We live in an age of doubt, when many people seem to thrive on conflict and negativity. It can get you down. One of the worst features of our 24/7 media cycles and the information and opinion overload we all experience is the insidious way they dull our sensitivity to faith in God and others.
Our journey of faith can certainly be challenging, especially so when we dwell in a world where unbelief is so common. For many of us, therefore, our journey of faith is likely to have its ups and downs.
Sometimes we have ‘seasons’ when it is easy to believe in our loving God. We feel him close by and our lives proceed without drama. We are consoled and supported by our faith and those we love. Other times, however, shadows and doubts appear. Crises and uncertainty can threaten to overwhelm us and we fear losing our way ahead. We cannot see our way through the darkness.
That is why each year on 3 July the Church asks us to remember and celebrate the witness of a man called by God who has much to teach about the sometimes tumultuous journey of faith: St Thomas, the doubting apostle.
Pope St Gregory the Great in a famous homily once remarked about St Thomas: ‘In a marvellous way, God’s mercy arranged that the disbelieving disciple, in touching the wounds of his master’s body, should heal our wounds of disbelief.’
Pope Gregory points out that Thomas’ incredulity—his lack of belief, even his resistance to believing—did more to kindle our faith than the faith of the other apostles. For when Thomas saw the Risen Lord bearing the wounds of our mortal flesh, he uttered a profession of faith repeated countless times by Christians everywhere: ‘My Lord and my God!’
That encounter with the Risen Lord changed Thomas forever. His encounter with Jesus unlocked his God-given freedom. Not bound by the fetters of doubt and unbelief, he was no longer a doubting Thomas. He was instead an evangelising Thomas who proclaimed the gospel far and wide and bore witness to the Crucified and Risen Lord by his own martyrdom and death.
Tradition has it that St Thomas brought the gospel to present-day India. Even though he did not know either the language or the culture, Thomas went forth in the power of the Spirit, far beyond his comfort zone.
What has come down to us, especially through the Syro Malabar and Syro Malankara Churches in India, is a pattern to guide the Church’s work of spreading the gospel. Like them, whether near or far, we engage the culture constructively, drawing from it whatever is compatible with the gospel, while proclaiming and celebrating the gospel with joy and keeping one’s eyes fixed on serving the poor and the vulnerable.
Yes, the feast of St Thomas the Apostle reminds us powerfully that we can all become doubting Thomases so easily. But it also shows us a way forward to become people of faith. For each of us, that journey of faith and belief will, of course, take different shapes as we grow in life. But wherever we are on the journey of faith, the witness of St Thomas the Apostle keeps inviting us to a deeper faith in the Risen Christ.
Like St Thomas we are simply asked to open our eyes to Jesus. He is close by. In good times and bad, even in darkness and doubt, may Our Lord give us the grace to joyfully respond with Thomas the Apostle, ‘I believe’.
† Denis J Hart
Archbishop of Melbourne