Twenty-one years ago, a saint named John Paul came to Denver and told the world, “Do not be afraid.” Pretty good advice for a new priest celebrating his first Mass. I was seven when Pope John Paul II celebrated World Youth Day in the park behind our house. I didn’t know then that he’d be a saint, or that he’d inspire my vocation. I just knew that he loved me. And that he prayed for me. And that he didn’t want me to be afraid. For all of us gathered here today, we who celebrate Christ’s resurrection, our call is the same.“Do not be afraid. Do not be unbelieving, but believe.”
It occurred to me the other day that sometimes, the best way to seek is to hide yourself.
Did you ever play “Sardines” as a kid? It was a summertime staple in Colorado. You might know it by a different name depending on where you’re from – some people call it “Huddle Tag” or “Last One Out.” It’s the inverse of hide-and-seek: one person hides while everyone else seeks. There’s a great deal of strategy involved if you’re the person who’s hiding, if you’re the sardine. You might bury yourself in a leafy bush, or wedge yourself under some overhanging granite, or press yourself against a particularly wide pine tree (only to return with your shirt covered in sap).
You want to pick a place hidden enough that you won’t be immediately discovered, and yet spacious enough that others can join you – because you want seekers to hide with you. You want to offer an opening big enough that others can enter. Because they become ‘sardines’ with you.They stand or crouch or lie so close that you’d imagine only one person is hiding. And that’s the point of the game. You don’t want to hide yourself eternally in solitude. You want to hide others by your hiding. The last person to find the group becomes the ‘sardine,’ and you start over.
Truth be told, “Sardines” can be pretty intense. I remember hiding in the mountains as a kid and wondering if anyone would actually find me. Lost in the dark woods outside Estes Park, not four miles from the real Stanley Hotel, with little more than a clouded moon to guide each step over boulder and brook, I would hide. And wait. And wonder: Does God even know where I am? Each rush of wind, each cracking branch would fill me with dread. I’d hold my breath and make myself as still as possible, hoping beyond hope that someone familiar would come. Someone who would hide with me and cast out my fear. Someone who would bring me peace. Someone who would tell me, “Do not be afraid.”
The disciples knew that kind of hiding spot. Behind locked doors, fearing every footstep outside, wondering if God even knew where they were. They’d seen their friend captured, mocked, beaten, murdered. Would they be next? Would they be taken too? That’s where Jesus finds his disciples. It’s the first time Jesus reveals himself to them after the resurrection. And notice what Jesus does: he comes where the disciples are hidden and stands in the midst of them. He enters their hiding place. He doesn’t allow them to stay hidden.
By his greeting of “Peace” and his breath of the Spirit, Jesus fills the disciples with joy. He readies them to go out from their hiding, to proclaim the good news, to carry his Gospel to the nations. Only, one of the twelve isn’t with them. We don’t know where Thomas was, what he was doing. And that’s okay. What matters for us is that Thomas was absent. Because like Thomas, we who gather in celebration today, we who walk in the Spirit of Christ nearly 2000 years later, we weren’t with the disciples when our resurrected Lord came. And yet, like those disciples, Christ readies us for something far greater than our ordinary humanity. Christ readies us to carry his Gospel of love to the world. And he does that by giving us a place to hide in him.“Put your finger here and see my hands. Bring your hand and put it into my side. Hide yourself in me.” Hide yourself from all that troubles you, from all you doubt, from all you fear. Hide yourself in a love more penetrating than a brushfire and more overwhelming than a deluge. Hide yourself in a love that will remake you entirely. “Do not be afraid.” Jesus invites Thomas to literally enter into his wounds of love, to pass so deeply into the reality of Love Incarnate as to move within it. To physically put himself into our Lord’s body, unconquered by everything that would seek to destroy Love. To put to death all that smothered God’s life within him. To touch resurrection. To hide himself in Christ’s love forever.
But not to hide Christ’s love from the world. Not to remain behind locked doors. Not to continue in sadness and fear. Jesus fills Thomas with a love so transforming that he can proclaim without fear or doubt, “My Lord and my God!” That’s the Gospel Thomas carried to the ends of the earth. The Gospel of Christ’s love for the world. The Gospel of love risen from the dead.
“Do not be afraid. Put your finger here and see my hands. Bring your hand and put it into my side.” That invitation of Christ, those wounds, they’re meant for us just as much as they were for Thomas. Hide yourself in him. Hide yourself from all that troubles you, from all you doubt, all you fear. Hide yourself in love more penetrating than a brushfire and more overwhelming than a deluge. Love against which nothing prevails. Love risen from the dead.
Hide yourself in Christ. Allow Christ’s love to remake you entirely. All your thoughts, words, and actions…every hope, fear, and desire…your very memory and sense of destiny. Allow Christ’s love to so transform you that you can proclaim without fear or doubt, “My Lord and my God!” Because our world needs to hear Christ’s Gospel of love. Preach it in your dorm rooms. Preach it in your classrooms. Preach it to your families. Preach it to your friends. At work and at home, preach Christ’s Gospel of love, “that our world may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief all may have life in his name.”
Fr. Patrick Reidy, C.S.C. was Ordained Saturday, April 26, 2014, at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. This is the homily from his first Mass. Fr. Patrick Reidy, C.S.C. is the Rector of Keough Hall on the campus of the University of Notre Dame. He is a 2008 graduate of Notre Dame and former resident of Sorin College. He is originally from Greenwood Village, Colorado.