But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘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.’
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ John 20: 24-28.
On December 21, the church celebrates the Feast of St. Thomas, sometimes known as the Doubting Thomas. This feast day may seem like a bit of an interruption in our Advent preparation, but I hope to convince you that it makes perfect sense.
For the past few weeks, we’ve been discussing the Incarnation. Of course, the Latin root of that word is carnis, which means meat or flesh. So, the term Incarnation means that God became flesh and bone, that the immortal became mortal, that the spiritual became physical. God, in a sense, consecrated humanity by entering into our history.
This was not, however, some metaphysical entry, nor some encounter with an ethereal spirit. No, Scripture tells us that Christ was born into human history, born among the animals in a stable or a cave or a stall. This Incarnation was lowly, mean and decidedly real.
Similarly, in this story of St. Thomas, we learn that even the resurrected Christ bears the scars of his entry into human history, of his encounter with human sin. Thomas doubted the reality of the resurrected Christ, and would not permit himself to believe until he saw the marks of that encounter in Jesus’ flesh.
I don’t think we should judge Thomas too harshly. Most of us will face serious doubts at one point or another, and maybe face them again and again. Perhaps because of my Jesuit education, I’m inclined to think a rigorous examination of our faith is healthy. Otherwise, we consign ourselves to something I believe is perhaps more dangerous, a faith that is five miles wide and a quarter- inch thick. Many of us have prayed, in some desperate hour, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.” I certainly have, and so feel a certain spiritual kinship with this good Apostle.
“Then Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!'” I think the point of this Gospel reading is not so much how Thomas came to the conclusion, but that he ultimately reached the conclusion of the sovereignty and divinity of the Incarnate Word.
So, we’ve been talking about what Advent means, in terms of the triumph of hope and promise over desolation and darkness. Advent calls us to look beyond what John Newman called “the shadows and deceits of this shifting scene of time and sense”. And as we approach again the entry of Jesus into the world, we hear Christ calling to us, “Do not doubt, but believe.”
Emmanuel, God is with us.
James R. Dennis, O.P.
© 2011 James R. Dennis
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Veritas, mi Padre. A wonderful reflection. Thanks.
I find it rather comical that Thomas is given the epithet “doubting” when all he wanted was the same opportunity that the others had been given. He is, though a week later, one of those who believe, having seen.
I think, brother, that Thomas came to believe by the same method that the other Apostles did, and by the same method that we do: grace and grace alone.
Amen, Brother James, Amen!
I’m sure Thomas should be called “Believing Thomas.” Thomas’ action help us to see doubt as the other side of faith and, my apologies to Evangelicals, that faith is not certainty about our salvation.
Dear Brother Neal,
It seems to me we should not struggle so with the notion of doubt and faith coexisting in the person of Thomas. We Christians, who seem to have come to terms with the divine and the human nature coexisting within the person of Jesus, and who talk about a virgin birth, ought to be a bit more comfortable with contradiction and mystery.
I was sitting in St. Mary’s painting in the wounds on the Christ on the Cross icon i am working on at present on the 21st- I had not connected the day to St. Thomas. It almost felt as if the nails and the wounds are pulling us up from the base world we live in to something requiring a higher consciousness or awareness. Sometimes it feels as if the life of Christ is constantly recurring.. this from someone who did not doubt but spent a large part of her life not being aware. It is a slow process for me – a very tardy believer.
I have read that it was not the nails that held the Christ to the Cross; rather it was love. I’m reminded of the passage “by his wounds we are healed.” In my youth, I thought that was ghastly; now, I’m not so sure.
I spent a number of years away from the Church–20 or so. I think heaven rejoices madly at the “tardy believer”. I wish you a very Holy Christmas.
Dear Brother James,
I know what you mean about a Jesuit education. I got mine at Saint Louis University and I certainly agree that “a rigorous examination of our faith is healthy.” It seems to me, though, that Thomas’s complaint was more a matter of the heart than of the head. He doesn’t strike me as being a dispassionate observer who insisted on proof for merely intellectual reasons. He seems to have been deeply wounded by the crucifixion, and he didn’t want to be hurt again. But to paraphrase what you said in your reply to Constantina, Thomas’s wounds were healed by the sight of Christ’s wounds. And he was able to trust again that Christ was “my Lord and my God.”
Thanks so much for your thoughts. In some respects, Thomas is a bit like a kaleidoscope: turn the image just a bit and you see something new. I agree that Thomas, as with all of the disiples I suspect, was probably deeply wounded by the crucifixion. It’s just a fascinating passage.
Have a Merry Christmas,
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