught religion to seventh graders during their last class period. It wasn’t easy. From the students’ perspective, Jesus and I were standing between them and freedom. 
Seventh graders question everything. The more sacred a topic, the more they revel in questioning it. As a seventh grade teacher, your only choice – other than quitting – is to accommodate.
So, I began to open class with a question and answer session. After a short reading from the daily Gospel, we came to the dreaded moment. Three students were assigned each day to come up with an insightful question about the Gospel passage.
They loved this moment. The room was a virtual frenzy as students tried to stump the teacher and basically blow up the class before it ever had a chance to get off the ground. Domanique would inquire where Mary and Joseph stashed all the gold the Wise Men gave them. Or, Clara would ask, with a smug smile, “Since Jesus didn’t have a microphone when he was giving the Sermon on the Mount, how could the people at the bottom of the mountain hear him?”
But almost every day, someone asked, in some form, the big question: “How do we know any of this stuff really happened anyway?”
It’s an impossibly frustrating question, yet it was posed with such frequency that it was clearly a burning question for them. How do we know Jesus is real?
To ask this question puts us in the place of the first disciples after the Resurrection. Recall, for example, the scene on the first Easter morning. Ten of the remaining disciples were huddled together in a locked room.
We can certainly relate. When we fail, when we get scared, when we feel loneliness or when we get self-absorbed, we have all turned inward, locking ourselves out from what gives us life.
We can also relate to the powerful appearance of the risen Lord: Jesus Christ as the One who is able to walk precisely into that locked space; to breathe new life, fresh air, a Holy Spirit into us – like throwing open the windows on that first great day of Spring in a room that has been shut up for the winter.  (Such an event is purported to be approaching South Bend sometime in mid-June….)
On this Easter morning, this is what happened to Jesus’ closest companions – save one. Thomas was nowhere to be found. Where was he? All we know is while the others had locked themselves in, Thomas had not.
The other disciples see the risen Jesus and they tell Thomas the story. It’s as if Thomas was us, hearing, all these years later, the Gospel account of what the others got to experience first-hand.  But as he listens to their story, that question wells up in Thomas’ soul, the same one that welled up, in its own way, in the souls of my seventh graders, in the souls of each of us from time to time: How can I be sure? Where is this Jesus, risen from the dead, in my life? How do I know what you are telling me really happened?
Thomas even comes up with a test to stump his teacher. “If only I can touch his wounds, then I will believe.” This became somewhat of an infamous test for Thomas, earning him the nickname, “Doubter.” But after five years of teaching seventh grade religion, I suspect it’s not so much that Thomas doubted. Rather, Thomas possessed a restless spirit – always curious, always questioning, always yearning, searching and testing. He took nothing – not even the death of his friend – sitting down. Thomas, I suspect, had a rather unquenchable and demanding heart, a yearning for a real relationship with Jesus – one that is intimate and incarnate. Who knows, perhaps that is why only Thomas was not in the room that day, but rather out listening for information about his friend.
Jesus finds us in our restlessness, and so appears again in the middle of the locked room: “Put your finger here. Believe in me.”
Perhaps Thomas represents our heart’s deepest, as-yet-unfulfilled desire: To be one with our God. To touch him, to know for certain he is alive and death holds no more power over us, that our destiny is to be one with our beloved forever in the flesh.
These desires don’t ever get fully satisfied in this life. We always live with shadows of doubt. But happy are we whose yearning and longing drives us always closer to being one with our beloved, our risen Lord.
Lou DelFra is the director of pastoral life for the Alliance for Catholic Education and a resident of Keenan Hall. He can be reached at
[email protected]
    The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.