HOMILY – FEAST OF ST. THOMAS, WEEK 13 03 – Year I
Faith, Identity, Transformation and Mission
(Eph 2:19-22; Ps 117; Jn 20:24-29)
A trip to Chenai, India, would not be complete without a visit to the tomb where tradition tells us St. Thomas is buried, after evangelizing and laying the foundations of the church in India.
This feast in his memory is multifaceted: it seals the identity of Jesus as Risen Lord and God, invites us to believe in him as Lord and God, seeks to transform us into saints, and missions us to proclaim Christ to the world.
Thomas often gets a bad rap. He is known mostly as “Doubting Thomas,” but that’s actually an unfair portrait of the apostle who may be one of the greatest unsung heroes of the New Testament.
His act of faith in Jesus confirms the identity of Jesus: “My Lord and my God.” That declaration of faith actually tops any other in the New Testament, including that of Peter and Martha who were able to confess Christ as the Messiah. On top of that, Thomas got very personal in declaring Jesus as not only Lord and God, but as “his” Lord and God.
Thomas was zealous and enthusiastic, and the first to state his willingness to follow Jesus even if it meant death (Jn 11:16). It was Thomas who asked, “Master, we do not know where you are going so how can we know the way?” (Jn 14:5). After Pentecost, Thomas travelled far and wide, ending up in India where tradition tells us he was martyred.
After all this, he is still remembered as the one who doubted. Surely the other apostles, or any one of us, would have found it hard to believe in Jesus’ resurrection if we were not there at his appearance. Given the declaration of faith he finally exclaimed, perhaps we should call him “Believing Thomas” or “Adventurous Thomas.”
Something his initial doubt reveals is the astonishing “particularity” of God’s love for him, and for each of us as well. Jesus, the Kyrios, the Risen Lord of all creation, comes to Thomas, speaks to him and invites him to put his finger in his side and hands! To think that Jesus even today loves each of us individually enough to die for us and invites us to place our finger in his wounds spiritually should blow us away, or at least lead us to marvel at how loved we are, and respond to that love with love.
The two readings also reveal to us the many implications and benefits of being so loved by Jesus. First, we can claim the gift of peace and serenity Jesus so often extended to the apostles in his appearances. That peace, flowing from Jesus’ forgiveness of the apostles denial and abandonment, is a gift of the Spirit that we can claim as followers of Jesus, no matter what negativity may surround us in our daily lives.
St. Paul, in the first reading, writes eloquently about our identity in Christ: we are citizens with the saints, members of the household of God, a holy temple in the Lord, and a dwelling place for God, all built on the foundation of the apostles (especially Peter and Paul whom we celebrated last week) and with Jesus Christ himself as the cornerstone. Truly, we have no excuse for an identity crisis now, but rather many reasons to rejoice with exultant joy!
Serge LeClerc was a keynote speaker at a Catholic education conference in Sasktaoon years ago. Born of an unwed mother considered unfit to raise a child, he was taken away and put in foster homes. Rebelling against that action, he quickly becoming a gang leader, drug addict and dealer. After being incarcerated, he had a conversion experience, gave his life to the Lord, went on to get a degree in sociology and become an outspoken MLA in Saskatchewan before he died of cancer. All through his talk, he spoke of his search for identity, and how he found he could manipulate others, even rich business people, who lacked a clear sense of their identity. For Serge, identity was very important. So it is for us – the identity of Jesus, and our identity in him.
How fitting that the psalm response for today’s liturgy is “Go out to all the world and tell the good news.” The psalm also invites us to praise the Lord and extol him, so great is his steadfast love and faithfulness that endures forever.
It is sad to see and hear about so many lukewarm Catholics in our world today, just going through the motions of religious practice. One of my brother Oblates told me of a teacher who became a Catholic just so that she could teach in the Catholic school system. As Jesus said in the scriptures, would that we were hot or cold, but because we are so lukewarm, he feels like spitting us out of his mouth! What does it take to wake up our faith and realize its power to transform our lives and our world? No wonder the late spiritual writer and teacher, Anthony de Mello, made “Wake Up!” his clarion call in almost all the talks he gave and writings he left us.
St. Eugene de Mazenod was a bit of a playboy as a youth. One Good Friday, however, while venerating the cross, it suddenly hit him full force, how loved he was by Jesus, and that transformed his life. He became a priest, devoted himself to the poor and excluded, founded the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, and when still few in numbers, responded to requests for missionaries by sending his men out to Ceylon at that time, and North America. Even when made the bishop of Marseilles, he kept his love for the poor, and connected with Christ in them. His was the faith of St. Thomas.
The Eucharist is itself a great gift not to be taken lightly. Celebrated with faith, it is an experience of God’s love as forgiveness and healing that can transform us into the Body of Christ, and apostles like St. Thomas.
May our celebration today strengthen our faith, wake us up to the priceless clear identity we have been given, and stir us to live out our faith more intensely through prayer, serving our brothers and sisters, and spreading this Good News to all, as did “Believing Thomas.”