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 of flesh and bones, and with blood coursing through His veins. He was glorified indeed -- had He had not just entered the room although the doors were closed? -- but He was 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 I myself could probably explain it. For the present, however, I will just have to suspend judgement.’ That was not the attitude of Thomas: straightway he leapt from fact to faith: 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 divine truth about Jesus and proclaim, My Lord and my God.
There is more to it, however, than 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.’
Until then the Eleven had been a group of individuals, united indeed by their love of Jesus, but still a more or less somewhat disparate group of people capable of breaking up and each going their own way, as they in fact did 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. From that moment on, those ten apostles in the room with Jesus were no longer ten individuals devoted to the memory of Jesus as they had experienced Him previously; now they had been re-formed into a unity looking towards a common future and common endeavour for Jesus, an enduring unity of unique significance and universal consequence for mankind’s salvation: the CHURCH.
When Thomas originally refused to believe -- despite what his fellow Apostles and Mary Magdalen had said -- until he himself also had seen the form, heard the voice, and indeed touched the very wounds of Jesus, he knew nothing about any Church ... he only knew a familiar group of friends and disciples 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 much better, we have the witness of that universal Church established by Jesus; and, in her we are become members of His very own Body, personally empowered and ennobled by His most Holy Spirit, Who has washed away the sins that would prevent us from recognizing the truth about Jesus and overcoming the faults and failings that would impede us from humbly loving and faithfully serving Him.
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.
Thomas, on being told of the first apparition of Jesus to the assembled disciples was only
an individual human being ... we, on the other hand, are much more blessed: being
members of the Church and having her witness to the truth, we are aware of and are able
to appreciate the abiding presence of Jesus her Head in our midst, with her sacraments
channelling for us and accomodating to us, His Own Personal presence and the abiding
power of His Spirit. At that moment, Thomas’ refusal -- truly his confession of need –
was blunt and absolute, a veritable 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. This ‘opportunity’ became the most decisive moment of his whole
life: when his touching of Jesus’ wounds, and Jesus’ own words, prompted and
encouraged him to make a total personal commitment of faith in the Risen Lord he had
For faith is -- as the Compendium of our Catechism teaches -- a 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 profound human understanding, by a person who -- prompted and encouraged by God’s grace -- joyously 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’ could so manifestly provoke and lead us to such great appreciation of and joy in the Catholic and Apostolic Faith as is ours today!! Pope Saint Gregory the Great was undoubtedly the one most famously and most deeply grateful to God for Thomas’ doubts which – as he said -- have won for us such blessings of joy and peace in our appreciation of the true Faith.
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, betrayed, and riddled 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 ever so rapidly that no one can know what time may bring. One former learned Christian acquaintance of mine, thus afflicted, could not say, when I asked him concerning 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 personal past and future choices. There is no love in-and-through life, just adventitious adaptations to whatever might seem the best available personal option at the moment in question.
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 has been so much truth and beauty brought to our attention today, and 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 and aspirations! However, the order of the day – so to speak -- is heart-felt gratitude to the God of our Faith for Thomas’ ‘blunt’ confession, and for the enduring apostolic proclamation of Mother Church, which afford us so much comfort and peace while, nevertheless, inspiring us with an ever-deeper longing for and delight in Jesus Christ our Risen Lord and Saviour.