Violence & religion & truth

I happen to be writing this column shortly after gunmen stormed the offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris and opened fire, killing 12 people in what French authorities are calling the worst attack in four decades. In my unbelief, I could only say September 11 all over again: another story of the struggle between faith and death, faith and violence.

It has always remained a great mystery to me that some people in this world cling to a certain vindictive image of the Divine, to the point that that they feel not the slightest remorse in taking the life of another person or persons, all the while shouting “God is great.”

I can only imagine that the faith of such a person is such that the life and death of others has come to have no meaning for them. A deep and merciless mystery, indeed.

Of course, by now as you read this column on the weekend of the Second Sunday of Easter season, (also named Divine Mercy Sunday) the Charlie Hebdo tragedy in Paris is history, yet another shameful event to remember.

It is interesting to note, of course, that there is a certain coincidence between the event noted above and the Scriptures for this Sunday: In a strange way they are both about faith. In the Paris disaster we read of a type of faith seemingly gone mad. Then we read in the Acts of the Apostles of a different kind of faith: namely that the followers of Jesus had gathered in someone’s home, apparently to celebrate the Lord’s Supper; “the Apostles bore witness to the resurrection and great respect was paid to them all.” What we have here, of course is a faith community reflecting on their biblical tradition, the resurrection of Jesus, and then taking care that none in their company was forgotten or would go without food that day.

So, in some strange sense both stories concern the manner in which faith is perceived: one violently, the other peacefully.

Of course, one might safely say that the Charlie Hebdo event is not essentially about faith but rather about culture, a culture gone awry with fear, doubt, anger, revenge or whatever. Who knows?

Turning to the Gospel of Saint John assigned to this Sunday, we find the well-remembered story of faith and doubt — the story of Saint Thomas, the Apostle, who needed to prove to himself that the Jesus he once followed to his death was now arisen. Doubt nagged at his sleeve; he needed something more tangible to convince himself that he was “in touch” with the same man of Nazareth he once knew so well. Jesus simply said, “Touch the wounds of my hands and side; cast doubt aside and believe.”

Odd as it may appear, the faith and doubt of Saint Thomas may also be our story. Deep within our spiritual psyche we desperately want to believe, but it often seems so hard and it takes so long. The Jesus of the theologians does not always convince; we long rather for flesh to touch and settle our doubts.

My hunch is that all of us, whether Christian or Muslim, struggle with doubt and seek the surety that the God we profess is the true God. The answer to that quest, of course, is not to do violence to our brother but to enter into a shared quest to discover the truth.

Scriptures for April 12

Acts 4:32-35

1 John 5: 1-6

John 20: 19-31

The writer formerly served the Anchorage Archdiocese as director of pastoral education. He now lives in Notre Dame, Indiana.

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