Quasi Modo: Thoughts on the Second Sunday of Easter

W.F. Bellais II

I am certain you have heard the name Quasimodo. He is the hunchback of Notre Dame. If you are not familiar with the story it is basically one of intolerance against those who are different. Quasimodo is described in Victor Hugo’s 1831  book, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, as not only being hunchback but also blind in one eye and bow-legged. He probably had other defects.

However, I will bet you do not know that this Sunday, besides being called “Low
Sunday” and “St. Thomas Sunday” is also called “Quasi modo Sunday.”

The term quasi modo comes from the Latin antiphon read or sung on this Sunday in Latin Rite Roman churches, which is:

Quasi modo geniti infantes, rationabile, sine dolo lac concupiscite ut in eo crescatis in salutem si gustastis quoniam dulcis Dominus.

In English it is,

As if just now you are like newborn babies, and you desire the Word like milk, that you may advance in the way of salvation; for you have tasted that the Lord is sweet.

The term quasi modo is used this particular Sunday to refer to the newly baptized at Easter as well as applying to all Christians on their baptismal journeys.

How did Victor Hugo’s deformed protagonist get the name Quasimodo?

Hugo’s story tells of a foundling abandoned on the steps of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on the Second Sunday after Easter in the year 1467. In the words of the novelist,

He [Archdeacon Claude Frollo, Quasimodo’s adoptive father] baptized his adopted child and called him Quasimodo to commemorate the day when he had found him; and it could be that he meant to mark by that name how incomplete and imperfectly molded the poor little creature was. Indeed, Quasimodo, one-eyed, hunchbacked, and bow-legged, could hardly be considered as anything more than
“an almost.”

Thus, it is as if all Christians are like newborn infants on every Second Sunday after Easter always seeking more of the sweet taste of Jesus. It is a thought to grasp and cherish.

As I said, this Sunday is also called St. Thomas Sunday. The story of Thomas questioning the other disciples about the post-resurrection appearance has been the traditional Second Sunday of Easter Gospel reading for centuries. I do not like to think of Thomas as “Doubting Thomas.” I would rather think of him as questioning or inquiring Thomas. He has a scientific mind and needs empirical data if he is going to buy into a story of a dead man coming back to life. Nevertheless, his friend Jesus, for whom Thomas declared a willingness to march to Jerusalem and die, has returned from the tomb; and, in the story as told by the apostle John, Jesus stands before Thomas inviting close inspection.

I think this is an invitation to closely inspect or examine the things we are told or reported to us in various media. I am not necessarily referring to the news media, but media in general. For example, the History Channel is continually reporting on Nostradamus, the Mayan Calendar, and the Book of Revelation and for some reason wants to warn us of impending doom. Apparently one of those impending doomsday events is the return of ancient astronauts.

Recently, apart from the History Channel, I saw a sign along a Kansas City roadway telling me that Judgment Day is set for May 21, 2011.

The end of the world and all of that is beyond my control and yours also; I have other more pressing matters to worry about. The May 21 thing does worry me. I have not completed a book I am working on and now it seems it will remain an unfinished masterpiece. Further, the Mayan Calendar ends on December 21, 2012, which is, by the way, St. Thomas Day in our liturgical calendar. Because of that fact, I am going to behave like Thomas and say, “I doubt it,” and demand more than the History Channel or some strange cult out in New Jersey to prophecy the end of the world, the end of time, history, age, or whatever it is that is out there to end. I need to see more than some ancient writing or the ravings of a lunatic before I will climb on my roof and await the end times.

The reason I am talking about all this is I believe the doomsday prophets are
denying the words of Jesus when he said,

“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matthew 25:36).

***

I want to go back to Thomas.

He appears in the Gospels asking important questions twice; in both instances in the Gospel according to John. Further, he seems to be placed in the Gospel story at the appropriate time to ask the critical question. This is an important literary technique. The first instance is in the Fourteenth chapter of John where we read, in the fifth and sixth verses:

Thomas said to [Jesus], “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Thomas’ question is needed and needed in that exact point of the story.

In the post resurrection story that is traditionally read on the Second Sunday of Easter the truth spoken by Thomas, when he finally sees Jesus, would not have been spoken and ultimately recorded. Without Thomas the truth of the risen Christ might have remained in that room with the fearful disciples. When Thomas proclaims, “My Lord and my God” the debate is over, the fear is removed.

That is the way we need to deal with the doomsayers. Nobody knows when God will act, and we may not even know how God will act. In the apocalyptic sayings of Jesus remember he was speaking to a Jewish audience that he believed had strayed from God. He even told them that those who were alive then would see the day when God’s judgment and glory would be revealed. Therefore, the end of the age, as Jesus speaks of it, has already occurred. This is what Thomas declares when he finally realizes that Jesus has defeated evil and has overcome the power of death.

The new age is already here and we are the beneficiaries of that new age in Christ. Thomas understood this and he becomes a great apostle. Instead of going from Jerusalem to Rome and the Hellenistic world Thomas goes east and south. He establishes churches as far-ranging as Armenia in the Caucasus Mountains and in the south to India. He had no doubt about his role in proclaiming the good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Nonetheless, in his scientific and pragmatic mind he struggles with exactly what the good news meant to us in our everyday lives. He debated with the apostle John about the nature of salvation, but he had no doubt about whom he served.

We can struggle with and question these important life issues, and if we think of Thomas correctly, we have an obligation to question and to inquire; Jesus prefers it that way.

Because faith is examined, we can sing the ancient Latin antiphon,
Quasi modo. As if we are like children…”

___________________

I am grateful to the Rev. Gary Malin, Pastor, St. Gabriel Church, Cleveland, Ohio, for some of the thoughts expressed in this post.

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