Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”—John 20:29
In those first days following the death and burial of Jesus, the Apostles were left adrift. After all, the One who had been their focus and point of reference through years of mission and service was gone. God had gone quiet, no longer speaking to them or guiding them. How could they make sense of everything that had happened to Jesus? Everything that had happened to them?
As their hopes crumbled around them, there was no escaping the darkness brought on by the Crucifixion. The disappointment and disillusionment of Good Friday had not yet been transformed by the light of Easter.
Then everything changed. But Thomas had been absent when Jesus first appeared to the Apostles on that first Easter Sunday. Should it be any wonder, then, that he would still be overwhelmed by Holy Saturday sadness? I don’t think it’s fair for faulting Thomas for being skeptical about the stories of Mary Magdalene and others seeing Jesus.
With these same themes in mind, Pope Francis has reflected, “Doesn’t the same thing also happen to us when something completely new occurs in our everyday life? We stop short, we don’t understand, we don’t know what to do. Newness often makes us fearful, including the newness which God brings us, the newness which God asks of us” (Homily for the Easter Vigil 2013).
Although Thomas did not initially believe in the resurrection of the Lord, he remained faithful to the call he had received from Jesus—the call to be a part of the community of the Apostles. While his doubts would not allow him to believe that the others had seen the Lord, Thomas never lost faith in their fraternity and it was ultimately in and through that community that Thomas finally encountered the Risen Christ.
In The Genesee Diary, Henri Nouwen recalled that Didymus, the name by which Thomas was known, means “twin,” and that the Fathers of the Church had commented that all of us are “two people: a doubting one and a believing one. We need the support and love of our brothers and sisters to prevent our doubting person from becoming dominant and destroying our capacity for belief.”
And so, we might say that the Church is inviting us to reflect not so much on “Doubting Thomas” as on the living and dynamic faith of the community—the Church—of which Thomas was a part.
Like Thomas, we also experience the Resurrection within and through the faith of the Church as we meet Christ in Word and Sacrament. Through the mission of the Church, the faith of the Apostles has spread from the enclosed group in that sealed Upper Room, across the ages, to the ends of the earth.
While we know that faith is a gift, believing is not automatic or easy. In fact, it is often easier for us to relate to the doubt of Thomas than to the sublime prayer and contemplation of the great pray-ers and mystics of the Church. Acts of terror, the threat of war, violence within our communities and families, discrimination, illness, and enduring hunger put our faith to the test. And yet, Easter reminds us that there is something more powerful than suffering and death: the love of the God who, in Christ, has taken upon himself our broken humanity. In the end, this is the mystery we celebrate on this Second Sunday of Easter, the Feast of Divine Mercy.
At the conclusion of this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus proclaims, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed” (20:19). Blessed are we when we accept what has been handed down to us in the authentic traditions and teachings of the Church. Blessed are we when we are willing to welcome Jesus who is embodied in the texts that speak of him. Blessed are we when we accept Jesus who is embodied in the sacraments. Blessed are we who recognize Jesus embodied in the lives of the saints. Blessed are we when we reach out to Jesus who is embodied in the little ones of the earth.
How have you encountered the Risen Christ during the Easter days?When have your doubts and fears prevented you from recognizing God’s grace and mercy? Who or what strengthened your faith in those times?How are you being called to share in the Apostles’ mission of proclaiming the good news of the Resurrection?
Words of Wisdom: “Thomas has received from the Lord, and has in turn transmitted to the Church, the gift of faith put to the test by the passion and death of Jesus and confirmed by meeting him risen. His faith was almost dead but was born again thanks to his touching the wounds of Christ, those wounds that the Risen One did not hide but showed, and continues to point out to us in the trials and sufferings of every human being.” — Pope Benedict XVI, Urbi et Orbi Message, 2007