Today, we invite you to explore the disciples’ (and our) hiding behind locked doors, and communal theology and activism; engage Catholic Social Teaching on active theology with Pope Francis’s message to the World Meeting of Popular Movements; and embody these ideas with the help of Sister Helen Prejean and The Center in Hollywood.
The disciples devoted themselves to the apostles’ instructions
and the communal life, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
A reverent fear overtook them all,
for many wonders and signs were being performed by the apostles.
Those who believed lived together, shared all things in common.
They would sell their property and goods,
sharing the proceeds with one another
as each had need.
They met in the Temple
and they broke bread together in their homes every day.
With joyful and sincere hearts they took their meals in common,
praising God and winning the approval of all the people.
Day by day, God added to their number
those who were being saved.
Response: Give thanks to Our God, who is good, whose love is everlasting.
Let the house of Israel say it, / “Your love is everlasting!”
Let the house of Aaron say it, / “Your love is everlasting!”
Let the house of Our God say it, / “Your love is everlasting!”
R: Give thanks to Our God, who is good, whose love is everlasting.
I was pressed, pressed, about to fall, / but Our God came to my help.
Our God is my strength and my song. / Adonai, You are my savior.
Shouts of joy and safety ring / in the tents of the virtuous.
R: Give thanks to Our God, who is good, whose love is everlasting.
It was the stone rejected by the builders / that proved to be the keystone;
This is Our God’s doing, / and it is wonderful to see.
R: Give thanks to Our God, who is good, whose love is everlasting.
Praised be the Abba God of our Savior Jesus Christ,
who with great mercy gave us new birth: a birth unto hope,
which draws its life from the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead;
a birth to an imperishable inheritance incapable of fading or defilement,
which is kept in heaven for you who are guarded with God’s power through faith;
a birth to a salvation that stands ready to be revealed in the last days.
There is cause for rejoicing here.
You may, for a time, have to suffer the distress of many trials.
But this is so that your faith,
which is more precious than the passing splendor of fire-tried gold,
may by its genuineness lead to praise, glory and honor
when Jesus Christ appears.
Although you have never seen Christ, you love Christ;
and without seeing, still you believe,
and you rejoice with inexpressible joy touched with glory,
because you are achieving faith’s goal — your salvation.
In the evening of that same day,
the first day of the week,
the doors were locked in the room where the disciples were,
for fear of the Temple authorities.
Jesus came and stood among them, and said, “Peace be with you.”
Having said this, the savior showed them the marks of crucifixion.
The disciples were filled with joy when they saw Jesus,
who said to them again, “Peace be with you.
As Abba God sent me, so I am sending you.”
After saying this, Jesus breathed on them and said,
“Receive the Holy Spirit.
If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven.
If you retain anyone’s sins, they are retained.”
It happened that one of the Twelve, Thomas — nicknamed Didymus, or “Twin” —
was absent when Jesus came.
The other disciples kept telling him, “We have seen Jesus!”
Thomas’ answer was,
“I will never believe it without putting my finger in the nail marks
and my hand into the spear wound.”
On the eighth day, the disciples were once more in the room,
and this time Thomas was with them.
Despite the locked doors, Jesus came and stood before them, saying,
“Peace be with you.”
Then, to Thomas, Jesus said,
“Take your finger and examine my hands.
Put your hand into my side.
Do not persist in your unbelief, but believe!”
Thomas said in response,
“My Savior and my God!”
Jesus then said,
“You have become a believer because you saw me.
Blessed are they who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Jesus performed many other signs as well — signs not recorded here —
in the presence of the disciples.
But these have been recorded to help you believe
that Jesus is the Messiah, the Only Begotten,
so that by believing you may have life in Jesus’ name.
The Inclusive Lectionary © 2022 FutureChurch. All rights reserved.
The inclusive language psalms:
Leach, Maureen, O.S.F. and Schreck, Nancy, O.S.F., Psalms Anew: A Non-sexist Edition
(Dubuque, IA: The Sisters of St. Francis, 1984).
Used with permission.
Today’s Gospel might best be known by the theological richness of “Doubting Thomas” or divine mystery, both of which have immense pastoral meaning. But perhaps less often explored in today’s reading is the imaginative invitation to experience the locked doors of fear.
Jesus Christ was a brown-skinned refugee embodying life-affirming communion, despite a death-dealing empire – and for that he was crucified. It is a truly worldview-ending, faith shaking moment of rupture in the scriptures.
Just a few verses after his crucifixion and the witness of his empty tomb, we find ourselves with the disciples behind locked doors. According to the scripture, these doors are locked out of fear, and, as we can envision, shock, mistrust, and uncertainty after the public execution of their leader. In an imaginative reading of this moment, these locked doors represent the disciples’ distance from the horror of what has publicly happened to Jesus, and perhaps an attempt to defend themselves against a similar fate and an unknown future.
This leads to our contemporary reflection. How often do we lock our doors when the world as we know it has been shaken? In what ways do we distance ourselves from the multi-layered injustices around us and fall into the comfort of privilege in various forms: whiteness, heteronormativity, consumerism, and other violent, even death-dealing systems?
What’s more, how often do we as a society defend ourselves and the inequitable status quo by ignoring rupture, even silencing those who dare to bear witness, rendering their experience invalid and their dignity disposable? While we might not feel personally responsible for their exclusion, how complacent are we to realities that restrict voting access, privatize mental and physical healthcare, enforce redlining, separate children from parents at the U.S.-Mexico border, prevent women from priestly vows, criminalize LGBTQIA+ youth, and declare literal death sentences through our legal system?
And, as in the scriptures, though the doors are locked, Jesus will come and stand in our midst.
Of course, it is natural to retreat to what is familiar when it feels the world has just turned upside down. There are incredible gifts in community, refuge, and soliditute. Yet, what we experience in today’s reading is the promise that Jesus will come through our locked doors with a message for all of us. There will be comfort for the afflicted and affliction for the comfortable.
His presence in our midst requires an honest reflection – in times of darkness and unknowing, do we trust that divine presence lies on either side of that locked door? And if so, are we willing to live in the ways of Jesus?
It’s critical to recall the Gospel verses prior to today’s reading, when Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene after his resurrection. In doing so, the Gospel reminds us that the way of Jesus is not through the powerful and the mighty, but through the unexpected, the peaceful, those who are disregarded.
Dr. Roberto Che Espinoza, author of Activist Theology (Published under the name Robyn Henderson-Espinoza), defines following the way of Jesus as “becoming anti-empire and learning to knit together a world that is impassioned for change.” They emphasize that stories of Jesus are about undeniable resistance and disruption of power structures. And so, a theological stance informed by the way of Jesus requires our ability to harness imagination and believe that another world is possible. Furthermore, it is necessary that we embody that vision – that faith – through social practices such as protest, communal liberation, and of course, fewer locked doors.
Dr. Espinoza reflects that “… the ways of Jesus help[s] create conditions for that loving world to materialize, but only when we awaken to the inhumanity of injustice and to the multisystem oppressions that advocate for death-dealing logic.” So, when the world is in rupture, when we experience faith-shaking unknowing, may we reckon with reality, lean into the spaciousness of a new world, and be courageous enough – prophetic enough – to unlock the doors and fully embody a more just and loving future.
On October 16th, 2021 Pope Francis gave a video message to the Fourth World Meeting of Popular Movements. According to the U.S. website, “the World Meeting of Popular Movements’ purpose is to create an ‘encounter’ between Church leadership and grassroots organizations working to address the ‘economy of exclusion and inequality’ (Joy of the Gospel, 53-54) by working for structural changes that promote social, economic and racial justice.” This initiative of Pope Francis underscores that the work of justice and the ways of Jesus are inextricable, radical, and firmly oriented towards collective liberation.
Addressing the global gathering of activists and organizers, street vendors, farmers, miners, refugees, and torture survivors, Pope Francis opened with the greeting: “Brothers, Sisters, Dear Social Poets, You are social poets, because you have the ability and the courage to create hope where there appears to be only waste and exclusion.” Additionally, he said to them: “[s]eeing you reminds me that we are not condemned to repeat or to build a future based on exclusion and inequality…” The Pope unequivocally affirmed the sacred work of popular movements.
In a portion of his speech called “Let us dream together!” Pope Francis goes on to encourage imaginative ways forward, underscoring that dreams can find deep roots in the tradition of Catholic Social Teaching. While he acknowledges that “[d]reams are always dangerous for those who defend the status quo because they challenge the paralysis that the egoism of the strong and the conformism of the weak want to impose…” he invites those who work for justice to hold fast through the criticism, through the consequences. Because, he adds, “what is at stake is not the Pope [or popular movements] but the Gospel.”
In a stunning connection to public context, Francis also interpreted the parable of the Good Samaritan through the racial justice uprisings of summer 2020. He boldly affirmed those who protested the murder of George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin:
Do you know what comes to mind now when, together with popular movements, I think of the Good Samaritan? Do you know what comes to mind? The protests over the death of George Floyd. … in that protest against this death, there was the Collective Samaritan who is no fool! This movement did not pass by on the other side of the road when it saw the injury to human dignity caused by an abuse of power. The popular movements are not only social poets but also collective Samaritans.
It’s easy to allow dogma and doctrine to distance us from our faith, to let us pass by the injured and the dying while seeking defense from suffering and injustice. But, advises Pope Francis, “[l]et us remember the promise that Jesus made to His disciples: ‘I will be with you always,’ and remembering it, at this moment of my life, I want to tell you that I will also be with you. The important thing is to realize that He is with you. Thank you.”
Take a moment to explore the Gospel reading and the experience of the locked doors.
Perhaps this would be most authentic to you through imaginative prayer. If so, here are some guiding questions to move through slowly:
Imagine you find yourself with the disciples. What do you see? How is the room lit? Where are you in the scene? What is the temperature of the room? What can you hear? Can you interpret a tone or a pitch? What about beyond the four walls? What do you smell? Are there any oils, incense, or fires? What can you taste? When was the last time you ate? What sensations are in your body? What feelings or emotions are present for you?
Perhaps it would be more honest for you to reflect on today. Feel free to explore one or all of the following prompts via journaling, mediation, or conversation with a trusted friend or mentor:
Sister Helen Prejean is a Sister of Saint Joseph committed to abolishing the death penalty and honoring the dignity of those sentenced to death. She is wholly taken by the Good News of the Gospel and continuously reminds us that “people are more than the worst thing they have ever done.” Sr. Helen has accompanied multiple people to their state-sanctioned executions, and shares the experience through writing, public lectures, and even film.
Central to her story is her own conversion process. She shares about her early life of piety, charity, and even distance from God’s people. Then, once on a retreat, she heard another nun say that the Good News of the Gospel is for the poor, that “it is not God’s will for people to be poor, and they have a right to struggle for what’s theirs.” This one line changed her life, and this is what she refers to as “meeting sneaky Jesus.”
And how do we empower others to wake up and join us in the ways of Jesus, the work of radical justice? “We give witness,” says Sr. Helen, “and we have the experiences that give us the moral authority that give us the truth to speak out what you have seen, what you have heard, and what your heart now knows.” The way of Jesus.
Please learn more about the work of Sr. Helen Prejean and Ministry Against the Death Penalty.
The Center of Blessed Sacrament in Los Angeles, California is a non-profit dedicated to ending isolation and homelessness in Hollywood. It’s a no-barrier-to-entry, non-transactional community that provides day-programming for folks experiencing homelessness.
Their small group offerings are trauma-informed and art-based, valuing mindfulness, connection, and expression. While there are mail services, and help navigating access to housing, the most popular draw to the Center is Coffee Hour. Each morning during Coffee Hour, music plays throughout the patio and the space fills with folks chatting over a cup of coffee, doing a daily crossword puzzle, playing chess, chatting with new neighbors, pruning the garden, telling jokes, sharing their art, and supporting one another through the day-to-day.
It’s a small, small taste on earth, as it is in heaven.
Learn more and meet some of the incredible folks at https://thecenterinhollywood.org
Image description: On a deep blue background is an image of four people with their arms raised up in praise, looking up to the stars and the large, full moon. From the campfire between them, stars and music notes rise up in the smoke and bushes with purple berries on them and fir trees rise up toward the sky. The four people have different skin tones, and one sits in a wheelchair. Another appears to be pregnant, with another child by their side. Around the edges of the art reads: “No one can stop us from imagining another kind of future, one which departs from the terrible cataclysm of violent conflict, of hateful divisions, poverty and suffering.” Below the image reads: “Let us begin to imagine the worlds we would like to inhabit, the long lives we will share, and the many futures in our hands.” -Susan Griffin.
From their website: “Molly is a non-binary queer illustrator, food grower, honey bee tender and a seeker of mysticism. Through their creative work they explore themes of interconnectedness, cosmology, reciprocity, biomimicry and are interested in cultivating our radical imaginations to help us shape our emergent new world. As a white person, Molly is committed to the work of being an anti-racist and supports the movements for police and prison abolition.”