“The Incredulity of Saint Thomas” (detail) by Caravaggio

“God is patient with our questions, our weakness, and our struggles, just as he was patient with Thomas.”

It is tradition that St. Thomas was the only Apostle to leave the Roman Empire to preach the Gospel, traveling to Syria and Persia and then to India, as far south as the southwest region of Kerala. He was eventually martyred, fulfilling his declaration during Jesus’ public ministry, “Let us also go [with Jesus], that we may die with him” (John 11:16).

Despite Thomas’ courage and missionary spirit, we probably know him best as Doubting Thomas. I think it’s a bit unfortunate that we remember him best for his lack of belief in the Resurrection of Christ, since the other Apostles were also unbelieving until they saw Jesus in the flesh. On Easter Sunday, Thomas was not with the Apostles in the Upper Room when Christ appeared to them. When he heard their testimony, he declared, “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

If you think back to the events of Easter Sunday, however, it wasn’t just Thomas that needed proof. In Mark’s account, Mary Magdalene goes to the disciples with the news that she had seen the Lord, but they do not believe. “She went and told his companions who were mourning and weeping. When they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe” (Mk 16:10-11).

In the Lucan account, all of the women go to the Apostles. “The women were Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James; the others who accompanied them also told this to the apostles, but their story seemed like nonsense and they did not believe them.” (Luke 24:10-11).

In both the Lucan and Johannine accounts, Peter runs to the tomb to see for his own eyes. It seems that he requires seeing the Lord with his own eyes to really believe.

Did Thomas doubt the resurrection? He did. As did the others. But he’s the only one that gets the label.

Saint Thomas may have doubted, but he also gives us one of the greatest professions of faith, one that echoes down the centuries. The following Sunday after the Resurrection, Christ appeared to them again, and this time Thomas was with them.  Jesus did not reprimand Thomas, but told him, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”  (John 20:24-28)

That profession of faith is not just a phrase, an utterance of surprise or shock. It is a reality that changed Thomas’ life. The man standing before him is God. God died for Him. God rose from the dead for him. Life can never be the same.

Thomas would eventually die for that profession of faith. It wasn’t just a statement or a creed. It was a profession of faith that came from a relationship.

Think about Thomas’ request the Sunday before – a request that Christ answers on “Divine Mercy Sunday.” He wants to put his finger into the wounds. Thomas must have had a close relationship with Christ to be allowed such intimate contact with him.  Such a personal experience, a prying into one’s hand and side, must not be taken lightly.  Clearly, Thomas was Christ’s friend.  The Apostles had spent three years with Christ — spending time day in and day out, walking with him, confiding in him, working with him. They had accompanied Him in his ministry. Jesus had taught them. They had left everything for him.

They were his friends.

Christ calls us to that intimacy with Him as well. He desires each of us to enter into that close relationship with him — and we call that relationship “prayer.” (CCC 2558) We spend time with him. We confide in him and work with him.  At times we use formal prayers, while at other times we just sit in his presence. God is patient with our questions, our weakness, and our struggles, just as he was patient with Thomas. He is merciful.

Thomas’ doubt was not the end of his story. How often do we have little patience with people’s weaknesses! Christ has infinite mercy. Notice that he accedes to Thomas’ request, knowing that it will be the impetus for Thomas’ faith and ultimate witness.

God reaches out to us in the sacraments and allows us to touch him. He is patient with us, and tells us, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing.” And as unworthy as we are, we marvel at his goodness to us and exclaim, “My Lord and My God!”

May we have the faith of Thomas. That faith, that relationship has consequences. Once we truly profess that faith, once we truly enter into that relationship, our life will never – can never – be the same.

St. Thomas, courageous Apostle who was willing to follow Christ, pray for us.

St. Thomas, passionate Apostle who was willing to die for Christ, pray for us.

St. Thomas, faithful Apostle who professed a radical belief in the divinity of Christ, pray for us.

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