We know the incident well. Thomas exclaimed “My Lord and my God” when he caught sight of Jesus risen. Most people think Jesus then scolded Thomas for demanding to see and touch the Lord before he would believe. And, as we read in John’s gospel, that is true. Still, we should look more carefully at what happened in this apostle’s mind. And then ask how he can help us live as true Christians.
For Thomas, nothing had ever happened so great as becoming a companion of Jesus. With the tragic exception of Judas, all of Our Savior’s followers thought so. The Lord was a charismatic teacher, a wonderful friend. As Peter and Andrew and Thomas accompanied him throughout Galilee and Samaria, they came to grasp that caring about people, forgiving enemies, putting God first—acting like Jesus—was a realistic and wonderful way to live and to change the world. Thomas, a disciple of the Man from Nazareth, knew joy as never before.
Then came Good Friday: betrayal, mock trials, whips, a crown of thorns, the torture called crucifixion, death and burial. Thomas knew fear, anger—possibly borderline hatred— and sorrow bordering on despair.
On Easter Monday morning, his fellow disciples, bursting with excitement, told him they had seen the Lord. His pain had overpowered him so much that their enthusiasm made him feel worse. He told them he would not believe without direct contact with Jesus, wounds and all.
The next Sunday, it happened. Notice what he cried out: not “You’re alive! It’s true! Thank God!” but “My Lord and my God.” At the moment Thomas looked at Jesus risen, he said something far beyond what he could see. There Our Lord stood, alive: changed, glorified with a heavenly life, but unmistakably Jesus. And Thomas called him “God.” No Jew would dream of calling a man God. This means that Thomas had faith! This was faith because he called Jesus something he could not see. And, of course, Thomas was right.
What does the experience of St. Thomas teach us?
First, no matter what loss or pain or cruel injustices we sustain in our earthly existence, Christ lives and will share His risen life with His true friends. This life goes on forever. No good person who really believes can despair and believe at the same time.
Second, believing means making changes. Because of a wondrous truth we cannot see, Thomas and the others awakened faith in thousands during the years that followed Easter. Jews, Greeks, Romans and other ethnic groups believed in Jesus because God’s grace touched them through the joyful preaching and heroic works of the disciples of the Lord. They began to join together as communities of love. They aroused wonder in their nonbelieving neighbors: They asked, “Why are these Christians so good? Can the story of the Risen Lord be real?”
To believe demands that you measure the way you act against the things you claim to believe. All week long, we cross paths with people who are weak in faith or have no faith. They may be persons who never knew a religious home, or did, but fell away.
It may even happen that persons like that come to the local parish church, as a rare exception, to Mass. What are they seeing in us? Many individuals have gotten started in the direction of knowing the Lord because they rubbed elbows with Catholics who worshipped reverently—or who showed Christ-like care for others—or did both. Sadly, the opposite can also happen when known Catholics are less than inspiring. When their words and deeds are manifestly bad or evil, scandal ensues.
Thomas became a man who guided thousands to Christ by his commitment, courage and caring. If we say, “I believe,” at liturgy, during the Rosary, or in our night prayers, are we guiding others to Christ, our Lord and God, by the way we daily back up those words with our own personal commitment, courage and caring?
Father John J. Lynch, a priest of the archdiocese, serves as administrator of Immaculate Conception parish in Woodbourne.