The Trap of Stubborn Self-Reliance

by Angela (Lambert) Jendro

April 8th, 2018 2nd Sunday of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday

Gospel of John 20:19-31 NAB

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 nail marks 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.

Meditation Reflection:

The Christian faith is neither a well-crafted myth nor a brilliant philosophy.  Rather, the Christian religion is based on eye witness testimony of the resurrected Lord.

It began with the testimony of Mary Magdalene, who encountered the risen Christ in the morning when she went to His tomb and was subsequently sent by Him to tell the apostles.  They felt excited and a bit confused “for they did not yet understand the scripture that he had to rise from the dead” (John 20:9).   In the evening, Jesus appeared to them as well except for Thomas who wasn’t there.  Upon seeing Him with their own eyes they believed and rejoiced.

When they shared their Good News with Thomas he refused belief until he could see it for himself.  Thomas had been willing to die with Christ (John 11:7-8, 16) but he couldn’t envision rising with Him. In consequence, his faith – though fiercely loyal – remained limited to his own personal experience.

One week later however, Jesus had mercy on Thomas’ obstinate self-reliance and appeared to him in the flesh and so enabled Thomas to believe.

We too can fall into the trap of self-reliance in matters of faith – limiting our belief to personal experience and rejecting the witness of Jesus’ apostles and His Church.  Our present culture tends toward “cafeteria Christianity”, meaning we pick and choose what we like and leave what we don’t.  We view doctrine as a buffet of ideas that we can take or leave according to our personal preferences and reasoning.

Imagine Thomas saying to the other 10, “you have your truth and I have my truth, one is not better than the other.”  Yet, one is that Jesus is risen and the other is that Jesus is dead!  How could Jesus’ Church endure with such conflicting beliefs?  The same remains true today.  Capitulating to the attitude of an individualistic faith undermines Christ’s work.

Jesus chose to share His Truth and Grace through the apostles’ witness (and their successors – the pope and bishops).  Their interpretation of Scripture and the power of their miracles came from the Holy Spirit bestowed on them by the Lord.

At the final moment of Jesus’ death, He breathed His last and surrendered His Spirit to the Father.  On the evening of His resurrection, He breathed upon the Apostles, and gave them His Spirit and His authority:

“‘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.’”

Christianity is an encounter with the incarnate God who dwells within the very souls of His baptized disciples and makes them one Body.  Jesus is not a restaurateur who offers the world’s greatest buffet.  He is the Son of God who desires all persons to be united as a family in the Lord and therefore established a visible Church endowed with His invisible presence to guide and govern its members to His eternal kingdom.

Today, one week after Easter, we celebrate the inexhaustible, generous, mercy of Christ which He lavishes on all who will accept it. As He did for Thomas on this same day, Christ reaches down into the darkest parts of our souls, to our most acute failures and sins, to apply the healing balm of His Merciful Love poured out on the Cross for our salvation. Our Lord is a crucified Lord.  When He appeared to the apostles “He showed them His hands and His side” (John 20:20).  He did not choose, as Satan tempted Him to be in the desert, king without the Cross.  Similarly, true disciples are crucified disciples.  They have died to self, and self-reliance, and live by the Holy Spirit in communion with the Church.

There’s no sin too great for Jesus to forgive. He only requires a repentant heart which chooses to trust in His love.

There’s also no weakness of faith He can’t strengthen, no doubt He can’t dispel, and no question of doctrine He can’t explain to you – if you let Him.  And remember, He has given us the fellowship of the Apostles through both the Scriptures and the living voice of authority in His Church.

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”  Today’s Gospel passage concludes with John offering the same witness to us that was offered to Thomas. Today is the day to surrender to Christ in prayer every doubt you harbor and every limitation you place on faith.  Then, receive His mercy in daily prayer, immersion in the Scriptures, the Eucharist at Mass, and trying to learn the Church’s reasons for her doctrines.  In consequence, you too will become an eye-witness of the resurrected Christ to others.

Consider:

  • When buying a product online or hiring someone for a house project, how much credence to you give to people’s reviews?  How much credence to you give to the testimony about Jesus from the Apostles, the saints and martyrs, the Christians you know who testify to the Lords’ work in their lives?
  • It’s hard to trust someone you can’t see.  Do you make Christ visible to others in your life?  How might you witness the reality of His truth and mercy even more?
  • Reflect on the choice presented today: whether to sand stubbornly in self-reliance or enter the communion of the Body of Christ – His Church – and lean on one another.
  • Jesus told St. Faustina that His greatest pain is distrust on the part of souls in His mercy.  Pope Francis, observed that we fail to believe in Christ’s mercy because we have no experience of mercy in our lives and therefore believe no one – not even Christ – will help us. To what extent has this been your experience?  What makes it difficult to trust Christ?  How might you extend mercy to the people in your daily life so that they might be strengthened to trust in Christ’s mercy?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Begin each day this week with a prayer of surrender to Christ.
  • Every time you feel helpless, turn to Christ in prayer and throw yourself at His mercy. Repeat the prayer He gave to St. Faustina to have written under His image: “Jesus, I Trust In You.
  • Do at least one corporal or spiritual Work of Mercy every day.

Related Posts:

~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2018

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One thought on “The Trap of Stubborn Self-Reliance

  1. This article today is really powerful food for thought. “Limiting our belief to our personal experience” and “Cafeteria Christianity” with a “buffet of ideas.” got some self-relfection to do….

    Liked by 1 person

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