7: Saints of Mercy: St. Thomas the Apostle (Part 2)

We left our Saint at the Last Supper, usually the joyful meal of the Passover but now celebrated by the Lord as a new Sacrifice and Sacred Meal. It was during this meal that the institution of the priesthood and the Eucharist took place through the command and example of Jesus. Thomas questioned the Lord when He told those closest to Him that He would have to go before them. Thomas, mistaking His meaning said that they did not know where He was bound. He did not understand that Jesus was speaking of the Paschal Mystery of His death, resurrection and ascension.

Jesus began to draw back the curtain of human sight and experience for Thomas and the others when He revealed that He was “…the Way, and the Truth and the Life" (Jn 14:6). This would not be immediately understood, and indeed would be forgotten in the horrific late night hours of that Thursday and the early hours of that fateful Good Friday.

The aftermath of Jesus’ arrest, interrogation and crucifixion was devastating for the disciples. Terror, confusion and fear of arrest drove all but the Apostle John into hiding. The next time we hear of the Apostles is in the accounts of the resurrection, although it is significant that it was the women who followed Jesus that were the first both to approach the tomb and to hear the announcement of the resurrection!

It was on the evening of Resurrection Sunday that Jesus appeared to His disciples, gathered together in the upper room: “On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, "Peace be with you." When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.” (Jn. 20:19-20)

Thomas was not among them. He was told upon his return that Jesus had appeared to them, but he must have thought that they were hysterical! Thomas’ response was full of doubt and skepticism: “…he said to them, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe." (Jn. 20:25)

Eight days after the resurrection, as Thomas and the other disciples were gathered together, Jesus appeared again. He addressed Thomas: "Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe." (Jn. 20:27)

Thomas responded: "My Lord and my God!" (Jn. 20:28)

This was a great mercy to the Apostle, the doubter, the one who was prone to question, misunderstanding and disbelief unless he affirmed with his own eyes and experience the Truth that he was told. The Lord affirmed His resurrection, physically allowing Thomas to probe the wounds in His hands and side in order to convince him of the truth of the resurrection. Thomas’ response of faith is the same one that we are encouraged to use after the consecration at Mass as we recognize the Truth we cannot see with our eyes, recognizing Jesus’ true presence in the Blessed Sacrament!

The response of the Lord to Thomas’ difficult confession of faith is a great mercy, not only to the Apostle, but also to us: “Jesus said to him, "Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed." (Jn. 20:29)

The last mention we have of Thomas in the Gospels takes place at the Sea of Tiberias where Jesus appeared to the Apostles gathered there. Here, Thomas recognizes the Lord and he acted on his faith. Tradition tells us that this most skeptical of Apostles went out into the world, carrying the word of the Gospel with him. We are told that he preached and baptized people finally ending up in India, where the descendants of his first churches still live and worship.

Let us, also, take up the words of St. Thomas, not just on our lips, but in our minds and our hearts as we recognize the presence of the Risen Lord among us in the Eucharist and in each other. Let us also say with hearts and minds full of faith: “My Lord and my God!”