Jesus said to Thomas, "Have you come to believe because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed." Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples that are not written in this book.
What precisely is John’s intention in that passage from today’s Gospel reading? For among the evangelists John is unique in designating certain miracles of Jesus as ‘signs’ because he considers them as being most important and eminently conducive to faith (cf. v. 31!); they are by no means ‘ordinary’, they are in fact, John thinks, quite special. John picks out four of those miracles which he calls signs of Jesus, explicitly designating the wedding feast at Cana as being the occasion for the first of them:
Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs in Cana in Galilee and so revealed His glory, and his disciples began to believe in Him. (John 2:11)
He then goes on (John 4:54) to explicitly call another of Jesus’ miracles (the healing of the son of a royal official) as being the second of those signs he wishes to bring to our special attention:
Now this was the second sign Jesus did when he came to Galilee from Judea.
How then can he at the beginning of his Gospel account start to pick out for special notice certain miracles which he regards as worthy to be called ‘signs’, and then, at the end of his Gospel, tell us that has decided to omit ‘many’ of such signs that reveal His glory?
Could it be because of those words of the Risen Lord to Thomas, ‘Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed’? But, after Jesus’ Resurrection, could ‘many’ signs somehow be no longer necessary for faith, or perhaps even somewhat detrimental to it?
The fact is that Jesus performed all those many signs:
In the presence of His disciples, and His disciples began to believe in Him.
Those disciples, apostles, who were to be sent out to the whole world were starting with no background awareness of death being followed by ‘Resurrection’ (whatever that might be) other than Jesus’ words of warning concerning His own destiny. The many signs had been judged necessary by Jesus in order to fully prepare and ultimately convince those who, in His Name, would proclaim His Gospel to the world. And yet, even then:
Later, as the Eleven were at table, He (Jesus) appeared to them and rebuked them for their unbelief because they had not believed those who saw Him after He had been raised.
Nevertheless, knowing the depths of their minds and hearts and the grace of His guiding and sustaining Holy Spirit, and looking to the future:
He said to them, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.” (16:14-15)
Now, it is that new vision of the Good News being proclaimed to the whole world by Holy Mother Church -- in His Name and with the persuasive power and saving grace of His Spirit – that is the key for our understanding of those most comforting words of Our Lord for all future disciples:
Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.
John could omit certain signs of Jesus from his public Gospel because, henceforth, they would be made up for, subsumed, by Jesus’ greatest sign before the nations: Holy Mother Church -- the Body of which He is the head, and the Temple of His Most Holy Spirit – proclaiming in His Name and witnessing to His Gospel, by the grace and power of the Holy Spirit for the salvation of all men.
Moreover, as you have just heard, in his letter John also says:
Who indeed is the victor over the world, but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
There he is again taking up his Gospel teaching, and saying that whosoever believes the Church’s proclamation of Jesus as the Son of God and Saviour of mankind, that is, whosoever is thus to be praised for believing without ‘seeing’, such a one has overcome the world, and his victory over the world is proved by the fact that he is spiritually alive and strong in Jesus without worldly proof other than the witness and the proclamation of Mother Church. Indeed, need for worldly proof could only prove an insuperable obstacle for the spiritual life of any aspiring Christian.
Now, why does John praise such a response to Mother Church’s proclamation of Jesus? Not, ultimately, to praise any human being for his or her own individual spiritual perspicacity or strength, but to show just how sublime and divinely spiritual is Catholic Christian faith, since, ultimately, only God the Father Himself can introduce us to such faith, as John tells us in his Gospel:
Jesus said to the Jews, "Do not murmur among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, 'And they shall all be taught by God.' Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me. (John 6:43-45)
Acceptance of the Gospel message on the basis of worldly evidence would be no true substitute for faith given in response to God’s inspiring of our heart, enlightening of our mind. It is not that John is against us using our natural intelligence in response to the Gospel of Jesus, after all, he expressly tells us why he wrote his Gospel:
These (signs) are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.
Rather is it that, for St. John, the supreme function of the Gospel message is to promote our awareness of, our contact with, and our response to, God Himself; and that contact, that response -- though based on the Gospel message -- is not to be limited to or constrained by the written words of the Gospel. The truth about Jesus, and indeed about God, is broader, wider, goes deeper and extends higher, than the stark words of the Gospel; that is why we Catholics accept the Tradition of Mother Church and acknowledge true development in the doctrine of Faith; all, however, on the basis of, and never against, the original Gospel proclamation.
Here we have an essential characteristic of our Catholic and Christian resurrection-faith. It is not simply a faith to be learned, it is not even just a faith to be loved; it is a faith to be experienced and lived: not simply in the sense of obeying its commands and fighting for its rights, but as communion with the Father, in Jesus, by the Spirit. The Catholic and Christian Church, as the Body of Christ living today, is not limited to receiving its faith from a book written in the past, nor can it be restricted to the use of merely human reasoning in its appreciation of such book-based teaching; the Church, which is the Body of Christ living by the Spirit of Christ, is endowed and enabled, through her vital communion with God, to receive ever greater fullness of His grace and guidance that she might yet more deeply appreciate and appropriately understand the Good News of Jesus’ Gospel. Mother Church today is still called to prepare and allow herself to be inspired by God: not, indeed, to write or proclaim a new revelation, but to understand ever more fully and to appreciate ever more deeply and intimately the revelation originally and finally given to her by God through the Apostles.
This is why the Catholic Church can never be or become a university Church in which the teaching of God is established by and subject to merely rational justification and argument, a Church in which only teaching intellectually sifted and boasting a majority vote of accepted scholarly approval, could be considered as provisional doctrine. Mother Church, though august in her dignity and truly admirable for many of her achievements while presiding over centuries of human growth and social development is, essentially, a mystical Church wherein human learning and practical expertise, though so deeply appreciated, are also necessarily subject to the transcendent authority of a divine commission for and spiritual awareness of, the true and ultimate human good, only to be gleaned -- under the guidance of the Spirit -- from communion with, and in response to, the transcendent God.
All this is contained in those words of our Creed which say: ‘I believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church’; for those words do not simply state that we believe the Catholic Church to have been uniquely founded, established, by Jesus Christ and to be guided and preserved by His Spirit; they also mean that it is only in the Catholic Church -- only in her atmosphere, so to speak -- that we are fully able to breath as Christians, empowered to recognize and appreciate the fullness of truth about God and His will for the salvation of mankind.
Whoever is begotten by God conquers the world. And the victory that conquers the world is our faith. (1 John 5:4)
The Spirit is the one that testifies, and the Spirit is truth. (1 John 5:6)
Oh you believing Catholics, appreciate and be grateful for what you have been given! For your faith has been given to you by the heavenly Father Himself Who has Personally called and introduced you to Jesus; and that faith is being continually nourished and purified -- even to this very day, and at this very hour – in the womb of Mother Church, in view of your ever-fuller sharing, as a member of the Body of Christ and by the Spirit of Christ, in the life of Christ before the Father.