According to several psychological theories, there is a healthy level of anxiety that is helpful in order to achieve peak performance in an activity. This is evident in sports and in the performing arts. This is also true for other more cerebral activities, such as making a presentation to a client or delivering a lecture.
There is also an existential or spiritual anxiety, what we can call an “anxiety of faith.” There are two examples that we can see in today’s Gospel.
There is the anxiety of faith that leads to fear. We see this in the opening line of the Gospel, “…when for fear of the Jews the doors had been locked in the place where the disciples were.”
There is also the anxiety of faith that leads to questioning or doubt: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails, and unless I put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
Both can lead to a deeper faith. In the anxiety that leads to fear, an external intervention transforms the fear, which leads to rejoicing on the overcoming of the fear.
In the anxiety of doubt, there is a more internal personal process. Thomas questions and seeks proof, and this occasions a more personal conversation between him and the Risen Lord.
When Thomas is given proof by the Risen Lord, his doubt is transformed into humble faith. It does not immediately rejoice, but it acknowledges its lack of faith. It always strikes me, when I read this Gospel on Doubting Thomas, that what we say all the time at Mass, at the moment of consecration, are the words of Thomas, “My Lord and my God.”
Cower in fear
We, too, have these anxieties of faith. At times we cower in fear when setbacks or challenges in life hit us, and at times we doubt when things do not happen as we expect them to. The Gospel this Sunday tells us that the anxiety of faith can lead us to “peak performance.” The disciples are missioned by Christ, and Thomas enters into a personal conversation with the Risen Lord that likewise leads to mission.
Anxiety is not always negative. It is indifference or a false sense of confidence or pride that prevents us from attaining “peak performance,” hindering us from discovering and living out our mission.
Indifference detaches us from the situation. We become disconnected, and this disables our ability to respond. We cannot or refuse to take responsibility for anything. This is the sin of omission.
A false sense of confidence or pride, which stems from a lack of self-awareness and self-acceptance, leads to harmful behavior, fueled by a fault as simple as selfishness, to the extreme of greed and cruelty, or downright evil. This is the sin of commission.
In more secular terms, an example is the service that institutions render. Incompetence is the sin of omission, and corruption is the sin of commission. Both are wrong because when these are present in the institution, the end result is the same, the service is not properly delivered, or not delivered at all.
The disciples, during the first hours of the Resurrection, felt this anxiety of faith, in fact, twice over. There was the anxiety resulting in fear and doubt, even bordering on depression, desolation and despair.
The Cross resulted in fear and doubt. They hid in the upper room out of fear. They questioned their earlier choice to follow Christ, dedicating their life for three years, only to end up with their leader being crucified. This was succinctly expressed by the two disciples on the road to Emmaus: “… and we were hoping he was the one.” The Resurrection, likewise, caused fear and doubt as we saw earlier.
The anxiety of faith causes this tension, but out of this anxiety, creative tension can emerge as a gift of the Risen Lord. This is what the Lord told his friends on the eve of his death on the Cross: “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” (John 16: 22)
This is the joy of living a life of mission. In mission, our hearts rejoice. In mission, our soul sings of the goodness and love of God that comes to us in Christ Jesus, whose love all the way to the Cross has shown us the way to this joy and love that mission gives us and others. —CONTRIBUTED