By showing his wounds to Thomas, Christ warns us against those who would present a Christianity without the Cross.
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11:56 AM 5/1/2011 — The two Sundays which follow Pascha are dedicated to commemorating certain episodes related directly to the Resurrection of our Lord from the dead; and both of them, while they are clearly historical events, are packed with meaning and symbolism. Thomas Sunday, which we celebrate today, is really the first day of Thomas Week, a whole week focused on drilling into our brains the pragmatic implications of our Lord’s Resurrection.
Regarding Thomas himself, it is important to notice that our Lord does not blame Thomas for requiring proof of the Resurrection; after all, the other apostles were no less to blame, since the only reason they believed it was because they had seen our Lord. What’s interesting is that our Lord does not discourage the notion that faith needs to be based on some sort of credible grounds that make sense. When he appears to the apostle the second time, and Thomas is finally with them, while he does make the statement, “Blessed are they who have not seen, yet believe,” he still invites Thomas to touch his holy wounds. He’s willing to surrender the principle that faith should be blind. His statement presents the ideal, but the ideal is tempered by reality and an understanding of fallen human nature.
One of the greatest joys of any parish community is when it has converts at Paschal time, at least it should be. We had that blessing last year, as you know. And there are two ways to go about instructing converts: you can take a didactic approach and just throw the truths of the faith out there, declare them revealed by God—which they are—and simply demand that the convert blindly accept them without question; but this is not what we do for the simple reason that this isn’t what our Lord did. Yes, he did say, “Blessed are they who have not seen, yet believe”; but he also spoke about the seed that falls into sandy ground, which sprouts up very quickly with enthusiasm, but is blown away at the first wind of trouble because its roots are not deep enough. When our Lord shows Thomas his wounds, he’s not compromising the truth; he’s just planting the seed in better soil; and, given the fact that Thomas, as a missionary, carried the Gospel farther than any other apostle, I don’t think any of us can find reason to quarrel with the results.
Man is a divine being, created by God with an immortal soul; but that soul has been tainted with sin. Our fallen nature compromises our divinity. Our faith should be blind; but the simple fact is that it isn’t. Cardinal Newman,—now Blessed John Henry Newman—who was a convert himself, and who spent a lot of time working with converts, used to sum it up this way: “A hundred questions do not equal one single doubt.” After all, a person who outright doubts the faith is looking for a way out—he’s looking for a way not to believe because he doesn’t want to sacrifice the things that the faith will require from him—because a doubt does not seek an answer; it seeks an escape. But a person who questions is looking for a way in, because a question seeks an answer; and one cannot seek an answer sincerely without wanting to find it; and when he finds it, he conforms himself to it.
On Great and Holy Friday, at the conclusion of Solemn Vespers, just before we had processed with the shroud of our Lord and laid it in the tomb, I spoke to you about the phenomenon of so-called “Christians” who want Christ without his cross. That theme carries over into Thomas Week as well because of the manner which our Lord chose to strengthen the faith of Thomas: he doesn’t do card tricks; he doesn’t stand on his head; he doesn’t throw things around the room like a poltergeist. Later, he would eat in the presence of his disciples to prove he was real; but he doesn’t even do that on this occasion. For the very first test of his Resurrection, our Lord simply shows Thomas the marks of his passion. That is significant. And the commemorations of Thomas Sunday and Thomas Week, right on the heals of Easter, are there to caution us against any presentation of the Christian message which seeks to eliminate the Cross and the crucifixion, against anyone who would try to soften and humanize Christ so that he becomes a mild and likable teacher of social principles; those for whom the mystery of the Cross and it’s implications in their personal and practical lives are too harsh; those for whom the repentance, asceticism and sacrifice for which the Cross stands are simply unacceptable. By showing his wounds to Thomas, Christ is warning us to reject the false “Christs” that these deniers of the Cross set up for us. Like Thomas, we insist on looking at and touching the wounds of our Lord; because we know that a “Christ” who does not carry the imprint of the nails is not authentic; and we shall reserve our adoration for the Crucified One alone. Only the Christ who shows us that the road to heaven is the Way of the Cross is the one to whom we shall say, “My Lord and my God.”
Father Michael Venditti