Sunday reflection: John 20:19–31

“Sunday Reflection” is a regular feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection represents only my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussion. Previous Sunday Reflections from the main page can be found here.  For previous Green Room entries, click here.

This morning’s Gospel reading is John 20:19–31:

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples said to 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 into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.

As many Hot Air readers know, this past week has had me on the road for a death in the family. My mother-in-law Dorothy passed away just shy of her 98th birthday, after suffering from dementia for most of the last decade; she had Marcia later in life. She was the last of my wife’s nuclear family. Fortunately, we had the opportunity to gather the family we have left and spend some time together this week.

My mother-in-law was a woman of great faith all of her life. Even when dementia took hold and she grew frustrated and unhappy because of it, that faith never left. Marcia wrote a beautiful eulogy, which I delivered on her behalf at the funeral, and which included a recent incident on a visit to her nursing home. Dorothy was anxious and overwrought when we arrived, a not-uncommon experience, and asked us to pray that the Lord would take her home soon. She also fretted over the fact that she couldn’t find her rosary, even though it had been years since she had had one with her; items like rosaries get lost at nursing homes way too often. My wife always travels with one of hers, though, and placed it in her hands.

What happened next, as my wife recounted in her eulogy, was “a gift” to both of them:

She said, ‘A Rosary! Oh my, a Rosary. You found it for me.’ I explained to her that this one was mine, but I would try to find hers for her. She then began to pray the Lord’s Prayer with such devotion and remembered it word for word. This woman who couldn’t remember if she had eaten that day could remember the Lord’s Prayer. I joined with her letting her take the lead. She then began again with another prayer, and so on for a few minutes. We prayed together with my hand holding hers. … She calmed down and the rest of the visit she was in a much better mood, and the next day we did the same out on the sunny patio.

I was able to share in that gift by watching it unfold in front of me and praying quietly along with Marcia and Dorothy. It was a moment of grace, and of the reminder of the strength of faith even in the midst of confusion and misery. In her affliction, Dorothy could still see the light of Christ even if she couldn’t see anything else, and understood that darkness is only temporary.

There have been other moments of grace this week. My son offered to say a few words at the graveside committal service. Now, my son does not often talk of faith and religion, and I expected him to offer just a few recollections of his grandmother. Instead, he spoke beautifully and eloquently not just about her life, but those of his late aunt and his grandfather, who passed away in front of him when he was just seven years old, and about the spiritual and emotional gifts he had received from each. He talked of his firm belief that this separation was temporary and that we would all be reunited in life. Had I not been there to see it, I might not have believed it.

That brings us back to our Gospel reading today and the story of “doubting Thomas.” St. Thomas probably gets a bad rap in history for his oh-so-familiar tale of despair and restoration, but we all go through the exact same cycle of faith at times in our lives. There have been times over the last ten years when I have watched Dorothy in the nursing home, too ill to be cared for by my sister-in-law even when Mary was healthy, and wondered what purpose her misery had. Dorothy herself would often tell Marcia she wanted to go home to the Lord. Does this suffering have any meaning at all? If I could not see the meaning for myself, I struggled to believe it did. That’s the story of Thomas in a nutshell, is it not?

My mother-in-law knew better than I did. She may have wondered what it meant, too, and lamented her situation, but she never lost faith that the Lord had her in His plans. She had not seen, and yet believed, and loved the Lord all along. So maybe, in the end, Dorothy was there to teach us all a lesson. And let me tell you, no one would be more delighted to hear me say that or see me write that than Dorothy herself. In fact, I can hear her laughing in delight — and in love — now.

Requiescat in pace, Dorothy. Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Dorothy Flesch (1918-2016), circa 1936.

dorothy-portrait