"When the heart is not applied, hands can't do anything." On the Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle - July 3
There is a proverb that says: "When the heart is not applied, hands can't do anything." It seems as if this were written for Thomas the Apostle. The Resurrection Gospel stories that feature St. Thomas provide us with an archetypal experience of doubt, struggle and faith. John's first appearance of the Risen Lord to the disciples is both intense and focused, a scene set with realistic detail: it is evening, the first day of the week, and the doors where bolted shut. Anxious disciples are hermetically sealed inside.
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. Thomas hesitatingly put his finger into the wounds of Jesus and love flowed out. Long ago St. Gregory the Great said of Thomas, "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."
Both Jesus and Thomas were wounded by unbelief. Jesus died of the wounds inflicted by the unbelief of his disciples and of the people. Thomas was wounded by his inability to believe, and out of this wound bled his deepest disappointment. But Thomas was healed by Christ's wounds. He saw, even felt, the deadly injuries; but the one who bore them was living. Through them, life was victorious in Thomas. Thomas had to guardedly feel his way to faith until he recognized the truth in his heart. This was the beginning of his Easter. He could believe again.
Thomas, the doubter, was permitted to do something that we would all like to do. He was allowed to touch and "experience" something that by human means was not possible. For us it is more difficult. We need to begin with faith and then blindly touch our way to the heart of our lives.
Thomas the Apostle is truly one of the greatest and most honest lovers of Jesus, not the eternal skeptic, nor the bullish, stubborn personality that the Christian tradition has often painted. Thomas stood before the cross, not comprehending. All his dreams were hanging on that cross. All of his hopes had been shattered. What do we do when something to which we have totally committed ourselves is destroyed before our very eyes?
What do we do when powerful and faceless institutions suddenly crush someone to whom we have given total loyalty? And what do we do when our immediate reaction in the actual moment of crisis is to run and hide, for fear of the madding crowds? Such were the questions of most of the disciples, including Thomas, who had supported and followed Jesus of Nazareth for the better part of three years.
Do we not often like Thomas, never seem to be there when Jesus arrived? Has the absurdity of the resurrection rumour sent us away? Jesus keeps on appearing to us, again and again - unlocking the barriers between faith and doubt, between life and death, between past and future, between fear and joy. The Good News of the Gospel is eminently clear: when and where we least expect him, and when we most need him, Jesus just appears.
Centuries after Thomas, we remain forever grateful for the honesty and humanity of his struggle. Though we know so little about Thomas, his family background and his destiny, we are given an important hint into his identity in the etymology of his name in Greek: Thomas (Didymous in Greek) means "twin." Who was Thomas' other half, his twin? Maybe we can see his twin by looking into 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.
The doubting Thomas within each of us must be touched. We are asked to respond to the wounds within others and ourselves. Even in our weakness, we are urged to breathe forth the Spirit so that the wounds may be healed and our fears overcome. With Thomas we will believe, when our seeking hand finally and hesitantly reaches out to the Lord in the community of faith. Blessed are we who have not seen and have believed!
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