Feast of Saint Thomas, Apostle
Thomas does not appear all that often in the gospel accounts of the life of Jesus. But when he does, we might say it is with aplomb!
In St. John’s gospel when Jesus decides to go to see Lazarus – rather than affirm the decision of Jesus Thomas doubts its wisdom and fears its outcome. Thomas says: “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Again, when Jesus announces himself as the way, the truth and the life and indicates he is going ahead and that they know the path to follow, Thomas speaks again “‘No, we don’t know, Lord,’ Thomas said. ‘We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?’
It is no wonder he inherits the title of ‘doubting Thomas’. It might indicate a certain cautious disposition in life or simply indicate to us a person who struggles with issue of trust. Nevertheless, it is today’s gospel account that is most associated with Thomas and his doubts.
One of the great contributions that St. Thomas makes for us is to expose a tendency, one that can touch us all from time to time, namely the power of doubt. Doubt tends to be a latent capacity in the human mind – one that waits till we are confronted with a variation of the familiar and faced with uncertainty. Into this moment enters doubt with its capacity to throw us into confusion. Knowledge that we had, trust that we had held, even love that we bore for another can all be drowned by doubt. These key capacities of being human are not necessarily destroyed by doubts, but doubt has a power to pull us away from the direction we had intended and lead us down a new, often confusing, pathway.
Have you ever felt you know the answer to give or the way to go, and yet doubt intervenes and disrupts your thinking process? Thus, instead of trusting our first instinct, or our common sense, we go against these and so often find ourselves travelling in the wrong direction.
Thomas exposes this tendency as being operative too in matters of belief and alerts us to the power of doubt to sabotage one’s living faith.
But thankfully, Thomas also inadvertently reveals to us one strategy to deal with, and perhaps even overcome, doubts.
When Thomas is alone, he does not have the reassuring presence of the community, and their common experience of the resurrection to guide his thinking and influence his behaviour. Instead, he resorts to demanding ‘proof’. Yet when he is with the community, experiencing with them the presence of Jesus, his doubts disappear and even when it is offered, he does not need any proof that he is in the presence of Jesus.
Thus, we each have a strong role to play to strengthen the faith of others. By our witness within the community and by our experiences of being carried by the community we are strengthened and in turn strengthen others. By witnessing to the resurrection through our own love of and trust in Jesus, we can strengthen others and shore up their faith.
Perhaps this is what Paul means when he writes to those early Christians in Ephesus “You are no longer strangers and sojourners,
but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God…” and that together we the “dwelling place of God in the Spirit”.
In such light we can illuminate the way for others and live out the prophecy of the Lord “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”
Fr. Denis Travers, C.P., is a member of Holy Spirit Province, Australia.