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The Courageous Thomas

by Joel V. Ocampo

The Feast of Saint Thomas, the Apostle is celebrated by the Church every 3rd of July. However, this year, since it falls on a Sunday, Thomas will give way for the Lord’s Day. The day allotted for Jesus whom Thomas called, “My Lord and my God!” (Jn. 20:28). After all, “for Christians, Sunday has become the first of all days, the first of all feasts, the Lord’s Day; and the Sunday celebration of the Lord's Day and his Eucharist is at the heart of the Church’s life” (CCC 2174 and 2177).

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas | Painting by the Italian Baroque master Caravaggio, c. 1601–1602

In the listing of the Twelve Apostles, the name of Thomas was placed seventh or eighth (Mt. 10:3; Mk. 3:18; Lk. 6:15). John recorded him as “Thomas, called Didymus” (Jn. 11:16; 20:24; 21:2); and “Didymus” (Δίδυμος) is the Greek word for “twin”. Interestingly, the name “Thomas” itself was derived from the Aramaic word Ta'oma’ (תאומא) that also means “twin”.

The Courageous Thomas

Many of us knew Thomas as a doubter. However, if we read the Gospels, we’ll see that Thomas is courageous. In John 11, when Jesus was informed that Lazarus died, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone you, and you want to go back there?” (Jn. 11:7-8). When Jesus said, “Let us go to him.” Thomas, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go to die with him” (Jn. 11:15-16).

In another instance, during the Last Supper, Jesus said, “Where I am going you know the way.” In the midst of silence, Thomas was courageous enough to ask, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” (Jn. 14:4-5). Jesus’ reply to him became one of the famous Bible passages in the world: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn. 14:6).

Finally, John relates to us that “on the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst...Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came” (Jn. 20:19, 24). Then the other disciples informed Thomas, “We have seen the Lord.” The reply of Thomas became the reason why he was called “Doubting Thomas”. He said, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” (Jn. 20:25).

Where is Thomas?

I wonder why Thomas was not with them when Jesus came. John tells us that “the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews.” If Thomas was not with them, I would like to believe that he was roaming around the city, without any fear of the Jews. I believe that this courageous disciple who accompanied Jesus for three years is not afraid to die with Him.

In addition, if we read slowly the reply of Thomas to his fellow disciples, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe,” it contains a tone of what we call tampo in Filipino. During the arrest of Jesus, St. Mark recorded for us, “They all left him and fled” (Mk. 14:50). Thus, Thomas is like saying, “All of us deserted the Lord and fled during His passion and death. Why will I believe you?” I would like to believe that his tampo is not addressed to Jesus but to his fellow disciples, and he is courageous enough to confront them for the mistakes that they have done. Then here comes the resurrected Lord who said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe,” (Jn. 20:27). The response of Thomas to Jesus was immortalized every time the priest raises the Sacred Host during consecration and we say, “My Lord and my God!”

After Jesus said to Thomas, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed,” (Jn. 20:29), the tampo of Thomas ceased and he was integrated again to the community of disciples. He even accompanied the Simon and the other fishermen at the Sea of Tiberias. In this story of the appearance to the seven disciples, we hear the famous line, “Dominus est!” or “It is the Lord!” (Jn. 21:1-14).

St. Thomas in India

According to the Sacred Tradition of the Church, at the dispersal of the Apostles after Pentecost, Thomas was sent to evangelize to the Parthians, Medes, and Persians, and He ultimately reached the Malabar Coast in India. It is believed that the St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Church, in Malayattoor Angamaly, Ernakulam district of Kerala, India is the place where St. Thomas prayed and left a footprint there.

In Memory of Christ’s Wounded Side

In most of his images or statues, St. Thomas is depicted as a man that holds a scroll and a spear. The scroll represents the Word of God that he preached while the spear represents his martyrdom, since he was killed with a spear. In a more significant symbolism, the spear reminds us of Thomas’ experience of Divine Mercy that gushed from the wounded side of Christ that was pierced with a spear (Jn. 19:34). With this wound, the Lord healed the wounds of Thomas when He said, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe” (Jn. 20:27). It like the Lord is saying, “I know that you are wounded. I am also wounded. I invite you to entrust your wounds into my Divine Mercy so that they will heal.”

Prayer to St. Thomas

O Glorious St. Thomas, your grief for Jesus was such that it would not let you believe he had risen unless you actually saw him and touched his wounds. But your love for Jesus was equally great and it led you to give up your life for him. Pray for us that we may grieve for our sins which were the cause of Christ's sufferings. Help us to spend ourselves in his service and so earn the title of “Blessed” which Jesus applied to those who would believe in him without seeing him. Amen.

St. Thomas, pray for us.

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