Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle – July 3
A proverb says, “When the heart is not applied, hands can’t do anything.” It seems as if this were written for Thomas the Apostle! John’s first appearance of the Risen Lord to the disciples is intense and focused, a scene set with realistic detail: it is evening, the first day of the week, and the doors are bolted shut. Anxious disciples are hermetically sealed inside the room. A suspicious, violent world is forced tightly outside. Jesus is missing. Suddenly, the Risen One defies locked doors, locked hearts, and locked vision. He simply appears. Gently, ever so gently, Jesus reaches out to the broken and wounded Apostle.
“Doubting Thomas” is often used to describe someone who refuses to believe something without direct, personal evidence: a skeptic. It refers, of course, to Thomas, one of the Twelve, whose name occurs in all the Gospel lists of the Apostles. Thomas is called Didymus, the Greek form of an Aramaic name meaning “twin.” When Jesus announced his intention of returning to Judea to visit Lazarus, Thomas said to his fellow disciples: “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:16). It was Thomas who, during the great discourse after the Last Supper, raised an objection:
“Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (John 14:5).
Little else is recorded of Thomas the Apostle in the New Testament; nevertheless, thanks to John’s Gospel account of Jesus’ meeting with Thomas (John 20:19-31), we have a better understanding of his personality than that of some of the other Apostles. Thomas would have listened to Jesus’ words, and he certainly experienced dismay at Jesus’ death. That Easter evening when the Lord appeared to the disciples, Thomas was not present. When he was told that Jesus was alive and had shown himself, Thomas said, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). Eight days later, Thomas made his act of faith. He hesitatingly put his finger into the wounds of Jesus and love flowed out. He is blessed beyond belief for his sincerity. Jesus exclaims to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (John 20:29).
Thomas, the Honest Lover
Thomas the Apostle is one of the greatest and most honest lovers of Jesus, not the eternal skeptic or the bullish, stubborn personality that Christian tradition has often painted. This young Apostle stood before the cross, not comprehending the horrors of what had happened. All his dreams and hopes were hanging on that cross. Thomas rediscovered his faith amidst the believing community of Apostles and disciples. This point must never be forgotten, especially in an age when so many claim that faith and spirituality are attainable without the experience of the ecclesial community. We do not believe as isolated individuals, but rather, through our baptism, we become members of this great family of the Church.
Centuries after Thomas, we remain forever grateful for the honesty and humanity of his struggle. Though we know little about him, his family background and his destiny, we do know that his name means “twin.” Who was Thomas’ other half, his twin? Maybe we can see his twin by looking in the mirror. Thomas’ other half is anyone who has struggled with the pain of unbelief, doubt, and despair and has allowed the presence of the Risen Jesus to make a difference.
Long ago, St. Gregory the Great said, “If, by touching the wounds on the body of his master, Thomas is able to help us overcome the wounds of disbelief, then the doubting of Thomas will have been more use to us than the faith of all the other apostles.”
Excerpt from “Stay with us...” Encounters with the Risen Lord
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
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