This Sunday’s Gospel tells the story of Thomas’ encounter with Christ after the Resurrection. The title “Doubting Thomas” has its basis in the saint’s words to the disciples upon being told they had seen the Lord:
“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.” (John 20:19-31)
If the story had ended there, perhaps Thomas would have earned the label that has haunted him through the millennia. However, what happened next matters most. When the Lord invited Thomas to see the mark of the nails, to put his hand into Christ’s side, Thomas no longer needed to do so. He uttered what I believe to be one of the most profound and heartfelt professions of faith in history: “My Lord and my God.”
Why is Thomas’ statement a deep profession of faith? True, Christ is standing before him, proof that He is alive. But Thomas knew for certain that Christ had died. Now, he was being told the Lord had risen from the dead, a concept as extraordinary then as it is today. Thomas was being asked to accept the truth of the Resurrection despite the undeniable horror and proof of the crucifixion. This he did, without hesitation.
How would each of us fare in Thomas’ place? The temptation is to think the people of Christ’s own time found it easier to believe because the Lord was with them in body. And yet, if we could go back in time, walk with Christ, see Him die on the cross, and then see Him suddenly before us, would we be able to make the heartfelt statement of faith Thomas made? The people of Christ’s time might say we in the 21st Century have more reason to believe. We have the benefit of more than 2,000 years of the Lord’s ministry. We witness the continuation of Christ’s saving power throughout the world. We know of healing miracles and apparitions of the Blessed Mother.
Faced with the seemingly impossible, Thomas chose to believe. Rather than seeing him as the personification of doubt, we should take inspiration from his example. He is a model of how we can approach our own moments of hesitation. Through the years, I have met many people who think they do not have faith. Like Thomas, they look for physical proof. However, so often the truth is they simply underestimate the faith they have. I have watched these “Doubting Thomases” transform. Sometimes the experience comes through prayer. Other times it comes from a life event that creates a spiritual awakening. Like Thomas, they no longer require proof. They have encountered the Lord.
Each of us must seek to become closer to Christ every day, enhancing our knowledge of Him and growing in our love of Him. The more we strengthen our encounter with the Lord, the greater our faith will be. A beautiful prayer that helps us encounter the Lord more profoundly comes from Saint Richard of Chichester: “O most merciful redeemer, friend and brother, may I know thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, and follow thee more nearly, day by day.”
May our quest to know Him and love Him more lead each of us to a profound realization of His presence in our lives and allow us to utter with true conviction Thomas’ heart-felt proclamation, “My Lord and my God.”
Father Richard M. Erikson is Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia of the Archdiocese of Boston.