Very often you see pictures of St Thomas touching the wound in Christ’s side but in actual fact the Gospel does not record this event. Christ certainly showed him his wounds but it is never mentioned that Thomas reached out his hand to actually touch them.
Interestingly, apart from this incident, Thomas is portrayed in the Gospels as being very brave. In the account of the raising of Lazarus that we heard on the last Sunday of Lent when Jesus gets the message of Lazarus’ illness and he decides to go up to Jerusalem we find Thomas saying, ‘Let us go too and die with him.’
These are not the words of a timid and fearful man; a man beset by doubts. And yet when the other Apostles tell him of their meeting with the Risen Lord, which for some unknown reason he had missed, Thomas flatly refuses to believe them.
What Thomas had missed out on was an encounter with the Risen Christ. And, no matter what the other Apostles said, he refused to believe. He wasn’t open to persuasion or reasoning. And I think we have to say, ‘Rightly so!’ After all, faith does not come from reasoning or from what anyone else tells us. Faith is a gift of God and it principally comes though an encounter with the Lord.
In Thomas’ case this was the actual presence of the Risen Jesus who showed him the wounds of his crucifixion. For St Paul it was his Damascus experience. In every case, let me suggest, faith comes through an encounter with the Lord. Mostly these are not physical encounters like that of Thomas, but they are just as real nonetheless.
Each one of us comes to faith by a different route. Things happen to us on life’s journey that help us to see the hand of God at work in our lives. As a child we might be brought up by our parents to believe in God and we grow up accustomed to pray each day. In this way prayer becomes a natural and even essential part of our lives.
But this is not merely the saying of prayers. What our parents have initiated us into is a dialogue with the Lord—with a person, with God himself. Each time we pray we are entering into an encounter with God. At some point or other the young person faces the criticism of others and they question where this is a real dialogue or whether they are just talking to themselves.
If their prayers are more than merely superficial then they may well come to the realisation that this is no empty dialogue but a real and meaningful conversation with the Lord. And through this insight their faith is strengthened and moves to a new and deeper level.
As life goes on our faith is validated by all sorts of events and occurrences. I clearly remember talking to a group of secondary school pupils. We were discussing prayer and I asked them if they ever felt that their prayers were answered. One girl said that together with her whole family she had prayed very hard for her grandmother who had cancer. She explained that although they had prayed for a cure the grandmother actually got worse and eventually died. Nevertheless, she felt that her prayers had been answered because her grandmother had died peacefully and was happy to go to God. It was also clear that her own faith had been strengthened by this and that she felt closer to God and to her family as a result.
Thomas said that he wanted proof. He said that unless he could put his hand in the wounds he would not believe. But when Christ appeared to him that was enough, he never reached his hand out to touch the wounds. Instead he fell to the ground with the great words ‘My Lord and my God’ on his lips. Throughout his life Thomas never lacked courage. Tradition has it that he preached the Gospel in many different countries ultimately travelling as far as India where he was martyred. Together with Jesus he set out on the road to Jerusalem saying to his fellow Apostles, ‘Let us go too, and die with him.’ Well, he certainly got his wish even if he had to wait a few years for it!
His faith was surely tested more in that final moment of his death than it ever was before. But in the end he remained resolute. His words to Jesus, ‘My Lord and my God’ or something very like them were surely on his lips as he gave up his spirit.
Thomas had the extraordinary privilege of knowing Jesus in the flesh and also of meeting him in his risen form. But the greatest encounter of all was at the moment of his own martyrdom when he was drawn into the presence of God in heaven.
It is this final and ultimate encounter that we are preparing for. And the best preparation of all is for us to open our eyes and see the hand of God in our lives and for us to spend time in prayer and dialogue with him, but most of all by sharing his body and blood in the Eucharist.
It is in these ways that our faith is fed and strengthened. It is by doing these things that at that final moment, with God’s grace, we will make that great and wonderful prayer of Thomas our own.
Father Alex McAllister SDS
Parish Priest of
St Thomas à Becket