On thinking about today’s Gospel reading it might seem strange that the risen Jesus should go to such lengths to prove to the apostle Thomas that He was no ghost, that He was a real man with flesh and bones and with blood cursing through His veins; glorified indeed -- had He had not just entered the room although the doors were closed? -- but nevertheless still recognizably real and objectively present to and with His apostles in the room:
Jesus said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see My hands. Reach out your hand and put it into My side. Stop doubting and believe.
After doing so much for Thomas, why does Jesus today refrain from doing anything similar for modern people to prove that He is really with us? We have to accept the truth about the reality of Jesus’ resurrection and presence to us, for us, and with us, by faith ... how come that Thomas got so much proof?
First of all notice that Thomas did indeed have faith. A scientist seeing what Thomas saw might simply say, ‘There is something here I cannot understand, but science will be able to explain it later. Indeed, if I could scientifically study this over a period of time in all its various and relevant aspects, I myself could probably explain it. For the present I will just have to suspend judgement.’ That was not the attitude of Thomas: straightway he leapt from fact to faith when, after touching the wounds ... fact ... he immediately declared his faith ... with those momentous words:
My Lord and my God!
Thomas’ sense of touch only confirmed what his eyes saw; and with those earthly eyes he did but see the wounds in Jesus’ hands and side, he did not, could not, see God. It was the light of faith alone which enabled him to recognize the truth about Jesus and proclaim, My Lord and my God.
There is more to it, however, than simply that. Something happened to the apostles when Thomas was absent, as we heard in the Gospel reading:
Jesus came and stood in the midst of the Apostles and said to them, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, so I send you.’ And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.’
Up till then the Eleven, had been a group of individuals, united indeed by their love of Jesus, but still a more or less ordinary group capable of breaking up and each going their own way as when Jesus was apprehended. However, when the Risen Jesus appeared to them -- in Thomas’ absence -- He gave them a distinctive and exclusive mission, As the Father has sent Me, so I send you, after which He bestowed on them the Gift of His own most Holy Spirit with power to forgive and retain sins, as you have just heard. After that moment those ten apostles in the room with Jesus were no longer ten individuals, friends, all interested in and concerned about Jesus’ end, they had been formed into an enduring unity of unique significance and universal consequence for mankind’s salvation: the CHURCH. When Thomas originally, and despite what the other Apostles and Mary said, refused to believe until he himself had seen and touched the wounds of Jesus, he knew little or nothing about the Church ... he only knew a group of certain individual friends of Jesus, each with their own hopes and fears, sorrows and longings, each with their very personal and at times quite obvious limitations and failings. That is why Thomas needed -- and was given by his Lord and God -- that extra help that we today are not offered because we have something still better, we have the witness of that Church established by Jesus; and, in her, we are become members of His very own Body empowered and ennobled by His Holy Spirit Who has washed away the sins that would prevent us from truly recognizing, and overcome the frailties that would impede us from fully loving and serving, Jesus.
The Church, God’s Chosen People, is, as I have said, the Body of Christ, the Temple where Jesus has promised to be -- for our finding -- until the end of time; she is the Spouse He will never desert, and the loving Mother of all God’s children born in baptism, through faith in Jesus as sent by the heavenly Father, and by the gift of His most Holy Spirit. Her sacraments give us the food of life; while the word of Jesus -- alive in her -- is for a light to the nations and the glory of all God’s children.
Poor Thomas! On being told of the first apparition of Jesus to the assembled disciples in the gospel he was only an individual human being ... we, on the other hand, are so blessed: being members of the Church, having her witness to the truth and the abiding presence of Jesus her Head, with her sacraments channelling for us and accomodating to us the power of His Spirit. At that moment, Thomas’ refusal was blunt and absolute – a true expression of his personal character – nevertheless, when subsequently, on his own, he had the time and opportunity to think things over, he must have become deeply conscious of the separation between himself and his hitherto mutually committed friends and companions, and how he must have longed to be able to share their new found peace and strength drawn from this so-called Risen Lord Whom he himself could not, as yet, fully embrace. This longing was indeed God’s prompting that would prepare him to embrace his second opportunity when Jesus once again appeared to all Eleven of His apostles ... an opportunity for which Thomas had been humbly seeking in his heart and mind, an occasion when his touching of Jesus’ wounds prompted and Jesus’ words encouraged him to a total personal commitment of faith towards the Risen Lord he had long loved.
For faith is -- as the Compendium of our Catechism teaches -- the supernatural virtue which is necessary for salvation; it is, indeed, a free gift of God accessible to all who humbly seek it. The act of faith is a truly human act, an act of the intellect of a human person who, prompted and encouraged by God, freely assents to divine truth revealed by God and proclaimed by Mother Church. Faith is certain and works through charity. It is, even now, a foretaste of the joys of heaven; and how this very occasion of today’s celebration evokes such joy for us because one called, at times, ‘doubting Thomas’ should so manifestly provoke and lead us to such great appreciation of and joy in the Church and the Faith as is ours today!!
Yes we Catholics rejoice in Mother Church and our Faith, two supremely wonderful and complementary gifts of God. Our faith is indeed a joy because it is SURE when so much in life is belittled and betrayed by insecurity ... life-long love and enduring commitment and fidelity between man and wife is hardly expected today and, indeed, frequently mocked in so many presentations of modern life in society where personal gain and pleasure, public approval or even mere acceptance or tolerance, are more than enough to tip the scales against any prospective possibility of sacrifice. For intellectual, or even religiously-inclined people, Catholic faith can be deemed impossible because the world and our knowledge of it are changing so rapidly that no one can know what time may bring. One former Christian acquaintance of mine, thus afflicted, could not say, when asked about the divinity of Jesus, what he might ‘believe’ in ten years’ time. Consequently, for so many, instead of the sure light of faith guiding towards the fulfillment of our human destiny and the abiding promise of a God-given future, there is only an individual, or at best shared, opinion; available, not indeed to guide onwards, but merely to hopefully justify past, personal, options. There is no love in-and-through life, just adventitious adaptations to whatever might seem the best available personal option.
Catholic Faith, because it is founded on the Word of God, is both sure and certain: it is essential for salvation because it alone can respond fittingly to the great Goodness of God and the sublimity of His promises made to mankind in Jesus. Even though, for example, one can still read past issues of national and international papers recounting the wonders witnessed by thousands at Fatima and Lourdes, even though pilgrims still today experience startling cures at those and similar shrines, nevertheless every new generation wants to experience for itself so much that, without such corroborating personal experience, the reports of others gradually lose compelling attention and are, inevitably forgotten or simply no longer taken into account. Faith alone can respond to and overcome such depradations of our human character by time and cupidity.
People of God, there is so much truth and beauty brought to our attention today – I have not even mentioned the wonderful promptings of God spoken of in the Catechism, promptings that speak directly to individual hearts and minds, that relate to individual and secret needs, hopes and aspirations! – so much for which time and space cannot supply, but for which sincere gratitude to the God of our Faith, and thanks to Thomas and the apostolic proclamation of our Mother Church, must provide our present comfort and consolation, our abiding hope and longing, our inspiration and delight in Jesus.