19 April 2008

There's Another World in There!

In Memoriam:
Daniel Patrick Hogan, Jr. (1928-2008)

Caravaggio, Doubting Thomas

This Thursday my parish celebrated a Mass of Christian Burial for Dan Patrick Hogan, Jr, an amazing man who lived his faith with integrity and zeal. Drawing on work by Jan Richards, my pastor's homily was really fine, and appropriate for the season, of course. With permission, I have posted it below. My thanks to Rev John Kasper, osfs for allowing me to share this in remembering Dan here.

To Holly, and to all of Dan’s children – Dan, Sue, Liz, Karen, Sean, Sharon, Sarah, to your spouses and to Dan’s grandchildren and his great grandchild Kai, I want to extend our heartfelt sympathy, prayer and support as we gather for this Mass of Christian Burial to commend Dan to God who has called him home. The many family members, neighbors, co-workers and fellow parishioners who have gathered with you are a great tribute and testimony to Dan’s grand spirit and expansive life. I will personally miss his constant encouragement and support in my ministry here at St. Perpetua’s. Five years ago, when we needed someone to co-chair the first Capital Campaign since the parish was founded, it was only natural to ask Dan to assume that role, and he did so gladly and helped to guide us successfully.

Yesterday evening, as we were leaving a touching and inspiring time of sharing memories and stories of Dan at our Vigil service here, I noticed some of his family members looking at the print of Caravaggio’s painting in the entry way. It’s part of our parish Easter environment. I’m sure you know the graphic scene from John’s gospel well; it’s usually dubbed “Doubting Thomas.” The apostle Thomas, who was not present the first time the Risen Lord appeared to the disciples after his death and resurrection, firmly declares: Unless I see the scars of the nails in his hands, and put my finger on those scars and my hands in his side, I will not believe.

The author Jan Richardson offers a poignant insight into this gospel scene.[[As Caravaggio paints the scene, Christ stands to the left, chest bared, drawing Thomas’ hand into his wound as two other disciples look on. It is an intimate scene: Christ bows his head over Thomas’ hand, gazing at Thomas as he pulls him toward his wound; Thomas leans in, brow furrowed, the other disciples standing so close behind him they threaten to topple him straight into Jesus. Yet Thomas seems about to tumble into the wound of his own accord. He is doing more than merely looking where Christ leads him; his whole being is absorbed in wonder. We almost have the sense that Thomas was thinking, “There’s another world in there.”

[[The title sometimes given this remarkable painting, and this remarkable man -- Doubting Thomas -- grates a bit. Earlier in John’s gospel, Thomas is the one—the only one—who steps forward and expresses his willingness to die with Jesus. Here, in this Easter scene, Thomas once again crosses into a place where others have not ventured: into the very flesh of the risen Christ.

[[ Caravaggio’s painting illumines a point that the Gospel writers are keen to make in the Easter stories of Jesus, reminding us who bear the grief of Dan’s death, of the faith to which Dan so steadfastly and devoutly clung. The gospel writers want to make sure we know that the risen Christ was no ghost, no ethereal spirit. He was flesh and blood. He ate. He still, as Thomas discovered, wore the wounds of crucifixion. That Christ’s flesh remained broken, even in his resurrection, serves as a powerful reminder that his intimate familiarity and solidarity with us, with our human condition, did not end with his death.

[[Perhaps that’s what is so striking about Caravaggio’s painting: it stuns us with the awareness of how deeply Christ was, and is, joined with us. The wounds of the risen Christ are not a prison: they are a passage. Thomas’ hand in Christ’s side is not some bizarre, morbid probe: it is a union, and a reminder that in taking flesh, Christ wed himself to us.]]

The strength and joy of Dan’s character, to which we testified last night, and will again this morning after we share the Eucharist, is the fruit of his faith in the Risen Lord. Through the Eucharist he shared week in and week out, Christ joined himself to Dan, and was intimately acquainted not only with the delights he experienced in his full and active life, but also in the ways that life broke him open in the losses he bore and the challenges he faced. That same love and intimate union with the Risen Lord can bring us great comfort on this sad occasion.

In the gospel passage that Dan’s family chose for our hearing today, we encounter Thomas at an earlier stage as Jesus was preparing his disciples for his imminent departure from this life. He promises that he will prepare a place for them and for us. Thomas again is confused and suspicious: Master, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way? It isn’t until after Jesus’ resurrection, the second time the Risen Lord appears to his disciples, that Thomas was convinced. His doubts vanished, his suspicions ceased and his only response to the Risen Christ was the response of pure faith: My Lord and my God!

In a recent poll, when asked about their religious preference, 16 percent of Americans identified themselves as "unaffiliated" — atheist, agnostic, or most prominently "nothing in particular." In many ways, Thomas is their patron saint. It took him a while to lower his defenses and place his trust in God’s providential love. Dan was blessed with a certitude that Jesus was the way, the truth and the life. He walked that path confidently and faithfully. He shared it with his family. He witnessed to it in his work and in all his associations. He nourished it within the community of the Church and at the Table of the Eucharist. He gave us all a profound example of Christian faith that lives fully in this life and joyfully anticipates the life of resurrection and the fullness of God’s kingdom.

If we follow the path of love and mercy that marked the life of Christ, we too, when we face the worrisome and fearful reality of death, can do so with grace and assurance. Jesus, who is the source of life and truth, is also our way to the Father’s house, that place of many mansions. His passage has assured our own. Instead of ‘Doubting Thomas’, we can now call the painting ‘Believing Thomas,’ or ‘Thomas of the Passage’, who reached out his hand to touch the wound of Christ and found what Dan had discovered throughout his life of faith: “There’s another world in there.”

Rev John Kasper, osfs
St Perpetua's Catholic Church
Lafayette, CA
17. April. 2008

See also Jan Richardson's blog, "The Painted Prayerbook" for the rest of her reflections on Caravaggio's work, as well as her own painting accompanying these reflections, "Into the Wound," or cf www.janrichardson.com.