Last Wednesday was the feast day of Saint Thomas, the Apostle. Saint Thomas, as you probably recall, was the apostle who, even upon seeing the resurrected Christ walk in through a closed door, required some sort of proof to mend his disbelief in the Resurrection. Jesus, acknowledging this human need of Saint Thomas, obliged by presenting Thomas with the wounds of his crucifixion, and invited him to feel them in order to assuage Thomas’s doubts. (Hence the phrase “doubting Thomas” which we still toss around 2,000 years later to poke fun at our disbelieving peers who require multiple assurances of the empirical variety before committing to belief.) But Thomas’s doubts were not insignificant. Sure, they add some flavor to the story, but beyond that, they provided yet another platform for Jesus to recognize the difficulty, but importance, of belief. In fact, despite Saint Thomas’s requiring positive confirmation by three of his five senses in order to believe in the Resurrection, Jesus assured him that he was blessed, adding also: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Here, 2,000 years ago, Jesus is referring to us. You and I. Today.
In case anyone misses the point of the story, St. John, from whose gospel this story is taken, adds:
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
We have all had doubts. Some of us, like Saint Thomas, have even doubted the Resurrection. But coming to believe is a powerful thing.
There are times in Church’s history when believing is difficult, when faith is shaken. One such time in recent history has been the child sex abuse scandals around the world. (Do not be fooled into believing this is merely a problem in the American church.) In thinking about Saint Thomas, faith, and doubt, I am inexorably drawn to thinking about the 2008 film Doubt (based on the play by John Patrick Shanley) starring Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams. Ever since I first saw this film, its characters and themes have often crossed my mind. In it, Shanley creates characters that struggle with faith and doubt as it pertains to accusations of sexual impropriety with a student at an 1960’s inner-city Catholic school by the parish’s pastor. But ultimately, the film examines doubts about the structure of parish hierarchies and the Church in general. (You can view of trailer of the movie here.) The film asks the audience to determine whether we can believe what we cannot see. Ultimately, the decision is up to each individual viewer.
Saint Thomas may be remembered today as the ultimate doubter. And yet he is a saint, a saint of the Church, our Church. Today, and always, we are called to emulate the saints. Although we are prone to doubt, but are called to believe.
As you reflect on Saint Thomas, the Apostle, bring to mind your own doubts and place them before the Lord in prayer. He will, as with Thomas, invite you closer to the mystery so that you, too, may believe.