Also called "Quasimodo Sunday," today marks the end of the "high" of Easter week, following the greatest feast day of the liturgical year. Without Easter, there would be no other feast days. Without the risen Christ, there would be no liturgical year, no Church, no Faith. It seems, then, right and good (as all of the traditions of the Church do!) that this week of great celebration ends on a note of Faith -- the answer to doubt. Not on a "low" point, but, perhaps a sobering one.
Today in the Gospel at Mass we got to hear the familiar story of Doubting Thomas. Thomas, Thomas, Thomas... I was a young child when I first heard the story of the Apostle Thomas, and the impression of a six year old still sticks with me every time I read it: an orange crayon haze of worry, shot through with red crayon whirls of embarrassment, surrounded by yellow crayon bands of sympathy. (My childhood memories are not sepia; they're crayola...)
But, forty-odd years later, I still worry for Thomas as I relive that night of Jesus' risen visit with him. I think: Oh, no! Jesus is going to be mad with Thomas! I want to hide my eyes. Then I'm embarrassed because I think: Oh dear! Jesus isn't mad, but He is disappointed in Thomas; He corrects him in front of the other Apostles. I can feel Thomas' red cheeks and the tears welling up in his eyes. Tears of love and sorrow. And, last of all, I identify with Thomas. I understand exactly how it happened -- this tight hold onto reason he feels he has to maintain; this fear to hope; this fear of the unknown.
How often have I clung to "reason" as an excuse to be timid in the expression of my Faith? Heaven must know the shallowness of this world requires less depth from me, right? How often have I feared to hope for anything more than the ordinary, spiritually? It's so much easier to live squarely in the middle of a predictable and "normal" world. One where miracles happen, but not to me. Where God stays in His Heaven and doesn't actually walk with me on the earth. Why ever would I expect such a thing? How could I believe it if someone came to me and said this was happening right now? Not in a Bible story. Not in someone's overwrought imagination. But really happening. How could I believe that? Come on.
Unless He looked into my eyes with those beautiful, loving, sad eyes and said to me: Here, Lisa...
" Let me have thy finger; see, here are my hands. Let me have thy hand; put it into my side. Cease thy doubting, and believe."
There have been very few of us in this world that have that kind of faith which has never had a moment's doubt. Even among the saints. It's true, you know. Likely those faithful who haven't recognized their doubt have just missed where they've hidden it. Because, you see, if the truth of Jesus' life and all that He revealed of life and death, heaven and hell, mercy and justice were plain to see and obvious, none of it would require our faith. Faith isn't faith unless it leaps over doubt, over improbability, over fear, over laziness, over our own selfish hearts. All the things Thomas had to overcome, too. And he did overcome it all. Just like we have to do. With Our Lord's help. Seen or unseen.
Bp. Fulton J. Sheen tells us to "believe the incredible, and you can do the impossible. It is our want of faith that holds us back, even as Peter. When did he begin to sink? The Gospel gives us the reason. He took accounts of the winds, he began reading some surveys' it was established statistically that 99.44% of mankind cannot walk on water. All of the incredulities were in the winds. When he took his eyes off Christ, Peter began to sink."
The good bishop also tells us that "the temptations of the saints were seen as opportunities for self discovery. They allowed temptations to show them the breaches in the fortress of their souls, which needed to be fortified until they would become the strongest points. This explains the curious fact about many saintly people -- that they often become the opposite of what they once seemed to be."
There you are. Though it may seem otherwise, the Gospel story of St. Thomas, the doubter, is really a story of St. Thomas the faithful. And it's our story, too.