The Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle
[Scripture Readings: Eph 2:19-22; Jn 20:24-29]
It is altogether fitting and proper that one steer clear of a conspiracy. Lies and deceit should have no place on your resume. Any respectable employer would surely shun an application from a dishonest person, especially one who is in connivance with others. A conspiracy is planning and acting together secretly in order to mislead others.
In the Gospel today, Thomas is shown as until then a disbeliever in what he heard. How did he know if it had not been a conspiracy to say that Jesus was risen from the dead because in their hearts they wanted him to live again especially in their imaginations and emotions? His death was too recent and abrupt to rid their minds of his presence. What is astonishing is not that Thomas was in the room with the others. But that Jesus showed up unexpectedly and no one let him in even though the doors were locked. He was in command of his appearances. And no one knew where he was lodging and he did not ask for shelter from anyone. This was so unlike the raising of the daughter of Jairus or of Lazarus who needed food and shelter as they did before they died.
Jesus suffered, died and was buried. His mortal remains were never found by anyone. The life he was living was not confined by this world and its human needs for survival.
We have this great cloud of witnesses who have gone before attesting that what the Apostle saw and heard has indeed something to do with divine revelation. The work of God and his plan for the human race continues no matter who believes or does not believe. If there were a conspiracy it seems it would have been discovered by now. Those who try to make the faith clearer by finding terms that effectively explain it are not in a conspiracy. What they really search for is a ceiling and visibility unlimited.
The Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle
[Scripture Readings: Eph 2:19-22; Jn:24-29]
When someone goes away to a workshop or seminar, we ask them to tell us about it when they return. They may make some attempts, but often they say that they can’t put the experience into words. You just “had to be there.” So we are left to feel that we have just missed something and that we are left on the outside.
Thomas was left on the outside, too. The group of apostles had an experience of the Risen Lord, and he wasn’t there. He was left outside. The Gospel doesn’t say why he wasn’t there, and this is very strange. The apostles kept together as a group, especially after the death of Jesus. They were defined as that group which together had witnessed the public ministry of Jesus. Now, Christ was transforming them through the experience of the resurrection into the community of his official witnesses – and Thomas alone wasn’t there. It must have been more significant than his being gone on a business trip or to buy groceries. The text is silent. Gregory the Great, in our Lauds reading, suggests it was the providence of God who strengthens our faith through Thomas’s absence and doubt. The word of his brother disciples was not enough. “We have seen the Lord.” But this could not engender faith in Thomas.
But maybe there is something we can recognize in this situation of Thomas, something we have experienced. We often swim in an ocean of rituals, dogmas, creeds, traditions, common faith of the church. We are indeed carried and supported by this faith. But at times we can become aware that we seem to be “outside” that faith. We can no longer easily accept some part of it, we can’t appropriate or interiorize it as we once did. We have changed or grown. We are still in the group, but feel our self to be “on the outside.” The threshold of assent needs to be crossed again. We are called to appropriate our faith personally in a new way. We are like Thomas, needing to acknowledge our own unique stance as we search for ways to come to a real confession of faith so that from our very depths we can say “My Lord and my God.” The experience of others can’t replace our own experience.
The second strange part of this Gospel text is the condition that Thomas puts for his believing. “Unless I can see and put my fingers in the nail marks and can put my hand in his side, I will not believe.” When you pause to reflect on these words, there is something shocking about them The demand seems to be rude, aggressive, sacrilegious, and literally intrusive. This is more than could be required for empirical verification of an identity between the historical Jesus and the Risen Christ. And perhaps this is hard for us to understand in an age when we have lost much tactile sensibility. I get the impression that Thomas had been used to physical contact with Jesus, that he knew the special kind of knowledge that come with touch. The sense of touch gives immediate awareness that is not easily translated into words. A Buddhist spiritual teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, writes that we no longer know how to touch deeply on a horizontal level and hence are far from being able to touch on a vertical level, to touch the deep transcendent dimension waiting to emerge in our lives. We hold a cup or fork or hammer as an instrument, as a part of technology. We don’t touch them with an awareness of their separate beings bringing a different energy into our bodies. We admit that the imposition of hands is included in the sacraments of Confirmation, Ordination, Anointing of the sick. But those are exceptions, and we don’t see the continuum that binds them to all forms of touch. In his first letter, John says that he will tell us “what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life.” (I John 1:1).
Thomas understood the belief that comes from touching with one’s hands. He was saying that unless he entered the wounds of Jesus, he would not believe. The wounds of Jesus were the source of His Spirit. They are the source of conversion. Faith is not complete and does not develop unless it touches the wounds of Christ. We receive the spirit of belief through the body of Christ, the body handed over for us and marked with wounds of his vulnerability and redemptive suffering. This suffering remains as dark, opaque, bewildering, and confusing as it always has been. But it is now lifted up into a new dimension of shared Spirit. The church we know, the communities we know, the people we know, the inner self we know – these are all marked with deep wounds. But as Benedict reminds us in Chapter 72 of his Rule, we are to support with the greatest patience each other’s weaknesses of body and behavior. The word for “support” in Latin means to carry, to lift up. Far from being ashamed or seeking to hide these wounds, we lift them up. We know that it is by entering into his wounds that we receive the Spirit.