Today’s Gospel begins with an unusual scene, if we stop and think about it. Jesus appears to the disciples but one of them is missing: Saint Thomas was not there. This scene is unusual in the Gospel, because all the other times that Our Lord appears to the Apostles they are all together. Why was Saint Thomas missing from this first appearance? Why did Our Lord not wait for Saint Thomas to be there before He appeared to them? Certainly Our Lord knew that Saint Thomas was not there.
The doubt and then later faith of Saint Thomas was a gift that was given to us. Saint Thomas was allowed to doubt to show us that faith was never easy. Sometimes we might be tempted to think that faith was easy for the Apostles; we might be tempted to think that it was easy for those who saw Our Lord during His lifetime on earth to have faith, but that it is difficult for us now who cannot see Him in a bodily way. If we are tempted to think that way, we need to realize that Saint Thomas saw Our Lord and followed Him throughout Our Lord’s public ministry; Saint Thomas listened to Our Lord teach and he watched Him perform miracles. Saint Thomas witnessed Our Lord call Lazarus back from death to life, and Saint Thomas heard Jesus predict that Our Lord, Himself, would die and three days later rise from the tomb. Saint Thomas had all of these benefits and yet still was unable to believe that Our Lord had risen from the dead: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail-marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Faith was not a given, even for those closest to the Lord during His public life.
The doubt of Saint Thomas shows us that faith requires that we have hearts that are open to belief; the transformation of Saint Thomas’ doubt to faith helps us to believe. Our Lord allowed Saint Thomas to be absent at His first appearance to the Apostles to show us that faith was not automatic for them: they came to believe because they encountered risen Christ. Our Lord allowed Saint Thomas to touch the nail-marks in His hands and feet and place his hand in Our Lord’s side so that we, too, might come to believe. Our Faith is based on eyewitnesses: eyewitnesses who saw Jesus after the Resurrection: they saw Him and talked with Him; they touched Him and ate with Him. Our Lord’s Resurrection was a physical Resurrection: Our Lord rose in the flesh and this encounter between the doubting Thomas and the Risen Lord helps us to know the reality of the Resurrection.
After Saint Thomas professed His faith in Jesus, Our Lord then says something to him that might sound strange, he says: “Have you come to believe because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” Our Lord is speaking there about us: you and I. We are not able to see and yet we believe and we are blessed in that belief. It almost sounds as if we are more blessed than Saint Thomas because we believe without seeing. How could we be more blessed than Saint Thomas, who was able to see and touch the wounds of the Risen Lord?
Again, we should remind ourselves that faith is never easy. Just because people saw Jesus as He walked the earth two-thousand years ago was no guarantee that those who saw Him would have faith. Our Lord looked normal. He did not have a halo following Him around. He did things that other people did. He got thirsty and tired; He ate and he slept. Those who knew Him from His childhood rejected Him: He performed few miracles in His hometown because people there did not believe in Him; they said things like: “Is this not the son of the carpenter?” It is true that He performed miracles, but then so did the Old Testament Prophets; and even those who saw the miracles did not necessarily come to believe in Him: when the Pharisees saw the miracles it only made them persecute Our Lord all the more. Even when Our Lord raised Lazarus from the dead, the Pharisees, instead of coming to believe, only became eager to kill Him and they decided to kill Lazarus too because people were coming to believe in Our Lord because of him. The Gospel tells us that even the soldiers who were at the tomb were willing to accept a bribe and lie about the Resurrection.
Saint Thomas needed a special grace from Our Lord in order to believe, and we all stand in need of that grace. That grace is not refused to those who ask for it. A great prayer to repeat frequently is the prayer uttered by a man in the Gospel: “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.”
Saint Thomas and the other Apostles did not understand all that Our Lord meant and did; in fact there are many examples in the Gospel where we see the Apostles often misunderstood Our Lord; only after they received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost did they receive the wisdom, courage and power to go out and boldly bear witness to the Resurrection even at great personal risk and eventual martyrdom. And their preaching transformed the entire world.
We are very blessed to live at a time when we have the benefits of two-thousand years of Church Teaching and Tradition which help us to understand all that Jesus Christ has revealed. Our Lord promised to send the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles to lead them into all truth; the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit and we have the benefit of two-thousand years of Church Teaching that has been guided by the Holy Spirit. Thanks to the internet we have easy access to all of that wisdom: we have access to early Christian commentaries on Scripture as well as access to all of the Church’s teachings and explanations of those teachings. There are many sources of information which can help us to learn about and grow in our Catholic Faith. May we take advantage of them. The more we understand our faith, the more easily we believe; the more we believe, the easier we put our faith into practice in our daily lives. May Our Risen Lord fill our hearts with Faith; may He give us the wisdom and the courage and the power to live our faith with boldness everyday and everywhere.