April 24, 2022
We should thank Thomas today because he asks questions and he has doubts. If more Catholics asked questions about their faith and their life, they would be more confident about both.
Our catechism classes prepared us for answers to everything without teaching what were the questions. But true faith in God is more than knowing answers to someone else’s questions.
Perhaps, all Thomas wanted to know was who this new Jesus was and was he the same person who had been crucified and killed.
Thomas was the first person to intuit that Jesus could suffer and die and rise again. Thomas was the first disciple to believe that Jesus’ death could bring a whole new way to understand and appreciate life, that death would be “a letting go” and a “new embracing of something more.”
For centuries, the Church did not promote doubting. In fact, it fought all kinds of heresies, even putting doubters to death.
In order to doubt, we have to learn the difference between doubting God and doubting what we believe about God. What might have been going through Thomas’ mind when he heard someone tell him that “we have seen the Lord”? What do you mean you have seen the Lord? What did he look like? How do you know? What about his nail marks? Did he look the same as before? What did his skin look and feel like?
What did he (Jesus) say? What does it mean to “Receive the Holy Spirit?” How do I forgive sins? Thomas was filled with questions.
The story does not tell us if the other disciples had questions or doubts. Sometimes, in the actual moment of something amazing, the shock of the experience takes a while to sink in and questions don’t come until later.
I read something by a spiritual writer, Rachel Held Evans, praising the gift of doubting. She wrote: “Doubt is the mechanism by which faith evolves. It helps us cast off false fundamentals so that we can recover what has been lost or embrace what is new. It is a refining fire, a lot of flame that keeps our faith alive and moving and bubbling about, where certainty would only freeze it on the spot.”
I believe that we should ask questions about our Catholic faith. I believe we should talk about our doubts and share them. I believe that we need to find new images and new vocabulary to help us understand our faith. I believe that we need less answers and more time to talk and wonder about our present answers.
When Thomas says: “Unless I see… and I will not believe,” I understand him to say that he needs more information, that he wants to think about everything he has already heard, that he wants to have an opportunity to get in touch with his own thoughts and have more conversations, that he wants to find his own thoughts and words to express the inexpressible.
Each one of us in our way needs the time to figure life out, to find God’s place in it, to embrace the Father as Our Father, and Jesus his son as our brother. This kind of a relationship is a matter of the heart, not an answer from a book or a Pope.
In this story today, there is an explosion of anger and loss, the feeling of being left out and abandoned. Thomas is trying to find his place in all of this.
When Thomas collapses finally in the arms of Jesus acknowledging Jesus as his Lord and God, Jesus asks him the simple question: “Have you come to believe because you have seen me?”
The story doesn’t tell us how Thomas answered the question. I think that Thomas would have said something like this:
“I do not know what I believe. All I know is that I have seen you again. You are all banged up, but a bright light shines through you. You have forgiven me and accept me for who I am. I am just plain overwhelmed. All I know is that you are now my Lord and God.”
In the Book of Revelations, our second reading, John has a vision of the Risen Jesus on the island of Patmos. Sent there to be in a prison-like seclusion for his writings and teachings. The same Jesus who asked Thomas to touch his crucified and risen body, now touches John and tells him not to fear and that he (Jesus) is now alive forever. He holds the key to everything, Jesus says.
True faith always begins and is sustained with true doubt and many questions. We cannot “memorize” faith or “will” faith. True personal faith is a gift. It continues to be refined and reworked in the experiences of life. In the end, what shows up is less of you and me and more of God.
Jesus ends his conversation with Thomas with a question: “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? No, it’s more than that.
The story ends with Jesus’ profound observation – so, so very true. “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”