By Msgr. Joseph P. Calise
After three years of traveling and ministering with Jesus, the moments in today’s Gospel secure that Thomas will always be remembered as “doubting.”
We could certainly argue the unfairness of it. After all, in the years that passed from his being called to follow Jesus, until this evening in the Upper Room, he did much more than doubt. From another point of view, however, it is good to have someone to identify with in those moments when our faith is not as strong as we would wish. Many saints have written about their dark nights when they wondered if their lives and choices made sense.
So, to witness Thomas’ doubt being comforted by Jesus’ tender invitation to a firmer faith, rather than scolded as an evil transgression, is a great relief to anyone who ever wondered if he or she was on the right path.
In fact, it seems as though the repeated apparition recounted in today’s Gospel was precisely intended to answer Thomas’ desire to see and touch the marks of Christ’s suffering. Jesus knew what was yet to be in Thomas’ life and offered him this special moment of assurance so that the later challenges could be met with greater faith. His faith had to be strengthened so that he, in turn, could strengthen others.
A Simple Message
This is very much the message heard by St. Faustina Kowalska. The revelation of God’s love that she heard was not intended to be kept secret, but was to be proclaimed. We know and celebrate it today as the message of Divine Mercy. It is actually very simple: God loves us, but when we open ourselves to God’s love, we need to be ready to pass it on to others so that we can find joy in celebrating the love God has for each and all of us.
It is interesting to note that the image associated with the Divine Mercy portrays Christ with two rays – red and white – emanating from His heart. The rays signify the blood and water (referenced in the Gospel account) that flowed forth from His side as He hung upon the cross and was pierced by the soldier’s lance – the same piercings into which Thomas would put his hand.
In his book, “Systematic Theology, Vol. II,” Paul Tillich, a German American theologian, wrote that, “Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.”
St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Calcutta and St. Paul of the Cross all write of their doubts, doubts through which they persevered and answered what they heard as Christ’s call to loving service. Without the existence of doubt, faith would not be faith, but knowledge. Thomas is not alone in striving for holiness while still wishing for something touchable, something proven.
The human experience of doubt is found in Mark’s Gospel when he recounts the time a man approached Jesus asking that his son be cured. When Jesus asks if the man really believes He can do this, his simple response is: “I believe, help my unbelief.” The man has made an act of trust in choosing to turn his son over to Christ. He does not understand how Jesus does the things that He has been reported to do, but he knows that wonder-filled things happen when He is around. The man puts his own doubts and questions – his unbelief – into Jesus’ hands, along with his faith. With that honest, humble response, the miracle is granted.
The motto under the image of Divine Mercy is “Jesus, I trust in You,” an act of faith based more in the heart than in the head. It does not imply that we have all the answers, but simply that our belief in God’s love and power is stronger than our doubt.
Msgr. Calise is the pastor of St. Stanislaus Kostka and Transfiguration parish, Maspeth.