by Maria Potter, principal of Sacred Heart College (Lower Hutt)
The Gospel reading of Thomas the Doubting is a familiar one, retelling the story of how Thomas found a belief in the Risen Christ difficult without having seen him with his own eyes. It’s a story I remember fondly as I recall my own father calling me a “Doubting Thomas”, when I dared to question him in my youth.
“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
Thomas needed tangible proof that Christ had, in fact, risen from the dead, and would not take the other disciples at their word.
Fast forward a couple of millennia, and we are all asked to believe without seeing. It is a familiar scene from the Bible, because it is so relatable, and I am sure we all know someone like Thomas, or perhaps have been a Thomas ourselves. All we have today are the Scriptures to encourage us to believe in God. In the end, however, the choice to accept the words of the Bible is ours.
This has led me to reflect upon where the tangible signs of a Risen Christ are for us. Working in a school has many challenges, but it can also be richly rewarding, and it is at school where I find moments of true beauty that reinforce my belief:
- When I see our staff rally around to support another staff member who is unwell or struggling with their workload or home pressures.
- When I see students give service to the community, donate of their time, or simply share a smile with someone who is lonely.
- When I see an embrace at the school gate, and hear kind words as caregivers drop off our students; many a time I have heard “I love you” or “Have a great day”.
- When I see students and staff members laughing together, greeting each other warmly, or discussing a task in class.
These moments, in which we bear witness to the Lord’s presence among us, and find him within the people around us, are the tangible invitations to believe that we need. It is, therefore, vitally important that we not only take notice of these moments when our faith runs deep, but also at those times when it does not.
Belief cannot be forced, and we simply cannot convince a doubting Thomas with stories and Scripture. However, experience of working in a school has taught me that our words and actions can help.
We have all read the statistic that tells us overwhelmingly that New Zealand is becoming less religious, and that there is a sharp fall in the number of people identifying with any religion.
In our Catholic schools, we are seeing this effect too. Increasingly, students we teach are unchurched, and we have become the only church that many of our students experience. Some would argue that it is the parents’ role to teach religion, and many do this well, but the increasing busyness of
modern-day life often prohibits this from happening.
So, as a school, we have an amazing opportunity to do that teaching and modelling — to evangelise — and we do this both overtly and covertly. Masses, liturgies, and daily prayer are a component of this teaching, but more important than this is our way of being. The values we have, and the emphasis on respect for all, regardless of belief, race or social status, are keys to students wanting to be part of what we have and do. We want them to see us as people who put their faith into action. Action that is simple, daily, and achievable by all.
Importantly, our youth need to see that they can contribute in some way, and that they, in fact, have something significant to contribute. They are not part of the solution; they are the solution.
The Church has a challenge ahead; it is not a new challenge, but it is a challenge we need to embrace and meet head on.
Blessed are we who have not seen, and yet still we believe.
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