The Feast of Saint Thomas, Apostle
Thomas the Apostle is my namesake; in the parlance of my youth, my patron saint. That is not quite true. Thomas is my dad’s name. I am named for him. As a young boy, my dad would on occasion address me as Thomas Aquinas. Now these occasions were few, but they were treasured because to my dad, St. Thomas Aquinas was the Great Catholic Scholar and Theologian, a doctor of the Church, a man of certain faith. When Dad addressed me as Thomas Aquinas I would feel the pride of the first born son.
However, on other occasions, my dad would more often address me as Thomas, the Doubter. Now Thomas the Apostle, like Thomas Aquinas, is a saint. But the way my Dad would say Thomas, doubter—trust me; it wasn’t the same as being called Thomas Aquinas.
I’ve embraced Thomas, the Apostle. He gets a bum rap when it comes to his being described as “doubting” Thomas. The apostle Thomas has a privileged position in the Church’s calendar: from December 8 until the feast of Saint Stephen Martyr on December 26, no other saints are celebrated. All preparation is focused on Christmas and the celebration of the mystery of the Incarnation.
While Thomas is mentioned in the other three gospels, he has a larger role to play in John’s Gospel. He has four scenes; first, when Jesus hears the news of Lazarus’ death and Jesus’ desire to go to Bethany, Thomas says to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Later at table with the other disciples and Jesus, Thomas asks the poignant question “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” To which Jesus says to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” And then, there is the post-Resurrection appearance of Jesus. Thomas was not present when Jesus returned to the disciples, who were hiding behind a locked door. Thomas will not or cannot believe they have seen the Lord. When Thomas sees Jesus he cannot help crying out, “my Lord and my God.” This is the only time in the Gospel where someone worships Jesus as God!
In the beginning of John’s Gospel, the evangelist announces that “the Word became flesh and lived among us.” This is why Thomas needed to see the body, the flesh of Jesus to believe. Thomas experienced in the light of the Resurrection, the Incarnation!
In an essay on Thomas Merton’s 1956 reflection entitled “The Nativity Kerygma” Bonnie Thurston writes “Christianity is not so much a body of doctrine as the revelation of mystery. A mystery is a divine action, something which God does in time in order to introduce men into the sanctuary of eternity.” Professor Thurston goes on to say, “Christianity is not a body of doctrine but is the lived reality of the fact of incarnation of Christ among us.” Thomas comes to believe that Jesus is both God and Human—that God is and that we are—one!