Archive for the ‘St. Thomas the Apostle’ Category

Lingering Wounds — Divine Mercy Sunday—2nd Sunday of Easter

April 15, 2018

Of all the apostles, it could be said that St. Thomas’ faith took him the farthest. Likely tradition says Thomas traveled more than 2,000 miles from Israel to evangelize India. From the seeds of his ministry and martyrdom there, tens of millions of Indians are Christians today. Yet, he’s not known as “Traveling Thomas” or “Faithful, Fruitful Thomas,” but famously as “Doubting Thomas” because of these passages:

Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

So why was Thomas so slow to believe? I would suggest three theories:

The first explanation would be that Thomas didn’t want it to be true. Many peoples’ lack of belief is due to an unwilling heart. They see no evidence for God because they have closed their eyes. If they were honest they would say, “I don’t want it to be true, because if it is then I’d have to change how I live my life.” Jesus says if we ask, we’ll receive; if we seek, we’ll find; and if we knock, the door will be opened to us. But this sort of person doesn’t ask because they don’t want good answers, they don’t seek because they’re afraid of what they’ll find, and they don’t knock because they don’t want to go in.

In the Book of Revelation, Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” He knocks on the door of every human soul. But we can lock and block our door; with a big-screen TV of entertainment, or a bookshelf of learning, a trophy case of accomplishments, a heavy safe of accumulated wealth, or with several large-leafy plants so that a person may enjoy the beauty of creation while ignoring the Creator. If we insist upon self-centered ingratitude, the Lord will respect our freedom but we’ll be woefully unsatisfied forever.

But this is was not St. Thomas. He had sacrificed a lot to be Jesus’ apostle and had aspired to give him his all. On one occasion Jesus said, “Let us go back to Judea,” but the disciples replied, “Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone you, and you want to go back there?” When Jesus insisted on going, “Thomas, called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, ‘Let us also go to die with him.’” At the Last Supper, when Jesus said, “Where I am going you know the way,” Thomas replied, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” He was distressed because he loved Jesus and wanted to follow him anywhere. Thomas wanted the Resurrection to be true, but there was some other reason he wouldn’t or couldn’t believe.

A second theory for why Thomas was so slow to believe is that he was skeptically-minded. St. Thomas’ nickname, as you’ve heard it now a couple of times, was “Didymus.” In Greek, Didymus means “twin.” How was Thomas a twin? Scripture doesn’t say. Perhaps Thomas had a twin brother he had been mistaken for many times. In some icons of Jesus with his apostles, one of the apostles looks just like Jesus. Such art imagines that Thomas shared a twin likeness to the Lord. In either case, one could understand his initial skepticism about people seeing Jesus resurrected. “Nah. You guys saw somebody else.”

But Thomas has sufficient evidence to believe his friends. They are not claiming to have seen Jesus across the marketplace or walking through a field at dusk. (Neither Thomas nor we are expected to have blind faith, but to trust in trustworthy persons and things.) The other apostles are saying, “It’s true Thomas! He knew us, we saw his wounds!” Yet Thomas replies, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Why is Thomas so being obstinate?

The third (and I think most likely) explanation for why Thomas was so slow to believe in the Resurrection was that he hurt too much trust again. Who was Jesus to Thomas? He was Thomas’ hero, his admired teacher, his dearly beloved friend. Thomas thought Jesus would be the savior and messianic king of Israel, but Thomas’ great hope was murdered on Good Friday. Imagine Thomas’ prayer after experiencing that. “My God, how could you let this happen? He was innocent, he was so good! He was the best man I’ve ever known, and you let Him die! Why? How could do that to him? How could you do this to me?”

Jesus’ unexpected death broke Thomas’ heart, and perhaps having been so wounded once, he was resolved not to let his heart be taken-in again: ‘Unless I see the mark… put my finger in the nailmarks… put my hand in his side, I will not believe.’ Yet, though he doubts, notice where Thomas is one week after Easter. He’s with the other apostles in the upper room in Jerusalem, gathered behind locked doors for fear of those who killed Jesus. Now there are lots of other, safer places Thomas could have chosen to be. He could have returned to his hometown, back to the family and friends he left behind to follow Jesus a few years before. Though Thomas doubts, he does not leave this house of faith. He struggles with his questions, but he does not fully abandon Jesus. He seeks him here and because of it Thomas finds truth for his mind, healing for his heart, and peace for his soul.

The risen Lord appears in the upper room and how does Jesus respond to Thomas’ resistant unbelief? Not with anger. Not with condemnation. But with the same Divine Mercy we celebrate today. Jesus appears in their midst and says, “Peace be with you.” Then he says 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.”

Curiously, Jesus still bears some of the wounds from his Passion: in his hands, feet and side. The cuts and swollen bruises are gone from his face, for the disciples respond to him with rejoicing rather than pity or horror, but he retains some marks from the evils that afflicted him. Jesus could heal or cover them—he’s God—but he choose not to. They are his trophies, the means of his glory, how he saved the world.

Our wounds, our losses, the sins and evils we suffer, they can scandalize us like Thomas was after the Passion. But through these things Jesus would glorify us, help to save others, and transform us into his more perfect twin. Jesus, having experienced wounds of his own, can relate and heal you.

Like St. Thomas, this Divine Mercy Sunday, you are gathered in this upper room with Jesus’ disciples. If there is any great wound or uncertainly in you, I invite you to be open to encounter Jesus anew like St. Thomas. Dare to ask, dare to seek, dare to knock. Jesus is not only your Lord and your God, he’s good and his love is everlasting.

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The Glorious Mysteries, Meditations with the Saints

October 27, 2010

The 1st Glorious Mystery:
The Resurrection of Jesus from the Dead

St. John Bosco, an Italian priest, founded a famous school for boys in the mid-1800’s and is the patron saint of students. He is known to have worked many miracles, but one from 1849 stands out. Returning from a journey, he learned that Charles, a 15 year old student, had died. He went immediately to the teenager’s home where the family informed him that Charles had been dead for over 10 hours. The body was laid out in the living room, already dressed for burial.

Fr. Bosco asked everyone to leave except the mother and the aunt. After some time in silent prayer, he cried out: “Charles, rise!” Charles emitted a long sigh, stirred, opened his eyes, stared at his mother and asked, “Why did you dress me like this?” Then, realizing Fr. Bosco was present, he told him how he had cried out for him and how he had been waiting for him. He exclaimed, “Father, I should be in hell!” He told of how a few weeks before he had fallen into serious sin. Then he said he had a “dream” of being on the edge of a huge fiery furnace, and as he was about to be thrown into the flames, a beautiful lady appeared and prevented it. She said, “There is still hope for you, Charles. You have not yet been judged.” Then he heard the voice of Fr. Bosco calling him back.

Charles asked Fr. Bosco to hear his confession. After his confession, the mourners filled the room again, and Fr. Bosco said, “Charles, now that the gates of heaven lie wide open for you, would you rather go there or stay here with us?” A profound silence filled the room. Charles, with tears in his eyes said, “I’d rather go to heaven.” Then he leaned back on the pillows, closed his eyes and breathed his last.

Unless Jesus’ Second Coming happens first, each of us here will die, and rise. As we meditate on Jesus’ resurrection, let us consider how ready we are to meet Him.

The 2nd Glorious Mystery:
The Ascension of Jesus into Heaven.

St. Padre Pio is another Italian priest from not so long ago who also worked remarkable miracles. During WWII, Allied planes flew bombing raids over Italy. Almost all of the centers of the region were subjected to repeated bombardment, but no bombs ravaged the town of San Giovanni Rotondo. Every time the aviators approached that place, they saw a monk flying in the air who prevented them from dropping their bombs. Understandably, reports of this flying friar did not amuse the superior offices.

Bernardo Rosini, a general of the Italian Air Force, recounts this story: “One day, an American commander wanted to lead a squadron of bombers himself to destroy the German arms depository of war material that was located at San Giovanni Rotondo. The commander related that as he approached the target, he and his pilots saw rising in the sky the figure of a friar with his hands held outward. The bombs released of their own accord, falling in the woods, and the planes completely reversed course without any intervention by the pilots.”  

Someone told the commanding general that in a convent at this town, there lived a saintly man. At war’s end, the general wanted to go meet this person. “He was accompanied by several pilots… He went to the convent of the Capuchins. As soon as he crossed the threshold of the sacristy, he found himself in front of several friars, among whom he immediately recognized the one who had ‘stopped’ his planes. Padre Pio went forward to meet him, and putting his hand on his shoulder, he said, `So, you’re the one who wanted to get rid of us all!’”

As we meditate on the Ascension of Jesus, to the right hand of the Father in Heaven, let us pray that He would establish justice and peace, in this country and the whole world, in our time.

The 3rd Glorious Mystery:
The Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost

We usually don’t associate India with Christianity, but that nation has over 24 million Christians.  That’s about as many people as live in Texas, our second largest state. If you were to ask them how the faith reached their land they would point to St. Thomas the Apostle.

What led St. Thomas, who at first refused to even believe in the Good News, to travel over 2,500 miles to bring them the Gospel? It was not merely seeing the risen Christ. Jesus knew His disciples would need more to strengthen them then merely their memories of Him. St. Thomas journeyed because the Lord had sent the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, to fill them with gifts, like wisdom, courage, and zeal.

If we are in the state of grace, God the Holy Spirit dwells in us too, and He wants to empower us with His gifts. As we meditate on the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, let us pray for whatever spiritual gift that we need the most.

The 4th Glorious Mystery:
The Assumption of the Virgin Mary.

No Church, in the East or the West, claims to contain the body of St. Mary. This is because “the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.” This is because Jesus would not suffer Mary, His sinless, faithful beloved, to undergo corruption.

Death is a consequence of human sin, and without human intervention, as in embalming or mummification, our dead bodies will ordinarily experience its corruption. But, sometimes, the Lord preserves the dead bodies of his saints, to give a sign of their holiness, and to show that death is not all that awaits us.

Among the numerous saints whose incorrupt bodies you can still see today are:  St. John Bosco, St. John Vianney, St. Catherine Laboure (the visionary of the Miraculous Medal), St. Bernadette Soubirous (the visionary of Lourdes), and St. Maria Goretti.

As we meditate on the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, let us pray for purity in our lives.

The 5th Glorious Mystery:
The Coronation of Mary as the Queen of Heaven and Earth

Once, when St. Maximillian Kolbe was a boy, his behavior began trying his mother’s patience. She said in exasperation, “Maximillian, what will become of you?” As St. Maximillian writes, “Later, that night, I asked the Mother of God what was to become of me. Then she came to me holding two crowns, one white, the other red. She asked me if I was willing to accept either of these crowns. The white one meant that I should persevere in purity, and the red that I should become a martyr. I said that I would accept them both.” St. Maximillian would receive both crowns, as a holy Franciscan brother, and as a victim of the Nazis at Auschwitz, were he took the place of another innocent man who was condemned to die.

Jesus crowns his holy ones. He wills that those who share in His sacrifice should also share in His glory. As we meditate on the Coronation of Mary, let us pray to accept whatever crowns of burden and glory the Lord wants to give to us.

Gospel Movies

July 1, 2010

Below are five original shorts drawn from the Scriptures. Click the images to watch them.

Teddy Bear Annunciation


The Annunciation of the Archangel Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin Mary; the Gospel of Luke, chapter 1, with teddy bears.

Robot Jesus at the Watering Hole

 
Jesus meets the woman at the well; the Gosple of John, chapter 4, starring robots.

The Rich Young Rapper

 
A rich young rapper questions Jesus on the subway; a remix of Matthew, chapter 19 and Mark, chapter 10.  

Doubting Thomas

 The resurrected Christ appears to a skeptical disciple in the Gospel of John, chapter 20.

The Importance of the Resurrection


From St. Paul’s 1st Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 15.

Faithful Despite Doubts — Divine Mercy Sunday—2nd Sunday in Easter—Year C

April 11, 2010

Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

Why is “Doubting” Thomas so slow to believe. Why is Thomas so reluctant to trust? A clue might be found in the gospel’s interesting inclusion of Thomas’ Greek nickname: Didymus. Didymus means “twin,” but in relation to whom was Thomas a twin? Some speculate that Thomas the Apostle bore a striking resemblance to Jesus Himself. This tradition is sometimes reflected in iconography where Thomas is the apostle who looks a lot like Jesus.

If this is why Thomas was the apostle called “the twin” then we can understand his rational skepticism. How many times during Jesus’ ministry had people come up to Thomas and said, “O Jesus, we’re so happy to see you! We’ve walked for miles to see you again!” Then, with some annoyance, Thomas might have answered, “We’ll you’ll have to walk a little bit further. Jesus is over there.” So now, when the other disciples come up to Thomas after Easter and say, “We have seen the Lord,” Thomas replies, ‘I’ll need more evidence than that.’

Thomas’ resistance to believing the good news about Jesus might not only be coming from his mind, but also from his heart. Jesus was Thomas’ hero, his teacher, and his close, beloved friend. Thomas thought that Jesus was going to be the savior and messianic king of Israel. But their close relationship and all of Thomas’ great hopes were destroyed for him at the crucifixion. Imagine how Thomas might have prayed then: “My God, why have you let this happen? How could you let Him be taken instead of me? Jesus was so good! He was completely innocent, and you let Him be die! Why?”

The unexpected death of Jesus broke Thomas’ heart, and having been so hurt once, Thomas was resolved not to let his heart be taken in again: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

Yet, though he doubts, notice where Thomas is one week after Easter. He is with the other apostles in the upper room in Jerusalem, gathered behind locked doors for fear of the authorities who killed Jesus. Now there are lots of other places Thomas could have chosen to be. There were safer places he could have gone, like back to his hometown and to the extended family and friends he had left behind to follow Jesus a few years before. Though Thomas doubts, he does not leave this house of faith. He struggles with his faith, but does not abandon it. He seeks within this house of faith, this Church, and because of it, Thomas finds sufficient evidence for his mind and healing for his heart.

The risen Lord appears in the upper room and how does Jesus respond to Thomas’ resistant unbelief? Not with anger.  Not with condemnation.  But with the divine mercy we celebrate today. Jesus appears in their midst and says, “Peace be with you.” Then he says 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.”

In our lives we too will struggle with our faith and our doubts, with our emotions and with our thoughts, in our hearts and in our minds. Jesus does not condemn our honest struggles. But Jesus wants us to sincerely seek within this house of faith; this, His apostles’ Church, where the truth and healing is found by all those who seek Him.

2nd Sunday of Easter—Year B

August 23, 2009

Jesus said to “Doubting” Thomas, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and believed.”

This gospel passage has a very fond and special place in my heart, because when I was younger it used to really tick me off. If I had had my choice between either seeing and believing, or not seeing and being blessed, I’d have picked the seeing option every time. But now looking back, I realize  that if Jesus had actually appeared to me in a vision that would have just raised more doubts and questions in me. I once shared my various frustrations about faith and doubt with a priest.  After he had patiently listened, He suggested that perhaps I was going through these kinds of trials so that I could help others through similar trials someday.  At the time, that also ticked me off… but he was right. I hope that six lessons I’ve learned in the years since will be of help for you today. Today the Church celebrates Divine Mercy Sunday, but on account of Doubting Thomas one might also call it Doubter’s Sunday. I feel a lot of mercy for the doubters out there, and Jesus does too.

Lesson One:  Jesus does not condemn the honest doubter, the sincere questioner, the genuine seeker.

When Jesus appears to doubting Thomas notice that he is not angry with him.  He says, “Peace be with you!”  Then he says, “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.” The Gospel does not say whether Thomas actually took Jesus up on touching his wounds, but Jesus was not patronizing him when he made the offer—it was an sincere invitation that met Thomas where he was at.

Still today, Jesus is not angered by our honest questions.  In fact, it is a compliment to him to ask tough questions of our faith because it shows that we believe there are good answers out there to be found. Honest questions make our faith stronger, not weaker. However, our questioning must be sincere. We must not build a comfortable home upon our doubts, doing nothing to answer or resolve them. This sort of questioning is not sincere, but often self-serving.  Jesus wants to give to those who ask, to reveal to those who seek, to open for those who knock, so that they will not be unbelieving, but believe.  But, when we refuse to ask, or to seek, or  to knock, we frustrate the Lord.  Jesus is pleased, however, by the genuine seeker because the genuine seeker will find him.

Lesson Two:  Having beliefs is unavoidable and our faith is reasonable.

Some people object to faith saying that “reason” or “science” is certain while “belief” is doubtful.  But in reality, all of our knowledge depends upon trusted beliefs. We cannot live, or even reason, without accepting beliefs. Before the scientist calmly walks across the street he assumes a thousand things without certain proof of them. We can learn many valuable things from science, but science itself cannot prove all of its own assumptions. There are even questions that science cannot answer, such as the transcendent goodness, worth, or purpose of things. Our faith answers such questions and our faith is not unreasonable. Our true faith is no more in conflict with reason than the truth could contradict the truth. Not everyone shares our faith, but you cannot live as fully alive without it.

Lesson Three:  If you ever worry about whether you really believe in God, you shouldn’t be worried.

Some people experience real spiritual anxiety when they ask themselves, “Do I really believe in God?” Realize this: people who don’t believe in God, don’t spend time worrying about whether they believe in God. Only a believer would do that. So if you ever worry about your belief in God, you shouldn’t be worried; you’re actually a believer and your mind should be at ease.

Lesson Four:  You already have enough faith to do what Jesus asks of you today.

Some people say, “I believe in Jesus Christ, but I just don’t have enough faith to do what he wants me to do.” These people experience a spiritual paralysis: they’re waiting for faith to show up, before they’ll take the next step in living the Gospel, whatever that might be. They’re actually psyching themselves out. They are like the apostles who once begged the Lord, “Increase our faith!” Jesus told them if they had faith the size of a mustard seed they could uproot trees or mountains with a word and plant them in the sea. At first this might seem like a word of discouragement, but it is actually a word of hope. Your tiny, microscopic speck of faith is already enough for you to accomplish everything Christ asks of you today. Your faith right now may be only a pinhole-sized trust in him, but the God who can fit a camel through the eye of a needle can pour a river through your pinhole-sized faith. You already have enough faith to do what Jesus asks of you today.

Lesson Five:  Faith grows through being exercised.

We often keep very low expectations of God.  Maybe we think that if we don’t expect too much from him he won’t expect too much from us. Or maybe we think we won’t be disappointed by him, if we never get our hopes up. In this way our faith stays small. Our faith, which is our openness to the Gospel and our trust in Jesus Christ, remains small and weak because our faith is so rarely exercised. Do we really want to come to the end of our lives and have to look back and wonder what our lives could have been if we had committed ourselves more completely to Jesus Christ and his Gospel?

Consider this question:  If you had all the faith in the world, how would you pray, what would you pray for, and what would you do? If you want to see you faith grow, if you want to see the power of Jesus Christ active in your life, then try doing these things today.

Now sometimes Christ comes out of nowhere and powerfully reveals himself to those who have never really striven for him, or even looked for him, but it is more often the case with Christ that the more we give him the more we get. Imagine you hold in your hand seeds which symbolize your life; your time, your talents, and your treasure. You received all these seeds from Christ as pure gift. As long as we cling to the seeds in our hand, they will never bear fruit. But once we begin letting Christ plant these seeds, and we see the good fruit they produce, we will eagerly give him more and more. In this way, our faith grows through being exercised.

And finally, the sixth lesson:  Faith is about trusting in Jesus Christ.

Faith is not so much about generating a certain feeling, or a feeling of certainty, about particular facts.  The demons know that Jesus is Lord—and shudder. Faith is more about trust, trusting in a person who is worthy of our trust, Jesus Christ. Living-out such trust requires a personal relationship of knowledge and love with him.

What might be holding us back in the life of faith could be that we have unresolved sins, past and present, impeding our relationship with Christ. This Divine Mercy Sunday we celebrate the infinite mercy God shows toward all those who ask for it. Through the sacrament of reconciliation, we can receive a fresh start, a clean slate, an infusion of grace, a healing of the heart and mind, a full restoration of personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Whenever I go to confession, I encounter Christ through the priest, like Thomas encountered Jesus in the upper room. Jesus enters into the locked inner room of my heart, where I would otherwise hide out of fear on account of my sins. I see his wounds, I admit the ways that I helped to put them there, and I tell him I’m sorry. And his response is always the same: mercy. “Peace be with you. Your sins are forgiven.” Confession gives us pardon and peace, it increases our trust and love for Jesus Christ, and strengthens our faith in him.

This Divine Mercy Sunday, let us pray the prayer that he has given us for our uncertain times: “Jesus, I trust in you.”