Today the Church pauses to remember St. Thomas the Apostle. There is much by way of traditional lore about this apostle including the tradition that he traveled as far as India in his mission of preaching the Gospel. There are several different accounts of his death, but the most prevalent is that he was killed by four lance thrusts. The legends regarding his burial and the place of his relics are long and complicated. However, today the most popular Christian name in India is Thomas, indicating that the Christians of India have special regard for him and embrace the history that brought him to India to preach the Gospel.
The name Thomas comes from the Aramaic and classical Syrian word "Toma," which means "twin." The Gospel refers to him as Thomas or Didymus, the Greek word for twin.
However, the Gospel of St. John is perhaps the best source of material about this man. He is featured prominently in that Gospel, appearing several times and in several different situations. There are three occasions on which he speaks, the first at the time that Jesus and the Twelve learned of the death of Lazarus. Thomas is quoted as saying, "Let us go with him so that we may die with him." (John 11:16) If nothing else, this statement characterizes him as a loyal follower of Jesus.
At the Last Supper while Jesus is giving what has been called the Final Discourse, Thomas is heard to question Jesus, "Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?" (John 14:5) This question earns an answer that has become an oft "I AM" statement; namely, "I AM the way and the truth and the life." (John 14:6)
By far the most well-known utterance of St. Thomas comes in chapter twenty of St. John's Gospel where he states: "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe." (John 20:25) Subsequently, when Jesus offers him the chance to do just that he says: "My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28) This episode has given St. Thomas the dubious honor of being called "Doubting Thomas." Rather than focus on the very positive affirmation of faith in Jesus as both human and divine, we tend to focus on the doubts that Thomas expresses earlier in the text. How unfortunate! I say this simply because there are very few men or women in the Gospel who proclaim their belief in Jesus' divinity. Only the demons which he expels and the Roman centurion who witnesses his death come even close to doing so. Thomas stands alone as recognizing that Jesus is both human and divine.
Scripture scholars today look at the episode in chapter twenty as St. John's way of addressing the believers who are not eyewitnesses to the life, ministry, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus; namely, all of us. St. Thomas stands as the corporate personality which represents the Christians who have placed their faith in Jesus without ever seeing him, without ever hearing him speak, without witnessing any of his miracles. In this respect, it might be time for all of us to drop the "doubting" from his name and to embrace the credal statement that echoes down the corridors of time to this very day. Jesus is our Lord and our God.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator