Fr. Roger J. Landry
Sacred Heart Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Feast of St. Thomas, Apostle
July 3, 2015
Eph 2:19-22, Ps 117, Jn 20:24-29
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- We’re coming to the end of a week long “boot camp of faith.” It began on Sunday as we pondered the faith of Jairus and the woman with the hemorrhage reaching out to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment. It continued with the faith of Peter and Paul. Jesus tested and called his disciples to greater faith when he was with them in the boat. The faith to which we’re called was shown in the friends of the paralyzed man taking him to Jesus. And throughout the week we’ve been pondering the faith of Abraham.
- Today, in some sense, we come to the crown of this week, found paradoxically in the faith of so-called ‘Doubting Thomas.’ It’s a pity in many ways that St. Thomas, who left everything to follow the Lord Jesus, who gave his entire life for the Lord and died in witness to faith, is the most famous doubter in history! But his doubts were not unique among the first disciples and apostles. With the exception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, none of the early disciples believed after the resurrection. The women went to anoint a corpse. The disciples in Emmaus were talking to an anonymous Wayfarer about a Jesus whom they thoroughly believed was dead. When Mary Magdalene and these Emmaus disciples went to inform the other apostles that they had seen Jesus, the apostles didn’t believe them. That’s why Jesus, when he appeared to them as St. Mark reminds us through St. Peter, “rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart because they had not believed those who saw him after he had been raised” (Mk 16:14). Faith, as we know, is the belief in something on the basis of a belief in someone giving witness. They had a double-distrust that led to their lack of faith in Jesus’ resurrection. First they distrusted the witness of Mary and the disciples on the Road to Emmaus, thinking that they were just to gullible. But more importantly they distrusted in Jesus’ words that he would rise on the third day. Thomas’ distrust was not qualitatively different at all, just quantitatively: he didn’t believe his fellow apostles’ testimony either.
- We’ll get to his doubts a little bit more shortly, but what I’d like to do first is to talk about what St. Thomas teaches us precisely about faith. He doubts are a blessing for us because they open us up to what we need to know for our faith to be strengthened. I’d like to focus on the three recorded sayings of St. Thomas in the Gospel and what we can learn from each of them.
- The first is his statement during the Last Supper when Jesus was talking about his needing to go away but then come back again. Jesus stated, “Where I am going, you know the way.” That’s when Thomas, who had the guts to say what others were thinking but were perhaps too timid to ask, blurted out, “Lord, we do not know where you are going, how can we know the way?” His was what St. Anselm, basing himself on St. Augustine, would later call fides quaerens intellectum, faith seeking understanding. He believed in the Lord, but wanted to understand better what Jesus was saying. We, too, need to be willing to ask questions of the Lord. Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman once said that a thousand questions don’t constitute a single doubt. St. Thomas Aquinas’ whole method in the Summa was to question aspects of the faith, to raise all of the objections to truths of faith, in order to understand the faith better. As a biologist, I can’t wait to meet Jesus face to face and get a definitive answer to how he got the Y-chromosome, a question that Fr. Mendel, the servant of God Jerome Lejeune and probably many others have already asked him! But these questions don’t cause us to doubt Jesus or what he himself has revealed. On the contrary, they help us to solidify our faith.
- The second thing St. Thomas teaches us are about the consequences of faith. Faith is meant to be lived. We are called to stake our life on what he reveals to us, to become a martyr, a witness, to what he reveals. St. Thomas showed this in the scene outside of Bethany Martha and Mary sent word to Jesus that Lazarus was deathly ill and Jesus committed to going there. Some of the apostles noted that people were threatening to kill Jesus and tried to persuade him from walking into an ambush. But Thomas said, “Let us also go to die with him” (Jn 11:16). He was willing to die for Jesus who was going to die in a week for him. That’s where faith leads. A faith that doesn’t trust in the Lord, in his promise of resurrection, in his teaching us the way to live and die enough to stake our life on his resurrection and ours, really isn’t worthy of the description “faith.” St. Thomas shows us that. Even though he, like the other apostles, would abandon Jesus in fear as Jesus was arrested in the Garden, even though he would spend the first Triduum cowering, he was one who, like Peter, had a willing spirit despite his weak flesh. And he know that faith wasn’t meant to be merely conceptual. It was supposed to be existential. That’s a really important lesson for us to grasp.
- Third, we come to the scene in today’s Gospel. Thomas is unwilling to accept the testimony of the other apostles, the women or the disciples from Emmaus, as if they were all together in a collective hallucination. But it wasn’t a general incredulity. He had obviously been struggling about the criteria to accept Jesus’ resurrection, almost certainly because he had been pondering Jesus’ words that he would rise from the dead. And he had come to the conclusion that the criteria would be Jesus’ wounds, which were the sign of his love, which would be the connection between Jesus’ risen body and his earthly body. Thomas somehow had intuited that for whoever would appear to be the same Jesus — even though his appearance could be different, his voice different, everything else different — the connection would be his wounds. That’s why he said what he did: “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.” He was in some ways a proto-scientist, but he was not someone testing God by incredulity. He knew what the marks of the Resurrection would be and that was what his sign was. Much like the apostle Nathanael earlier who was doubtless pondering the Messiah under the fig tree only to burst out with Messianic exuberance once Jesus mentioned that he had seen him under the fig tree, so Thomas, as soon as Jesus appeared and said, “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,” burst out with the greatest theological confession of Jesus’ divinity recorded in Sacred Scripture: “My Lord and my God.” He shows us that we just can’t merely take others’ words for it as if words were enough — since many people have put their faith in false claims. Our truly Christian faith must be in the crucified Christ risen from the dead, and for that we need to have contact with Jesus’ crucified love, with the person of Jesus, with the sufferings of Jesus. St. Thomas’ whole focus on Jesus’ wounds were like an ancient devotion not merely of the Crucifix but of the Sacred Heart — and Thomas knew that he wanted to probe and enter Jesus’ wounds.
- Today we come on his feast day inspired by his faith. We seek to understand our faith better so that we might follow Jesus along the way. We, too, ask through his intercession for the grace to be able to die with Christ so as to live with him. We, too, ask for the grace to hide ourselves in Jesus’ wounds as Jesus, in his body, blood, soul and divinity comes within us to dwell within and heal our wounds. And we ask for the grace as we are about to receive him here ever to confess him as Thomas did as our Lord and God and bring Him and his message to all the world.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
Reading 1 Eph 2:19-22
You are no longer strangers and sojourners,
but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones
and members of the household of God,
built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets,
with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone.
Through him the whole structure is held together
and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord;
in him you also are being built together
into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
Responsorial Psalm PS 117:1bc, 2
Praise the LORD, all you nations;
glorify him, all you peoples!
R. Go out to all the world and tell the Good News.
For steadfast is his kindness for us,
and the fidelity of the LORD endures forever.
R. Go out to all the world and tell the Good News.
Alleluia Jn 20:29
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
You believe in me, Thomas, because you have seen me, says the Lord;
blessed are those who have not seen, but still believe!
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel Jn 20:24-29
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 his 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.”