Thomas could have stayed away for different neutral reasons. He could have been ill and weak to bring himself to the gathering. Perhaps he was busy and had "stuffs" to attend to. The drudgery and drama of the week could have overwhelmed him, and like God himself, he could choose to rest on the seventh day. Come to think of it, having, seemingly, wasted 3 years of his life following a dream that was abruptly brought to an end, a day excuse for not being at the gathering should not, in today's parlance, be a "big deal". Why the fuss? Why the name-calling - "doubting Thomas"? I am sure if we put Thomas on trial for his absence from the gathering on the first day of the week, he will make a good case.  I have seen Christians, painfully; Catholics make "good" excuses for not being at Mass. The litany of excuses is inexhaustible. The most compelling of the excuses that I have heard is that God is everywhere, and does not have to be confined to the four walls of our Basilicas. The theology of those who want Jesus, but despise the Church is thrown up, and finally brought to rest by the experience of Thomas after resurrection, as recounted by the Gospel of St. John.

The coming together of the Apostles behind closed doors was never a fellowship of the faithful; it was indeed the coming together of a fearful bunch. Though they had been told that the "Lord has risen", yet the fear of the Jews was more compelling to them than the joy of resurrection.Every one in that room had so many things in common. Even today, those worries that had them put bars on the doors are still with us, and more often than not, we retreat to different gatherings with the fear of the Jews. Like the Apostles, we bear the disappointment of broken dreams, dashed hope, harsh realities of life, the pain of suffering, the vacuum left by death, conspiracy of silence, anger, frustrations, just to name but few. The weight of the fear of what is to come is so frightening that if not for the Grace of God, we could be "justly" led to despair. We may not know their different expectations, but we know for sure that their gathering was a fellowship of the fearful.

Also, in that room, we have Apostles who had dined and wined with the Lord, but, aside for John, had fled the scene of suffering and crucifixion. It was a room where the weak and people of questionable faith were gathered. Wearing frowns and reduced to shreds by their weight of shame of denial they had repay Jesus with, the gathering mirrors our gathering at Mass today. Safe for the cosmetic outlook; the beautiful faces, the rehearsed smiles, the warm pleasantries; we are not better than the fearful Apostles. This lends credence to the assertion that the Church is not just the meeting point of the saints; it is the village square of sinners - sinners waiting for redemption.

In their state of coma, as far as faith is concerned, they gathered for one reason - the fear of those who condemned and killed Jesus. And being a forum where two or three are gathered in the name of Jesus, the risen Lord chose to fellowship with them. With Christ defying the barricade of the closed doors, their transition from the church of the fearful to the church of the faithful began. The exercise, which could have beendismissed, as mere tedious rituals of standing, sitting, and kneeling, became a transformative reality. It is fitting to remind us that Thomas was not there. He had his reasons for not being present. St. John refused to make an excuse for him, but let me try and make one for him. It is not uncommon for people who have a lot troubling issues going through their minds to retreat, withdraw or even hide. Thomas could have made one of these convenient choices. He could be on retreat to a mountaintop for personal encounter with the Lord. That is very compelling. Isn't it? Anyways, as compelling as this could be, Jesus chose to fellowship with the gathering of the fearful and men with unthinkable shortcomings.

At our gatherings, and most importantly, at Mass, we come together in a configuration that simply suggests our desire to drown in the peace of Christ - the peace the world cannot give. Thomas, and other people in his league on that Sunday, sought peace in solitary, but were disappointed.

Let us look critically at what we miss every time we choose to stay away from the special gathering of the faithful on Sundays.

"Peace be with you". The myriad of problems that drown our happiness and fill the rims of our eyes with uncontrollable tears cannot be solved by money, power, or any earthly security. They can only be solved with "peace". And to begin His encounter with the Apostles, Jesus uttered the benediction of peace. The atmosphere that was rented with cloud of sorrow began to disappear.  Their fears and trepidation began to give way to faith of true witnesses.Going by the sequence of His revelation, their eyes became open after he showed them the wounds on His hands and side. Last Sunday, Reverend Father Israel Ogundipe raised a thought-provoking question that has always fallen on my blind side since I have always listened and contemplated the story of resurrection. He asked during his homily, "why did Jesus, who had defy nature to resurrect, have wounds on his glorified body?" He did justice to the subject, and in truth that homily had left me probing for more. Like the vision of the wounds in the hands and side of Jesus opened the eyes of the apostles to the risen Lord, the homily of the wound that heals, has opened my eyes to some other realities of the mysteries that are locked in some basic catholic teachings. I hope this makes a read for another day. On seeing the wounds of Jesus, confirming that Jesus was not a ghost, and that he resurrected body and soul, they began to rejoice. For those who are present, tracing the scars of His wounds with their eyes, a new dawn of hope emerges. Those who chose to stay away deprived themselves, by their choice, of this transforming experience.

We may never be sure of why Thomas and some Christians find it convenient to abstain from the gathering, but one thing is certain, we know Thomas did not believe the Gospel of resurrection until he had the opportunity to"see and touch". That alone clears our doubt and offers us the hidden truth behind his absence - Why gather at all?He represents, today, some Christians who question the declaration of the church in matters of faith and morals. We have a lot of Christians, and even Catholics who still question the church on matters that do not conform to their gospel of "common sense". They ask, "where is it in the bible?" forgetting that it is the Church that begot the Bible, and not the other way round. They will not believe until they see. The Church after encountering the joy that the Peace of Christ brings, told Thomas that "we have seen the Lord", but he doubted. He wanted more proofs. Luckily, he did not stay away from the gathering to get his proofs. He did not wait for his personal and private encounter to get his answers; he sought for his conviction, not in solitude, but in the gathering of the faithful on Sunday. So many adherents of the theology of seeking God in the corners of their rooms on Sunday may never get the second opportunity given to Thomas. This is not because Jesus does not want to heal their doubts by having them traced the edges of His scars, but because they have refused the communal spirit of the Church. Simply put, we refuse to draw the healing His wounds gives on Sunday, and at every Mass, when we choose to stay away from the special gathering. In response to the divine mercy of Jesus, Thomas, in tracing the wounds of Jesus, gave us a strong link between the divinity and the humanity of Jesus - My Lord and my God! We see that daily at Mass.

Finally, the encounter behind the closed doors that eventually became the floodgate of mercy and peace came to climax and puncture the argument and disagreement about confession and forgiveness of sins. I have heard some people expressed their irritation for Catholics confessing their sins to mere mortals. I am sure they would have done worse during Jesus' time considering Jesus handed the Apostles power to forgive sins. He practically handed men of questionable faith the power to forgive sins. Are these not the same people that denied him and left him to bleed alone on the cross? These people who find it hard to believe Sacrament of reconciliation will remind us that our priests are human; that they drink beer, they "chase" girls, they do this and that. All I often tell them is, Jesus knew His Apostle very well, and he knew their shortcomings, yet he gave them the judicial power to forgive sins and, in some cases, withhold or delay forgiveness. So where have the Church erred? I think it takes an insider to appreciate the beauty of the Church from within. Those who stand outside criticizing may never come to the full realization of the mystery of the Sacrament of reconciliation.

In conclusion, it is true that God is everywhere. We see his works manifesting in nature and all that surround us. The quiet corners of our room may provide us with an imaginary altar. The experience of Thomas highlights that every appearances of God's presence outside the gathering of God's people are mere glimpses and shadows emanating from the Church. To tap the fullness of grace, we need to seek God where he has chosen to dispense His peace. We must understand that as beautiful as our private devotions, retreats to mountaintops, grottos and holy shrines, are, they do not substitute for the communal gatherings of the faithful - in fact it brings us to the climax of our worship and that Mass is the prophetic and biblical "Mountain that is above all mountains"!

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