The apostle for the rest of us: Sunday reflection

This morning’s Gospel reading is John 20:19–31:

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 and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

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.”

Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he 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.” Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.

A brief note to begin: Unfortunately, we are celebrating the Easter season at Chez Morrissey with head colds and coughs. This has impacted my ability to prepare for today’s Sunday reflection, as well as my ability to type at times. Fortunately, I can backspace with the best of them and redo the sneeze-related errors. Today’s reflection will be a bit brief because of this.

Years after I returned to the practice of my faith, I noticed a friend of mine quietly uttering a phrase during the consecration. As the priest held up the Eucharist, my friend would say, “My Lord and my God.” Later I found out this was a more common practice in years gone by; I found the response in missals, including an Irish-language missal that I picked up at some time over the last 18 years. In Irish, it’s “mo Thiarna agus mo Dé,” a literal translation and pronounced muh heerna ahgus muh tzay. 

At the time, though, I wasn’t familiar with the practice. He explained that this was Thomas the Apostle’s words on seeing Jesus in the flesh for the first time since the Resurrection, and a reference to what Jesus told him at the time: Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed. It’s a reminder of the faith needed to be one of Christ’s apostles, following the tradition of all the apostles.

I was immediately attracted to this practice, in part because the lives of the apostles in that period is fascinating. What was it like to be a follower of Jesus, both before and immediately after the Resurrection? Our readings today give us some hint of that, first from the short reading from Acts in which Peter conducted healings with the power of Christ working through him. In our second reading, John describes his exile on Patmos at the very beginning of Revelation, an exile caused because John “proclaimed God’s word and gave testimony to Jesus.” John is traditionally believed to be the only apostle to have not been martyred at his death, although the exile in Patmos certainly qualifies as a kind of martyrdom in itself.

The original apostles give us lives with which we can identify. Are we common laborers like Peter, rough and unschooled, who rose through denial and betrayal to found Jesus’ church and make His mission triumphant? Are we John, who simply loved Jesus so much that he could never bring himself to ever abandon him? Paul, who went from persecutor to the greatest theologian of the early Church? Are we among the apostles who jostled for position in Jesus’ presence before the Passion without comprehending the implications of it?

In truth, we are all of these at times. Thomas, however, holds a special place in my evidence-based heart, and I suspect does for many others as well. Thomas is the sophisticate in all of us, the contrarian who insists on cutting against the grain. After spending three years on the road with his fellow apostles and many others following Jesus, Thomas refuses to believe any and all of them when they speak of Jesus’ return. He wants proof on which to base his belief, and for some reason the word of his friends isn’t good enough.

That sounds awfully familiar. We all have ebbs and flows of faith, rich times and dry times. In my dry times, I find myself as Thomas did between the crucifixion and the appearance in today’s Gospel. Even with the testimonies of our friends the apostles isn’t enough at those times for me, even though all of them went to their deaths for Christ and his church. In those moments, I’m CSI: Jerusalem. Where’s the proof?

The Holy Spirit reminds me at those times that the struggle doesn’t mean that God does not love me, or that Christ has abandoned me. The struggle comes from my own actions and inactions, from a waxing and waning attachment to sin and the material world that disorients me and muddles up my priorities. The Eucharist calls me back to Christ even when I’m feeling disjointed and detached. The quiet response of Thomas reminds me of that connection to Him: My Lord and my God.

So now I quietly say that too during the consecration, or sometimes Mo Thiarna agus mo Dé, depending on whatever speaks best to me. In the end, I’d love to claim John, Peter, Paul, or any of the other disciples as my greatest guide to Christ. Most of the time, though, I thank the Lord for Saint Thomas, the apostle who speaks for all of us at some time in our lives.

The front page image is a detail from “The Incredulity of St. Thomas,” a part of the Maesta Altarpiece by Duccio di Buoninsegna, circa 1311 and on display at the Siena Cathedral, Italy.

“Sunday Reflection” is a regular feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection represents only my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussion. Previous Sunday Reflections from the main page can be found here.  For previous Green Room entries, click here.