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A Declaration of Independence

Thomas, the Apostle, reveals the error of our age

By Stu Nolan

On this Feast Day of Thomas, the Apostle, and the day before our nation celebrates its Independence, consider yet another connection between the Bible -- with its famous account of the episode that gave rise to the term "Doubting Thomas" -- and that great document, the Declaration of Independence, which is so often cited for recognizing in every person certain inalienable rights by virtue of him or her being a son or daughter of God.

Recall that Thomas infamously declared his own independence. He was not going to be subjected to some far-fetched resurrection tale that he was being sold. No, he trusted his senses -- his personal experience, if you will -- rather than the Truth as proclaimed by his friends. Thomas was willing to believe, no matter the cost to himself, only when Jesus again made Himself present again in Thomas' sensory experience.

Thomas made a mistake so common to our age. When faced with a particular Church teaching, our intellectual arrogance -- our pride -- digs in our heels. We insist we can only accept the truth that we can verify with our own senses, or in our biased and flawed perception, or from our deeply self-interested perspective. We say, as Thomas surely thought, that our conscience must be our guide, and our conscience can only be bound by this or that acceptable teaching, but not by THIS particular and uncomfortable commandment.

In response to God's unconditional love, we condition our faith and make our response contingent on its convenience to us. If His expectations for us would disrupt the plan for life that we might wish for ourselves, then we limit our acceptance of reality to the sliver that conforms to our own desires.

It is useful to remind ourselves that God created each of us, and everyone and everything -- from nothing. He has shown us that death itself has no power over Him. Are we really so daft as to think He cannot make Himself real and present inside of us in the appearance of food and drink? Is it really too difficult to believe THIS is the way He would choose to emphasize the reality of our need for HIM is even more profound than our dependency on food and drink?

And if we can believe that He created us from nothing, that He rose from the dead, and that He can nourish us in such a mysterious manner as He has established in the Eucharist, is it really so hard for us to believe that His Commandments are not contingent on what we believe is within our own reach? Why do we so often respond to Jesus by telling Him that the cross we have been asked to embrace is too heavy for us to bear? (He knows that we cannot do it alone, after all; He never asks us to carry the load without offering us the graces we need.)

Now, as we celebrate our Independence, let us ask ourselves if we are truly free. Yes, Thomas declared his independence, but was he free? Or did he really and truly declare his own enslavement to a faith that was contingent on personal experience?

As we celebrate our own independence, have we chosen true freedom? Or do we pick and choose which commandments we will believe are valid and which teachings will not apply to us? Are we, in fact, stubbornly clinging to our enslavement? Is our faith contingent on its consequences in our personal experience of life remaining sufficiently convenient? Do we, like Thomas, declare our independence while stubbornly clinging to our own plans for our lives?

As we pray in the Divine Mercy Chaplet, "Jesus, I trust in you." We must not place our trust in the attachments to which we cling so stubbornly. As Christians, we must turn to the liberating tools of prayer and fasting if we are to be a free people. Jesus exhorts us to believe Him -- to submit to even the difficult teachings of the Church that he founded and to which he entrusted teaching authority -- even if our personal experience is inclined to lead us in another direction.

Jesus, you are, as Thomas put it, our Lord and our God. We trust in you. Let this be our Declaration of Independence.

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