Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle


Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle

Scripture Readings: Eph. 2:19-22; Jn. 20: 24-29

The not-so-secret key to the success of the advertising world is to alert you to all those things that will make your life complete.  The new car or hair spray are what you have been missing.  This banal targeting does, however, trigger a neural reflex in us — the anxiety that we are missing something which would bring a new fullness to our life.  If I had gone to Yale or Harvard instead of Podunk Community College, doors would have been opened to me.  If I had paid more attention in school, I would have learned something which would have been useful now.  Nothing has really prepared me for the problems I have to face.  I am out of touch.  Technology has sped past me and left me handicapped in old history.  I am missing what is going on.

Thomas missed the appearance of the Lord to his disciples.  Thomas was not with them.  He could not share their excitement and joy.  He was still not with them.  He set down some remarkable conditions for his belief: Unless I put my fingers in his wounds and hand into his side, I will not believe.  Was he a super-empiricist, looking for hard, indisputable evidence?  What would be left to faith or belief if that was his criterion?  I think the comments of St. Gregory the Great which we heard at vigils steer us in the right direction.  Gregory spoke of the wound of disbelief.  Disbelief is not just a rational stand or option.  It is a wound in our soul which stops the circulation of life, an irruption and interruption of a natural reaching out in trust.  It is a malfunction.

Thomas deeply sensed this wound of disbelief in his soul.  We are not told what the disciple did once Jesus was taken into custody.  It is hard to believe that they just went off on vacation to Syria or Rome.  They were still in Jerusalem and anything but indifferent to what was happening to Jesus.  But they did nothing.  This betrayal and abandonment could only have slashed deep wounds into their souls.  Of course their own hopes were dashed.  But their hopes had been placed in this person who was now wounded and pierced on the cross.  There is no balm in Gilead or healing for these wounds which cut to the life of the soul.  Knowing about the Risen Christ and his offer of peace and forgiveness is only salt in the wounds for those not touched or touching this reality with their hearts.

Thomas was a good theologian.  He did not ask for a marvelous theophany which would nullify all that had happened.  He wanted to touch the body of Jesus Christ.  He expected the wounds to be there and not removed or forgotten.  He wanted his own wounds of unbelief and betrayal to be healed by the wounds that Christ still bore and continues to bear.  We tend to be insensitive to what the desire to touch the wounds of Christ could mean. We have lost the sense of touch.  We handle, we operate, we use tools and digital technology to extend ourselves all over the globe.  But we lose the sensitivity of embodied contact, of the flow of participation and identification that comes in touch. We are hardly aware of how our bodies are touching the earth and being supported by it. We miss the quiet interaction that is communicated in being built up together as the Body of Christ into a dwelling place for the Holy Spirit.  The building up which is laid on the foundations of peace and forgiveness.  We can’t manage this, only seek to be touched by it.

As Bishop Flores reminded us, Christ is not hard to find.  He is as close as the person next to us.  But He still looks so wounded.  He looks wounded in our world, in our Church, in our communities, in our selves.  No surprise to Thomas.  No surprise to St. Benedict who in the 72nd chapter of his Rule encourages us to bear with the utmost patience the infirmities of body and character of others.

To bear and carry them and know our own wounds and infirmities being borne and carried in the Body of Christ.  By His wounds, we are healed.


Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle

Scripture Readings: Eph.2: 19-22; Jn 20:24-29

Do not be unbelieving but believe. From our earliest days we begin to develop our unique character or personality. Our choices in the ways we respond to reality begin to form us as passive or aggressive, as extroverted or introverted, as lovers of order and control or as carefree and spontaneous. We silently and slowly build up a pattern of what we allow into our lives and hows we interact with life around us.

This basic pattern has deep roots and we are seldom aware of it until it is challenged or questioned by a stimulus from outside ourselves.

Christ’s words, Do not be unbelieving but believe, are a persistent and proocative summons to wake us out of the autopilot of our lives and our preference to affirm our own vision of life. Our default position is unbelief, rather than belief. We are unbelieving, operating out of the confining limits of self-concern, suspicion, and fear. We deal and manage with what we know and what we can see. We see no need or advantage to venture outside our closed room, with the doors all locked.

We are incapable of making the first move. Unbelief is the world we know. It is a world which propagates itself by avoiding the remembrance of God, by constructing attention-consuming expansions of defenses against the indefensible awareness of our rootedness in the sacred and divine. We beome acculturated to lurking in hidden corners and the shadows of dissimulation and fabrication. We are like Gollum, the misshapen character in the Lord of the Rings, who has made his home in murky caverns and crevices and seeks only to protect his “precious” — the ring he can’t use but desperately clings to as a possession which gives him meaning.

Salvation and grace is having this buffered world broken into. Christ’s first word is Peace. It is a word which creates what it announces. This is a peace which can penetrate to the roots of our self-understanding, an understanding which had been absorbing toxic.messages and had smothered what it considered unacceptable and shameful. This is a peace which brings light, healing and forgiveness to all that is exposed to the light and is now seen. Accepting this peace is the first step of faith. Belief is a step and a conversion from the self-management of life to entering into a relationship which grows in and out of a mutual trusting. The wounds in our own hearts are the access we have to the grace offered in belief.

Thomas vividly personifies the well-meaning ( in our eyes) resistance to the economy of   God’s action in raising us in faith. He seems to have enough independence to separate himself off from the other apostles. He wasn’t afraid to venture outside the closed and locked room. He was the one who rallied the other disciples in chapter 11 of the gospel: Let us go to die with him. A man of self-confidence, bravery, and chutzpah. It was in character for him to say Unless I see… unless I touch and feel. I refuse to believe. The I is the dominant actor. Why did he demand to see and touch the wounds of Christ? Why did he think they would still be extant and not healed? Why wouldn’t he be content with hearing the voice of Christ, seeing his face?

Perhaps because the last vivid memory he had of Jesus was seeing his wounds and this made an indelible mark on his soul. These were his connections with Jesus. All the bravery and self-confidence which defined him had crumbled at the moment of truth. His own life had been shattered, his own heart broken, when he realized that he was a cowardly betrayer of the one to whom he had given his life. The wounds of Christ were his connection to him and the only way of realizing healing and reconciliaton. The salvation Christ realized on the Cross remains only an offer and perhaps an abstraction unless we grasp and admit the wounds in us which call out for the compassion, healing, and reconcilation that are found in his wounds. Our soul, if it comes to its senses, yearns to touch and insert itself in that body built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.


Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle

Scripture Readings: Eph 2:19-22;  Jn 20:24-29        

July 3, 2017  St. Thomas the Apostle # 3  2017 NM         Eph 2:19-22;  Jn 20:24-29        Doubting Thomas

St. Thomas, the doubting Apostle, believed when he saw the risen Christ.  But to encourage us Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”   

The happiness of belief, however, doesn’t end all our doubts, questions and weaknesses.  We can respond to them by moving in one of two directions: either giving up the practice of our faith like so many teenagers and young adults do, or by persevering in spite of our doubts, uncertainties and sins, sometimes even to martyrdom.

There’s a story about a Christian in the third century during a time of terrible persecution who struggled with his faith.  Call him Publius.  He was a troubled Christian whose faith was constantly tried by doubts and moral weaknesses.  At the liturgies he didn’t feel devotion, he had no consolations in prayer, and he was beset with sexual temptations and sins.  He thought he was really a pagan at heart, and therefore a hypocrite as a Christian.      

Day after day he was sad and perplexed about the state of his soul.  One day he was stopped by two Roman soldiers who said, “Publius, are you a Christian?”  He replied, “Well, yes, I think so, but perhaps not. I don’t know. You see, that’s the problem.  I think I am, but maybe I’m not.”  They said, “Tell it to the judge.” 

So, poor Publius was taken before the ruling magistrate who asked him, “Are you a Christian, guilty or not guilty?”  He replied, “Guilty, I hope, but I might not be guilty; I want to be one, but, no, I guess I’m not.”  The judge needed no more proof.  Publius was taken to the arena.  As he stood there, a roaring lion paced back and forth behind an iron gate.  Publius thought, “What a predicament I’m in.  I’m about to die, and I don’t know if I’m really a Christian or not.”  When the iron gate was lifted the ferocious lion came charging out, mouth open and teeth bared. 

Publius suddenly lit up and a happy look spread over his face.  He thought to himself, “It’s obvious I would not be standing here facing yon lion with its sharp teeth and powerful jaws if the life of God was not coursing through my veins.  To be in this kind of relationship to that wild beast who has just leaped off the ground and is waving his big claws at me, I must truly be a Christian!”  Whereupon the lion fell upon Publius and confirmed his conclusion. 

We can respond to our doubts, questions and weaknesses either by giving up and no longer practicing the faith; or, by persevering  knowing that a thousand doubts and sins do not form a single act of denial or apostasy, and that even our poorest acts of love and repentance make us truly Christian, and prepare us for martyrdom and heaven. “Blessed are those who have not seen and keep believing.” 


Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle

[Scripture Readings: Eph. 2: 19-22; Jn. 20: 24-29]

It has been the fate of the apostle Thomas to become something of a human cliche. The phrase doubting Thomas is a standard expression in our vocabulary. It is frequently used to describe situations that have little or nothing to do with religion, let alone faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Like most cliches an important truth is lost through familiarity and casual use. We can easily miss the reflection of ourselves in the presentation of Thomas in this morning’s gospel. Most of us would like something more tangible to support us in our journey of faith than the blind leap of faith so dear to the existentialists. That may be enough for the heroic, but what about those of us who are not heroes?

Scripture scholars point out that while Thomas stated the necessity that he put his fingers into the place of the nails and his hand into Jesus’ side, and that Jesus responded to his demand; there is no evidence from the gospel that Thomas carried his doubt that far. He accepted the experience of the risen Christ that the other disciples accepted. He saw the risen Christ and declared, My Lord and my God. We are among those Jesus called blessed because we have not seen and believe; but does it follow that we can get along without some experience of the risen Christ? I think not.

I submit that our experience of the risen Christ is the indwelling of Christ’s Spirit among us and within us. The Church is the body of Christ, or as we heard in this morning’s reading from the letter to the Ephesians, a holy temple which is the dwelling place of God. Through the Church the Spirit presents Christ to us in the words of scripture, in the liturgy and in teaching. We ourselves are members of Christ’s body and building blocks of God’s temple, and we witness to life in Christ to each other. The Spirit of Christ dwelling within us enables us to recognize the words and actions that come to us from without as the words and actions of Christ and the Spirit enables us live according the words that we hear and the example that we see. Living the life of Christ in our time and in our situations is itself an experience of the risen Christ. We could not do it unless we were living in Christ and Christ was living in us.

Faith in Christ does not leave us isolated individuals to find our way to God alone. Jesus responded to the doubts and fears of the first Christians by sending his Spirit. He responds to our doubts and fears by sending us his Spirit. Through the Spirit we are citizens of the kingdom of God with all the saints. Because we share the Spirit of Christ we are brothers and sisters of Christ and brothers and sisters of one another. Through the presence of his Spirit among us and within us Christ fulfills his promise to be with us until he comes in glory at the end of time.

Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle

[Scripture Readings: Eph 2:19-22; Jn 20:24-29]

“You believe because you saw me. Blessed are they who have not seen and believe.” This is not my favorite saying of Jesus. I struggle with this saying — and not just because I am an artist, whose whole human life and life of faith is a life of seeing; for whom faith and seeing are absolutely and integrally one. I struggle with this saying because I am a Christian, and I am joined in my puzzlement over it by other Christians. Hans Urs Von Balthasar, who some consider the greatest theologian of the last century, struggled with this saying of Jesus, and devoted much prayer and reflection trying to interpret what it means.
Is Jesus saying, that faith is more blessed, deeper, and truer—which is blind; which sees nothing? Then why did God show Himself to us? Why did God become an image and make Himself visible to us in the flesh, and words, and actions of His incarnate Word? If that faith is best which believes—and sees nothing, then we had all been better off, and possessed of a truer faith, if God had never appeared in the flesh.

Pope Benedict XVI has said: “Ultimately the Church of Christ commends itself to the world by two means: the witness of its saints and the glory of its art.” The glory of its art—imagine! Imagine the pope putting works of art on a par with the holiness of the church’s greatest saints! If that Christian faith is truer and deeper which sees nothing, is it not odd this faith should have inspired, the most glorious body of religious art the world has ever seen?

If faith is truest when it is blind—why did God become an image?

I have a belief which is central; absolutely central to my personal life of faith: I believe Jesus Christ is the nakedness of God. The Trinitiarian mystery is where God undresses, and when God has undressed—Jesus is standing there. God is in love with you and that moment when Jesus is born in the flesh, God shows His nakedness to you. It is what lovers do. A man and a woman fall in love, grow in knowledge and respect for one another, commit themselves to the relationship and one day marry. And then the moment comes when, for the first time, they are seen naked before one another. Now, if arriving at this moment, the man, through some misguided notion, thinks intimacy with his bride will be “purer“, “deeper“, or more “authentic“, if he does not look at her nakedness, and closes his eyes or adverts his eyes and looks another way—that is an insult to her. The man needs to have his eyes open at this moment—he needs to look. Even a monk knows that. Closing his eyes, now; even slightly adverting his eyes at THIS moment, is a profound insult to the woman. I would venture to say it would be difficult for the relationship between a man and woman to recover from such a moment.

Jesus is God’s nakedness shown to us for the first time in the history of the world. Is one more blessed for not having seen this moment? But, I wonder, is it possible one might look at this moment . . . and not see? Might you look at the man Jesus and not see God’s nakedness revealed in his person? Evidently you might. We know that even Jesus’ closest followers found it terribly difficult to see who Jesus was even while looking at him every day. If such people, having looked and failed to see, still believed, then they were blessed even though they could not see. But they looked; they LOOKED. They did not close their eyes to this moment; they did not avert their eyes—they looked, and that point, brothers and sisters, it seems to me, is of great importance, for understanding this gospel on the feast of St. Thomas. Jesus did not say: “Blessed is he who does not look and believes.” You need to look. Jesus allows that, looking you might not see, in which case, if you still believe, then you are blessed. The Divine lover standing naked before you will forgive you for looking and not seeing. But, at the moment God appears in the flesh, you need to look, and if having looked you do not see—you need to look again, and again and again and again until the grace is given you to see.

Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle

[Scripture Readings: Eph 2:19-22; Jn 20:24-29]

One day Lucy walks down a country road and sees Charlie Brown with his elbows resting on top of a stone wall, holding his head in his hands, looking off into the distance. She asks, “What are you thinking about, Charlie Brown?” He replies, “I want to see God.” Lucy passes by with a big grin on her face, laughing out loud and proclaiming, “Charlie Brown wants to see God!” Then she stops and suddenly becomes very serious. She reflects, “I want to see God, too!” In the last frame Lucy is standing next to Charlie Brown, with her elbows on top of the wall, holding her head in her hands, staring off into the distance.

We are created to see God. Our complete happiness consists in seeing God. Even here on earth all people, especially Christians, long for this vision of God. There are times when we stop and stare off into the distance, realizing that the deepest desire of our hearts is that we want to tear away the veil that is hiding us from the face of God. A Christian monk or nun is a person who spends many hours a day looking into the distance, longing to see God, drawing others to stop for awhile, to become aware with love of God’s hidden presence. Our faith is already the beginning of vision.

Thomas, the doubting apostle, laughed the others to scorn when they said, “We have seen the Lord.” He retorted, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finder in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas fell to his knees saying, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”

Thomas’ profession of faith in the divinity of Christ is the strongest in all the Gospels. Others profess that Jesus is the King of Israel, the Savior, the Holy One of God, the Lamb of God, the Anointed One. Only Thomas says, “My Lord and my God!

Thomas did not have to believe in the resurrection of Christ. He saw the risen Jesus with his own eyes, and touched those sacred wounds that saved us. He saw and touched the risen Jesus. He did not have to believe Jesus rose from the dead. But he still did not and could not actually see the hidden divinity of Jesus. For that he needed faith. The other apostles said, “We have seen the Lord.” Only an astonished Thomas says, “My Lord and my God.” What was it that led him to the most profound expression of faith that is possible in this life, to belief that Jesus is God? It wasn’t those sacred wounds. They showed Thomas that Jesus is truly risen from the dead. How did Thomas come to see God in Jesus?

When Jesus said, “Put your finger here, … reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe,” Jesus revealed that he was a hidden presence when the other apostles were telling Thomas they had seen the Lord. Jesus saw and heard the disbelieving response of Thomas while Thomas was unable to see and hear Jesus. It was his realization of the invisible presence of Jesus everywhere that lifted Thomas to the greatest faith. When Jesus said to Nathanael, at the beginning of John’s Gospel, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree,” Nathanael realized that the hidden presence of Jesus revealed his divinity, and he replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God!” Now at the end of the Gospel, Thomas realizes the same hidden presence of Jesus, and says, “My Lord and my God!

That is the grace of this feast day. We believe in the invisible, divine Presence of Jesus at all times and in all places. Jesus is here, right in the middle of this Church, seeing and hearing us. And we want to see him, to touch him, to taste him. We want to see God!