St Gregory the Great once said that the ‘disbelief of Thomas has done more for our faith than the faith of the other disciples’.
Not only do we have the wonderfully told narrative in John’s Gospel of Thomas Dydimus’ disbelief, but we have the almost certain knowledge that Thomas went on to perform incredible missionary endeavors even to India, rendering our colloquial title "Doubting Thomas" an unfair description of the man.
From the fourth century historian, Eusebius of Caesarea, we have a quotation from Origen of Alexandria (AD 184-253) stating that ‘according to tradition, [Parthia] was allotted to Thomas’ (3.1.2). At the time of Thomas, the Indo-Parthian Empire covered parts of the northwest of India. In Chennai (formerly Madras) there is to this day the St Thomas Cathedral Basilica in commemoration of him. Pope John Paul II visited this cathedral in 1986.
In a 2006 Wednesday audience, Pope Benedict XVI pointed out that in the gospels Thomas is actually depicted as one of the most eager of the apostles. When Jesus makes the decision to go to Bethany in order to raise Lazarus, coming frighteningly close to Jerusalem, it was Thomas who said to the others: ‘Let us go too, and die with him’ (John 11:16). Thomas actually reveals to us an important truth of the spiritual life, Benedict said: ‘the most important thing is never to distance oneself from Jesus’.
He went on:
The Apostle Thomas' case is important to us for at least three reasons: first, because it comforts us in our insecurity; second, because it shows us that every doubt can lead to an outcome brighter than any uncertainty; and, lastly, because the words that Jesus addressed to him remind us of the true meaning of mature faith and encourage us to persevere, despite the difficulty, along our journey of adhesion to him.
The experience of doubt should not be what defines the apostle Thomas for us. The doubt, as it is communicated to us in the Gospel, was a temporary thing, one that was quickly transformed into a profound profession of belief: ‘My Lord and my God!’ (John 20:28). It was that profession that Thomas carried with him to foreign and distant countries.
St Thomas the Apostle, pray for us that we may have your desire to stay close to Jesus no matter what the cost.
The Catholic Church celebrates the feast of St Thomas the Apostle on 3 July.
Melbourne Catholic15 March 2023
Melbourne Catholic14 March 2023