Friday, July 3, 2009

Feast of St. Thomas

Today we celebrate the Feast of St. Thomas. The reading for mass today is taken from the account of Thomas not believing the testimony of the other disciples about the Resurrected Christ:

Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples said to him, "We have seen the Lord." But Thomas said to them, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe." Now a week later the disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe." Thomas answered and said to him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed." (John 20:24-29)

Above is Caravaggio's painting, The Incredulity of St. Thomas. Caravaggio is very graphic in this painting. Thomas does not simply lay his finger or hand on the wound in Jesus' side, but he puts his finger into the wound, probing it as if he wants to be absolutely certain that this is not a deception. The viewer is almost repulsed by this. Jesus' face is nearly in darkness, with the wound becoming the focus of the light. I think of the line from the Anima Christi: "Within your wounds, hide me."

Faith is hard work. Think of when Jesus talked to His followers about the need to eat His flesh and drink His blood. The response of many of His followers that day was: "This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?" (John 6:60). When Jesus asks the Twelve if they too will leave Him, Peter responds: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God" (John 6:68-69).

St. Paul reminds us that "we walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Corinthians 5:7). However, like Thomas, we tend to like "proof" in the form of the senses. Jesus tells a crowd, "This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of Jonah" (Luke 11:29). In fact, later in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus indicates that for those who do not believe, they would even discount the evidence of their senses. In the story of Lazarus, and the rich man, Lazarus begs at the rich man's door, and the rich man sends him away empty-handed. After Lazarus dies he is "carried by the angels to the bosom of Abraham," but when the rich man dies, he is "in Hades, and in torment" (Luke 16:22-23). The rich man asks for relief but is reminded that on earth Lazarus suffered and in death finds comfort, while the rich man lived well without any care for the poor, and now he is in torment. The rich man then asks Abraham to send Lazarus to the rich man's five brothers to warn them to lead holy lives. "But Abraham said, 'They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.' And he said, 'No, father Abraham; but if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' He said to him, 'If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead'" (Luke 16:29-31). Both of the passages from Luke relate to resurrection. The story of Jonah in the belly of the whale for three days represents the death and resurrection of Jesus. The story of the rich man involves a request for Lazarus to "rise from the dead" to set his brothers on the right path. Thomas is convinced by One who rises from the dead, but St. Paul reminds us that the rest of us won't get such a showing, and Jesus tells us that we are better off for it.

Faith is hard work. How often does Jesus say to someone, "Oh ye of little faith"? How little faith do we have? Jesus says, "For truly, I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move hence to yonder place,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you'" (Matthew 17:20). We have so little faith that we would only need enough comparable to mustard seed to do fantastic things, but we are so far away from that as to have a tiny fraction of a tiny seed worth of faith. This is a fairly intimidating concept!

Faith is hard work, but we can't do it by ourselves. And the Good News is that we don't have to do it by ourselves. A man whose son is possessed by an unclean spirit asks Jesus to help him. Jesus tells him, "All things are possible to him who believes." Then the father cries out to Jesus, "I believe; help my unbelief" (Mark 9:23-24). Then Jesus heals the boy.

Like Thomas and many others, we struggle with belief at times. For some, it may be much of the time. But Jesus is willing to let us share our doubts and struggles with Him. In response, we need to open ourselves to Him and trust Him. Original sin came through human beings succumbing to the doubt sown by Satan, doubt that God was truthful and trustworthy. We are still learning that lesson even now. But if we come to Jesus with what little faith we have, He will increase it. Therefore, let us join St. Thomas every time we see the priest lift up the Body and Blood of Jesus during the consecration at the mass and say, "My Lord and my God!"

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