A few weeks ago, my Bible study group was discussing the topics of suffering, healing, and the lies that we tell ourselves when afflicted by painful situations. Lies like "I am unloved, unwanted or alone," that make us feel hopeless, despairing or confused. Lies like "God has abandoned me in this situation," which lead us to distrust in the Father's goodness. We agreed that it is often easier to believe lies like these because we are already in a position of pain and in some sense they allow us run from or numb ourselves from the situation that caused the original pain.
The leader of my Bible study, a beautiful mother of eight children, then compared this coping mechanism to giving birth. She explained to us that throughout her eight deliveries with her children she has come to grow in her capacity to lean into the contractions she experiences. She went on to say that the more she is able to relax and breathe through the contraction, the faster and more apt her body is able to do what it is called to do. “I don’t want to waste my contraction,” she said. Women tend to fight their contractions in labor (understandably in pain), but the tensing of the body prevents the contraction from doing what it is meant to do. She explained that leaning into the contraction is a lot like leaning into the suffering that God calls us to.
Today, on the Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle, I find myself reflecting on what Thomas is most known for, his “doubting” ways. Thomas’s human response to seeing the Resurrected Lord is one with which I resonates with me deeply. Jesus gently allowing Thomas to put his finger in his side is a part of the Gospel that constantly baffles me – the compassion and understanding of Jesus in that moment! Thomas’ wound of doubt is healed by Jesus’ wounded side. With the Lord’s guidance, he leans into the “contraction” of his own suffering by allowing himself to experience in a limited way the suffering of Christ. With the Lord’s gentle hand leading him, Thomas leaves his doubt and finds faith and joy!
Have you been fleeing or numbing yourself from a painful situation of suffering? What are the “contractions” of your life that the Lord wants to lead you into? What parts of your life need the gentle hand of Christ? Today, let us ask St. Thomas to pray for us and let us ask for the grace to lean into our own pain and into the Lord’s side so that we too might respond, “My Lord and my God!”
“He will provide the way and the means, such as you could never have imagined. Leave it all to Him, let go of yourself, lose yourself on the Cross, and you will find yourself entirely.” St. Catherine of Sienna
“Christians must lean on the Cross of Christ just as travelers on a staff when they begin a long journey.” St. Anthony of Padua
But he said to them, "Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe." -John 20:25
During this beautiful liturgical season of rejoicing in the Resurrection of Our Lord, I always find this particular passage about “Doubting Thomas” extremely important to stop and reflect upon. After weeks and weeks experiencing the desert of Lent, the Passion on Good Friday, and the somber waiting on Holy Saturday, we celebrate the Father’s goodness, His promise fulfilled, His Son glorified on Easter Sunday! Praise Him, for “by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)
On the Sunday when the Gospel passage about Thomas is proclaimed, I tend to sympathize with the “doubting” disciple. Thomas was not there the first time Jesus appeared to the disciples. I resonate with Thomas’s human response of needing to touch the side of the Lord in order to believe.
What strikes me about Thomas is his initial understanding that the Resurrected Lord would have His wounds. Why did Thomas believe the Lord in His glory would still be wounded? I find myself thinking of the Lord in His glorified body as “perfect,” without blemish, without the aftermath of pain, with every scar from Good Friday completely gone. Thomas, however, needed to see evidence from the Lord’s action on Friday for the sake of belief. Thomas came to know the Risen Lord through His wounds.
Do you fall into the same temptation that I do, that resurrection means pain and suffering will be completely dispelled and erased, as if it never happened? This is not how the Lord comes in His glory. Jesus returns with His wounds, glorified, resurrected, transfigured. In fact, Jesus’ wounds were necessary for the increasing of faith for His disciples. Christ takes on the burden of our sins in order to overcome them. He conquers man’s greatest foe, death itself, and invites us to eternal life. The scars and wounds Christ shows Thomas give testament to this truth. The pain of Good Friday brings the sweetness in the joy of the Resurrection on Easter Sunday and thereafter.
How does this apply to our lives? Are you struggling with something you see little hope in? Do you find yourself asking the Lord for a different cross? Just as Jesus’ wounds and sufferings are glorified, so shall ours be if we turn them over to God. We can be sure then that our own struggles, crosses, and sufferings will be brought to glory, not forgotten, but resurrected. Our particular areas of pain can bring others to the glory of Jesus Christ! Let us ask St. Thomas to help our unbelief and truly live in the hope of the Resurrection.
“Each man in his suffering can also become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ.” –St. John Paul II, Salvifici Doloris
Question for Reflection: How can the story of “Doubting Thomas” increase your faith? Have there been times in your life when you, too, need to see in order to believe?
As we enter into Holy Week, I invite you to reflect on the week that changed the world as understood in the Christian context: the celebration of the salvific event of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of our Lord. Let us contemplate that great exemplification of Christianity in the symbol lifted upon Golgotha on Good Friday for the world to gaze upon: the Cross.
“Behold the wood of the Cross, on which hung the salvation of the world,” we hear on Good Friday. It’s a strange symbol, isn’t it? An instrument of ignominious death, the Cross is for Christians not a sign of defeat but of certain victory! Rare is the Catholic home or school that does not have at least one prominently displayed in it somewhere—but perhaps rarer still are Catholics who pray while actually holding not a cross, but a crucifix. Upon seeing the Crucifix, however, a person must decide whether to accept Christ’s death— including the truth of all He revealed—or to reject Him. For the faithful, it remains a powerful prayer tool, one that does not require elegant words to be meaningful. In holding a Crucifix, one is offering a very powerful prayer. The Crucifix invites us to more deeply meditate upon the precious wounds of Christ. Indeed, one is reminded of our Lord’s words to St. Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands,” while tracing one’s fingers over the tiny replica of His wounded hands, feet, side, and the crown of thorns upon His head.
Each of us is called to take up our cross and follow Christ (cf Mt 16:24). Our lives should model the Way of the Cross, which St. Mary Elizabeth Hesselblad hailed as “the most beautiful of all because on this path I have met and known my Lord and Savior.” St. Josemaría Escrivá, however, urges:
Don’t drag the Cross... Carry it squarely on your shoulder, because your Cross, if you carry it so, will not be just any Cross: it will be... the Holy Cross. Don’t bear your Cross with resignation: resignation is not a generous word. Love the Cross. When you really love it, your Cross will be... a Cross, without a Cross. And surely you, like Him, will find Mary on the way. (St. Josemaría Escrivá, The Way of the Cross (New York: Scepter, 1990), n.p.)
Whenever we are weak, how surely will our Mother at once fly to our aid when we faithfully call upon her name!
When bearing our crosses, we may be tempted to cry out, “My God, my God, why have You abandoned me?” This utterance of Christ from the cross, however, was not merely a lamentation but Him offering Psalm 22 to His Father. Let our every word, then, be a prayer, let our every action be an act of faith, our every thought be of kindness, and our every deed, one of love, the same kind offered upon the Cross. And, Pope Francis gently offers, “When everything seems too much, when it seems that the world is crashing down on you, embrace Christ’s Cross, draw close to him, and please, never let go of his hand.”
Question for Reflection: How can you pick up your cross more diligently in these last few days of Lent?
Poor Thomas! One remark by my namesake and he’s forever branded as “Doubting Thomas.” The Church doesn’t honor him each July 3rd for this, however, but for what is absolutely one of the most explicit Professions of Faith uttered in the New Testament: “My Lord and my God!” (see John 20: 24-29, c.f. Luke 7:1-10) In those five words, Thomas boldly expresses his revived belief in his resurrected Master and testifies to His divinity, ready to once again follow Christ and evangelize the world about Him. While this redeeming witness is indeed memorable, it is important to not lose sight of another of Thomas’ statements as recorded in John’s gospel, which shows us more about his personality and in turn, our own faith in Christ, “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).
This other mention of Thomas occurs when Jesus decides to travel to the village of Bethany in Judea to raise Lazarus, thus coming dangerously close to Jerusalem (see John 10:22-39, c.f. Mark 10:32-34). Remembering how the Jews there had earlier tried to stone Jesus, the disciples must have felt apprehensive about undertaking such a risky journey (see John 11:8). Thomas, however, seeing Jesus’ determination, exhorts them saying, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:16). Brave words for a doubter! Pope Benedict XVI even characterized Thomas’ sincere resolve to follow his Master as something which is “truly exemplary and offers us a valuable lesson: it reveals his total readiness to stand by Jesus, to the point of identifying his own destiny with that of Jesus and of desiring to share with him the supreme trial of death” (September 27, 2006 General Audience).
This is the very definition of the Christian life! A life with Jesus is to be with Him through times of joy, peace, hope, success, and prosperity, as well as uncertainty, loss, sorrow, ridicule, and persecution. This is “no sugarplum” as Benedict describes it in Jesus of Nazareth (pg. 67), but without Christ what can one hope for to carry him or her through the trials of life? What would be the point in continuing on?
In his final five words recorded in the Bible, Thomas redeems himself after doubting Christ by exclaiming “My Lord and my God!”. The wounds he touched confirm, undoubtedly, the Identity of Christ, the truth of His Message, and the authenticity of God’s infinite Love, not just for Thomas, but all believers! St. Augustine comments on this: Thomas “saw and touched the man, and acknowledged the God whom he neither saw nor touched; but by the means of what he saw and touched, he now put far away from him every doubt, and believed the other” (In ev. Jo. 121, 5).
It is important to remember that Saint Thomas, like all the apostles, was personally chosen by Christ in spite of their weaknesses and lack of understanding. But Christ did not pick worthless men! Rather, their failings are a reminder that holiness is a gift from God and not a human creation, given to us, who have our own weaknesses, so God can transform them into the loving image of Christ and mature our faith. Jesus also permitted Thomas to doubt after the resurrection but did not abandon him in those doubts, instead allowing him to bear witness to the truth of the resurrection and thus verify the whole Christian message (see 1 Corinthians 15:14). Finally, we are called to not give in to our doubts regarding God, our dignity and worth, or even hard Church teachings no matter how unpopular they may seem! By looking to Saint Thomas as a model (and by praying to him for guidance), may we find comfort in our insecurities, hope in the future, and the encouragement to persevere through the difficulties of life on the way to our final rendezvous with our Lord and our God.
Thomas Wong is an undergraduate student at The Catholic University of America and a member of the Catholic University Knights of Columbus.
As the Church and world celebrate the canonization of St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II today, it is important to note the significance of this day on which these canonizations are taking place, Divine Mercy Sunday. For St. John Paul II, the Mercy of God was an early and prevalent theme in his pontificate. In 1980, he issued the encyclical, Dives in Miseracordia, which not only views Jesus Christ as the “Incarnation of mercy” (2), but also teaches that mercy is “the fundamental content of the messianic message of Christ and the constitutive power of His mission” (6). The ramification of such a bold way of describing mercy challenges human beings to move beyond a basic understanding of justice. He notes that “mercy has the power to confer on justice a new content, which is expressed most simply and fully in forgiveness” (14).
Forgiveness in an age of self-centeredness and rabid individualism is often seen as weakness. And yet, through the seeming weakness of the Cross, his “sorrowful passion,” forgiveness, love, and mercy are offered “to us and to the whole world” (Cf. Chaplet of Divine Mercy). They are confirmed in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ who appears to his disciples and takes away all doubt, bringing peace to those in fear. All of the baptized are called to carry on this mission of Christ that offers mercy to a suffering and broken world. A life lived in mercy will lead to greater unity with one another. St. John Paul II when he canonized the visionary of Divine Mercy, St. Faustina Kowolska, and declared the Second Sunday of Easter, “Divine Mercy Sunday,” in the Jubilee Year of 2000, said in his homily that day, that Jesus “showed us the many paths of mercy, which not only forgives sins but reaches out to all human needs…every kind of human poverty, material and spiritual” (Homily for Divine Mercy Sunday, 4).
True and lasting forgiveness that leads to living a life of deeper compassion and mercy can only occur with trust. The Apostle Thomas in today’s Gospel passage did not trust the word of witness of his brothers and sisters in the Upper Room. He needed to experience the mercy of Jesus Christ for himself, as do we. It is only through a personal encounter with Christ as the Merciful One that we have the graced strength to say, “Jesus, I trust in You!”
Fr. Frank Donio, S.A.C., D.Min. is Director of the Catholic Apostolate Center.
Click here for Canonization resources and a webinar on the new pope saints.
This blog post was first published earlier today on the St. Joseph’s College of Maine Theology Faculty Blog. Fr. Frank is an adjunct professor on both the undergraduate and graduate Theology faculties. Click here to learn more about our cooperative alliance with St. Joseph’s College Online.