The gospel today is about how challenging it can be to believe something you can’t see.
How difficult it can be to accept something simply on faith.
Well, this Easter season, nobody, I think, stands in contrast to that more than a young man named Jeremy Feldbusch.
On April 3, 2003, Sergeant Jeremy Feldbusch was serving in Iraq, near the Euphrates River, about 100 miles from Baghdad, when he was hit with enemy shrapnel. His wounds were severe, and devastating. He was blinded in both eyes. He suffered traumatic brain injury. Doctors were convinced that he was going to die or, if he lived, he’d never be able to speak or function normally again. Jeremy was placed in a coma for six weeks, to minimize brain swelling. And he was kept alive on a ventilator. Five times, they attempted to remove the ventilator. Five times, he nearly died and had to be resuscitated. Finally, on the sixth try, they succeeded.
Recovering at an army medical center in Texas, Jeremy asked his father, “Why did God take my eyesight?” His father answered with a different question: “Why did God let you live?”
It’s a question that Jeremy would spend the next several months trying to answer. He returned home to Blairsville, Pennsylvania and endured several months of therapy. When he became well enough, he made two decisions. The first was to spend his life helping other wounded service members. He’s one of the founders of the Wounded Warrior Project.
But a second decision was even more meaningful. It was something he had thought about for a while before he was sent to Iraq – an idea that kept coming back to him again and again. But months of prayer and reflection – and the prayers of so many friends, strangers and family members – convinced him it was something he had to do. It was, he realized, one of the reasons why God let him live.
And so it was that last Saturday night, in a church in Pennsylvania, exactly seven years to the day after that horrific attack that took away his sight…Jeremy Feldbusch became a Catholic. In a profound way, even in his blindness and his disability, he is living out the great message of Easter… a message of resurrection and hope.
And, in connection with this Sunday’s gospel, it is a message of belief. Believing in what you cannot see. Trusting what you cannot touch. Just like St. Thomas.
Thomas has always been one of my favorite apostles. I like to tell people that I think he should be the patron saint of journalists; he always needs proof and substantiation for everything. Like a reporter, he has to check his sources. He’s the skeptic in the upper room – a realist and a pragmatist. But he’s a stand-in, really, for all who struggle to believe the unbelievable, and to accept as possible something impossible.
At one time or another, we are all Thomas. We all face doubts. Faith demands effort, especially today, when we find our faith and our trust in that faith sorely tried and tested.
But one of the lessons that Thomas teaches us is that faith also demands presence.
When I read this account, I can’t help but wonder: just where was Thomas? What was he doing? Why wasn’t he there? The other disciples had locked themselves away in that upper room because they were afraid. But what about Thomas? Was he thinking of leaving the apostles and resuming his old way of life?
What could possibly have been more important to Thomas than being in that room that night of the resurrection?
We might ask ourselves the same question. What are the distractions in our lives that call us away?
What keeps us from being present for Christ?
Thomas was overwhelmed when he encountered the risen Lord — so overwhelmed by what he saw, in fact, that he finally believed. “My Lord and my God,” he said.
Do any of us feel anything like that when we encounter Christ in our lives? When we feel a prayer being answered, a grace being given?
How about when we are confronted with the overwhelming miracle of the Eucharist?
All we can do is echo Thomas’s words: “My Lord and my God.”
Talk with people baptized into our faith last Saturday night, and most will tell you they do feel like Thomas — overwhelmed and awed.. And I suspect that Sgt. Jeremy Feldbusch does, too.
Discussing his conversion, he told a reporter recently that his vision is clearer since he lost his sight. I can’t think of a more beautiful testament to belief.
This is faith.
This is trust.
This is an unshakable certainty in things that can’t be seen.
And –as improbable as it sounds — it is a great gift.
I can’t help but think we would all be blessed if we could see our faith through his eyes — eyes that see beyond the darkness, to the great and never-ending light of Easter hope.