Most of us have heard the story of Doubting Thomas. In fact, I first heard it from my best friend’s mother, who is a practicing Hindu – that is how pervasive the premise is in global culture!
We specifically hear the story of Doubting Thomas on the Second Sunday of Easter each liturgical year.
It’s frustrating for me to listen to, because the depiction of Thomas – like Martha or Mary Magdalene elsewhere in the Gospels – can appear a bit shallow and unfair. They are devoted disciples and friends of Jesus who have journeyed by His side, and yet, their legacies are summed up by moments of skepticism, doubt, or questioning.
Consider that Thomas’ doubt manifested throughout the rest of the Gospel as asking tough questions on behalf of the disciples – everyone is thinking it, he’s saying it – and yet Thomas is still more resolutely prepared to follow Jesus than some others, even as the path gets darker in the shadow of the cross.
Incidentally, when the disciples encounter Jesus without Thomas present, I find it especially interesting that the other disciples use the same language that Mary Magdalene does in proclaiming the Resurrection – that is, “We have seen the Lord!” – and Thomas doesn’t believe them, the way Mary Magdalene was not believed either, despite being sent explicitly by Jesus to notify the disciples. Peter and John discount her testimony in the same way, and yet Thomas is the one who, when simply requesting to see the same evidence the other disciples received, appears to be scolded and pinned for all time with the scarlet letter of doubt. It’s all about who tells the story. These stories are retained in the tradition of the Church, yes, but shadowed with nearly unforgivable qualities.
Although many scholars paint Jesus’ response to Thomas as one tinged with shame and rebuke, Jesus is in reality giving Thomas what he needs for faith (as Jesus did for His beloved followers throughout the Gospel, and does for all of us).
Upon seeing and touching Jesus’ wounds, Thomas makes the most powerful Christological confession in the Gospel, proclaiming: “My Lord and My God.” And to this day, many members of the faithful proclaim these words as an act of devotion during the consecration at Mass.
We have to push back against the stereotype of Thomas as shameful in his doubt. I would argue that overemphasis on Thomas’s momentary lapse of faith as a disciple has caused us to miss the focus at the center of the story: Jesus responding out of love and giving His devoted disciple Thomas exactly what he needed to believe.
As with every encounter with Christ in the Gospel –especially in those encounters tinged with shame or stereotype, or with those individuals who are deemed as sinful or “unforgivable” - every encounter with Christ that we have or facilitate is an opportunity to open the door to grace. We can choose how the story ends.
We can draw the same line of connection to the grace of forgiveness. When Jesus breathes on the disciples and entrusts to them, and so to all of us, the ministry of forgiveness; that is, when we forgive the sins of others and facilitate experiences of reconciliation – we open the door to a profound outpouring of grace.
The Broadway musical, Hamilton, describes forgiveness in an exquisitely beautiful way in the song “It’s Quiet Uptown”: “There are moments that the words don’t reach/there’s a grace too powerful to name/Forgiveness/Can you imagine?”
All of us have experienced that transformative, deep, freeing, truly indescribable feeling of forgiving and being forgiven. Sometimes, it is in dialogue; sometimes, it is in monologue.
One of the most formative pieces of wisdom ever shared with me was in conversation with a woman religious who had suffered much at the hands of the institutional Church. When I asked her how she remained so faithful to and engaged with the Church despite it all, she thoughtfully offered this: “You have to learn to accept an apology that you will never receive.” Forgiveness: a grace too powerful to name, indeed.
If we combine what Jesus asks of the community in this Gospel – to forgive sins – with what we hear in the second reading from the First Letter of John, the picture of the Church’s mission begins to crystalize.
As a community of faith, we are called to love, but not just any love: the profound, inexplicable, indefatigable love which is the hallmark of God’s relationship with us. By loving one another and keeping the commandments as the First Letter of John exhorts us to do, we reveal God – who is love – to the world and open the door once again to grace.
As one interpreter notes, “the faith community’s mission, therefore, is not to be the arbiter of right or wrong, but to bear unceasing witness to the love of God in Jesus.” And what more profound way do we know to bear witness to God’s love than to engage Jesus’ call to forgive and to seek forgiveness?
The ministry of forgiveness and reconciliation is the work of the entire Christian community. Although we Roman Catholics hold sacramental preference for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the work of reconciliation requires all of us. None of us are exempt from doing the work of forgiving one another and seeking forgiveness ourselves.
If we view the portrayal of the Christian community in The Acts of the Apostles through the lens of Jesus’ commission to forgive in the Gospel, we realize that we are all co-responsible for facilitating the work of reconciliation so that there are “none in need” among us.
Tying the three readings together, we realize that identifying as a disciple of Jesus Christ is not simply a matter of whether you believe or you don’t. Rather, it is about what we do with our belief.
Does our belief that Jesus Christ suffered, died, and rose from the dead infuse and inform every aspect of our lives?
Does it make us, as the First Reading from Acts details, “of one heart and mind” with our community?
Does that belief fuel us to ensure that “there is no needy person among” us?
Can we become the living proclamation of Doubting –
no, Believing Thomas,
who gasps in breathless awe, “My Lord and my God!”
Nicole M. Perone
Nicole M. Perone
Nicole M. Perone is the National Coordinator of ESTEEM, the faith-based leadership formation program for Catholic students at colleges and universities across the United States. ESTEEM is a partnership between Leadership Roundtable and Saint Thomas More Catholic Chapel and Center at Yale University.
Nicole previously served as the Archdiocesan Director of Adult Faith Formation for the Archdiocese of Hartford. She holds a Master of Divinity from Yale University. Her Bachelor of Arts in Theology with double minors in Italian and Catholic Studies was bestowed by Loyola University Maryland, where she graduated summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa.
In 2018, Nicole was a delegate to the Pre-Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment, and served on the writing committee for the final document. Her work has been published by Catholic News Service, America Media, The Jesuit Post, and US Catholic.
Nicole is the chair of the Board of Governors for the National Institute for Ministry with Young Adults, and a member of the Board of Directors of the All Africa Conference: Sister to Sister. She also sits on the National Advisory Council for the NeXt Level initiative of the Center for FaithJustice.
Nicole lives in Milford, Connecticut, USA, with her husband John Grosso (the director of digital media for the Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut) and their Golden Retriever, Ellie.
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