St. Thomas’ contributions are not limited to his celebrated act of faith

Father John A. Kiley

Many worthy words of Jesus Christ have become part of daily conversations without the speaker even being aware of their sacred origin. References to turning the “other cheek” and going the “extra mile” are original to Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount but today are easily mentioned by both the godly and the godless in daily discourse. A thoughtful neighbor is often labelled a good Samaritan and a wayward offspring is frequently branded as a prodigal son. Yet these phrases are rarely credited to Divine inspiration. And certainly one of the most commonly heard but rarely acknowledged references to Scripture is the characterization “doubting Thomas,” obviously taken from this coming Sunday’s Gospel passage recounting Jesus’ exchange with the hesitant apostle on the first octave of Easter Sunday.
St. Thomas’ resistance in the days after Easter to Christ’s victory over the grave is universally famous: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” (Jn 20:25). The following Sunday, the hesitant disciple’s bluff is called by Jesus himself: “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.” Thomas’ spontaneous act of faith is then tersely but profoundly and famously expressed, “My Lord and my God!”
St. John has skillfully placed this rightly celebrated acknowledgment of Christ’s Messiahship as the culmination of many other acts of faith found in his Gospel account: the Samaritan woman, the royal official, the man born blind, Peter at Cana, Martha of Bethany. St. Thomas’ brief testimonial to Christ’s Divinity and to his own change of heart is rightly remembered and celebrated during this Easter season and throughout the year especially when his earnest words are commonly used to proclaim Christ’s true Presence in the Eucharist. A stressful encounter has been transformed into an inspirational happening. As this Sunday’s psalm response happily notes, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. By the LORD has this been done; it is wonderful in our eyes” (Ps 118). Yes God indeed brings good out of evil and strength out of weakness.
St. Thomas’ contribution to worthy Christian conduct is not limited to his celebrated act of faith in the Risen Christ. At the Last Supper (Jn.14:1–7) St. Thomas could not comprehend what Jesus meant when he said, “…you know the way where I am going.” So St. Thomas honestly inquired, “How can we know the way?” Jesus famously answered, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” But St. Thomas is also a pre-eminent example of courageous Christian conduct in the face of danger. Again it is St. John (11:8-16) who narrates St. Thomas’ other side. When Jesus hears of Lazarus’ impending death, he decides to return to Judea. His followers are rightly concerned: “The disciples said to him, ‘Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone you, and you want to go back there?’” But Jesus is determined to be at the side of his ailing friend. It is the often maligned St. Thomas who boldly speaks up: “So Thomas, called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, ‘Let us also go and if needs be die with him.’”
St. Thomas’ hesitancy in the upper room is often recalled, but his courage on the road to Judea is rarely cited. Rightly does Shakespeare quote Mark Antony alluding to both the slain Caesar and the slayer Brutus: “The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interrèd with their bones.” The bard rightly suggests that a nasty deed lingers in the memory far longer than any honest work. Hence “doubting Thomas.”
The early Christian community and the first centuries of the Christian era promoted a genuine appreciation for the apostolic work that St. Thomas would accomplish in the decades after his celebrated acceptance of Jesus Christ as his Lord and his God. Ancient tradition traces St. Thomas’ missionary path first to Persia and then onto present day India where he is recognized as the founder of the Church of the Syrian Malabar Christians or Christians of St. Thomas, a church that still exists today. The apostle’s martyrdom occurred under the king of Mylapore at Madras, India, where San Thomé Cathedral, his traditional place of burial, is located. His relics, however, were reportedly taken to Ortona, Italy where they are enshrined today. Several ancient writings associate St. Thomas with the final days of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The saint’s feast day is July 3.