Several of the Resurrection accounts stress that Jesus showed the disciples His wounds. On one level we can understand that He was trying to make clear to them that the same Christ who was crucified stood before them; He was not a ghost or an apparition or simply someone who looked like Jesus.
When Christ rose, He took up His same, true body, but it now manifested a perfected glory. When we rise on the last day, the same will be true of our bodies. Why, then, were Christ’s wounds visible in His glorified body? Are not wounds and scars inconsistent with a glorified body?
St. Thomas Aquinas provides five reasons that Christ’s wounds are fitting in His glorified body. His reflections, from the Summa Theologiae III, Q. 54, Art. 4, are beautiful and poignant. St. Thomas’ words are presented below inbold, black italics, while my remarks appear inplain red text.
It was fitting for Christ’s soul at His Resurrection to resume the body with its scars. In the first place, for Christ’s own glory. For Bede says on Luke 24:40 that He kept His scars not from inability to heal them, “but to wear them as an everlasting trophy of His victory.” Hence Augustine says (De Civ. Dei xxii): “Perhaps in that kingdom we shall see on the bodies of the Martyrs the traces of the wounds which they bore for Christ’s name: because it will not be a deformity, but a dignity in them; and a certain kind of beauty will shine in them, in the body, though not of the body.”
Christ’s wounds are a dignity not a deformity, a sign of love not of loss, an indication of obedience not of onerousness. Through His wounds the Lord can say, “Here is what the world did to me, yet I live. Here is the cost of your redemption and the lavishness of my love.”
Secondly, to confirm the hearts of the disciples as to “the faith in His Resurrection” (Bede, on Luke 24:40).
This is what theologians refer to as “continuity.” The wounds demonstrate that the body that died on the cross is the same one the disciples see standing before them. Jesus has not taken up or fashioned a new body or a similar one; He is truly risen. The Greek word for resurrection is anastasis, which literally means “to stand again.” The word “resurrection” means the same thing: re (again) + surrexit (he stands). None of this would be true if a different body were before them, no matter how similar. Thus, Christ’s wounds confirm the truth of the resurrection.
Thirdly, “that when He pleads for us with the Father, He may always show the manner of death He endured for us” (Bede, on Luke 24:40).
Beautiful! The picture here is of the Son, Jesus, showing His wounds to His Father and saying, “See how I have loved them, Father. Have mercy on them.”
The Book of Hebrews says, Consequently, Jesus is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself (Heb 7:25-27).
Fourthly, “that He may convince those redeemed in His blood, how mercifully they have been helped, as He exposes before them the traces of the same death” (Bede, on Luke 24:40).
To those who doubt the Lord’s love or His understanding of our trials, Christ’s wounds speak tenderly and clearly of His love and of the price He was willing to pay for us. His wounds are more eloquent testimony than any words could be. Is God merciful? Does God understand or care at all about our condition? Look to the wounds of Christ; dwell in them; take shelter in them.
Lastly, “that in the Judgment Day He may upbraid them with their just condemnation” (Bede, on Luke 24:40). Hence, as Augustine says (De Symb. ii): “… So will [Christ] show His wounds to His enemies, so that He who is the Truth may convict them, saying: ‘Behold the man whom you crucified; see the wounds you inflicted; recognize the side you pierced, since it was opened by you and for you, yet you would not enter.’”
Such powerful and moving word, in this case from St Augustine. There is also a refutation of the idea that God is simply harsh on Judgment Day. In effect, He will say, “I endured suffering from you out of love for you. When I was on the cross, the soldier pierced my side. My heart was literally opened for you and still you would not enter. What more could I have done than to allow your own sins to be your redemption? Still you refused.”
In spite of receiving lifelong graces and unmerited favors and blessings, in spite of God’s call echoing in their depths, many still refuse God’s offer. It is a tragedy that some hearts are so hardened. Christ’s wounds testify to the justice of God’s only (and final) recourse: allowing them to live apart from Him. Accepting the choice of their free will, God’s last act is simply to recognize their refusal and say, “you would not enter.”
This Sunday’s Gospel speaks to the necessity of becoming witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection Jesus. It begins with the necessary foundation of the Church’s proclamation: The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon! (Luke 24:34) This solemn declaration forms the doctrinal certitude of the resurrection. On this foundation of the truth, the personal witness of every Catholic must be built. In this gospel we see how the Lord confirms His resurrection through the teaching authority of the Church, confirms the apostles in its truth, clarifies their faith, and then commissions them to be witnesses. Let’s see how the Lord does this.
I. The Certainty of the Resurrection– And [the disciples from Emmaus] rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.
In the early hours of the first Easter Sunday, the news began to circulate that Jesus was alive and had been seen. These reports were at first disbelieved or at least doubted by the apostles. They dismissed reports from both women and men. Several women, including Mary Magdalene, had seen Jesus alive. St. John had seen the empty tomb and had “believed.” And though Luke does not mention it here, Mark records that when the disciples returning from Emmaus first sent word they had seen Jesus, they too were at first disbelieved (Mk 16:13).
As we pick up the story that evening, there is a sudden change, a declaration by the apostles that the Lord has truly risen!
What causes this change? After the early evening report from the disciples returning from Emmaus, Peter slipped away, perhaps for a walk. According to both Paul (1 Cor 15:5) and Luke (Lk 24:34), the risen Lord then appeared to Peter privately, prior to making Himself known to any of the other apostles. Peter reports Jesus’ appearance to the others and it is at this point that the resurrection moves from being doubted to being the official declaration of the community, the Church. The official declaration is worded as follows: The Lord has truly risen, and he has appeared to Simon!” (Luke 24:34)
Did the women’s and the laymen’s declarations mean nothing? Of course not. Indeed, the Lord later upbraids the apostles for being so reluctant to accept the testimony of the others (Mk 16:14). He calls them “hard of heart” for this reluctance, especially given that He had said He would rise on the third day. Even to this day the Lord often presents apparitions of Mary, the saints, or Himself to the faithful. The clergy must carefully discern such actions, not quickly believing or disbelieving them. However, no apparition or devotion (e.g., the Divine Mercy Chaplet) can become official teaching of the Universal Church until the Church, in union with Peter’s successor, rules it worthy of belief.
This is even more the case with a dogma like the resurrection. It becomes an official teaching when proclaimed so by Peter and his successors. Pope Benedict, writing as Joseph Ratzinger, sees an ecclesiological dimension to Peter’s special role in causing the resurrection to go from being merely attested to being “true indeed.”
… This indication of names [Cephas and then the Twelve], … reveals the very foundation of the Church’s faith. On the one hand “the Twelve” remain the actual foundation stone of the Church, the permanent point of reference. On the other hand, the special task given to Peter is underlined here. … Peter’s special witnessing role is confirmation of his commission to be the rock on which the Church is built. … So, the resurrection account flows naturally into ecclesiology. … and it shapes the nascent Church [Jesus of Nazareth Vol 2., pp. 259-260].
So, the resurrection is now officially declared by the Church; it is certain and true. Faith is a way of knowing. Our faith in the Church as stated in the Creed (I believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church) leads us to the certain knowledge of the resurrection by the Church’s dogmatic declaration: The Lord has truly risen, and he has appeared to Simon!” (Luke 24:34)
However, even though the faith is a communal and official declaration of the Church through the College of Apostles with Peter as its head, it cannot remain simply this. Faith must reach every member on a personal level. It is not enough for us to say, “Peter says …,” or “The Church says …,” or “Scripture says …,” or “My mother says …” We must also be able to add our own voice to the witness of the Church. We must be able to say, “Jesus is risen; it is true! What the Church has always taught, I, too, have experienced. All her teachings and doctrines, all that the Lord has taught and revealed is true because in the laboratory of my own life I have tested them and found them to be true!”
Thus, we must stay with these disciples in their journey to experience the proclamation of the Church: “The Lord has truly risen, and he has appeared to Simon!”
II. The Contact with the Resurrection – While they were still speaking about this, he stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” But they were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost.
The truth, if we will lay hold of it, is consoling and freeing. Jesus, in the truth of His resurrected glory, stands before them and says, “Shalom,” peace. While the truth does liberate and bring peace, a journey is usually necessary to realize and accept this. Before we can receive the gift of truth, we must often accept the conflict that it introduces into our life.
As we all know, the truth can startle and even upset; it can break conventions and challenge what we know and think. The apostles are at first startled. It is one thing to hear and accept that the Lord is risen, that He has appeared to Peter, but it is another thing to be personally confronted with the truth.
It is one thing for them to believe with the Church and say, “The Lord is truly risen, and he has appeared to Simon!” But it is another for them to personally experience this. It breaks through everything they have ever known. Their belief is no longer abstract; it is no longer merely communal. Now they are personally in contact with the reality of it.
So, too, for us on our journey to deeper faith. It is a faith declared by the Church, but a faith that we must come to know and experience personally. Thanks be to God that the Lord is willing to help us to do so. For He does not simply shatter our notions. Rather, He helps us to “connect the dots” between His truth and what we already know.
III. The Clarification of the Resurrection – Then he said to them, “Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.” And as he said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed, he asked them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of baked fish; he took it and ate it in front of them. He said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.
The truth can often startle us; it can challenge what we know and think. For this reason, some avoid it or resist it, at least initially.
But the Lord, in His mercy, often sends us assurances. He helps us to “connect the dots” between what challenges us and what we already know, between what is new and what is ancient and attested to. Truth has a unity; greater truths build on lesser ones. God prepares us in stages for the full truth. Jesus once said to the apostles, I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth (Jn 16:12-13).
Thus, in this Gospel the Lord sets forth a kind of continuity and clarification for them. Through various methods He shows them that though gloriously risen and transformed, He who stands before them now is also the same Jesus who walked with them days before. He shows them His hands and side to indicate that He was indeed the one they saw crucified. He bids them to touch Him and see that He is not a ghost. He eats to console them and to show them that He still has fellowship with them among the living; He is no shimmering apparition from another realm. Finally, He opens their minds to the understanding of Scripture, so that they may know that all that happened is not some radical break with or tearing up of God’s plan. Rather, it is a fulfillment of all that was written, all that was prophesied.
What seems new and different is in fact in line with, in continuity with, all that has gone before. This is the new Passover that opens the way to the true, more glorious and eternal Promised Land of Heaven. This is not failure; it is fulfillment. This is not rejection of the Old Covenant; it is the ratification of it and the transposition of it to a higher and more glorious level than ever before. Moses gave them manna, but Jesus gives Himself as the true bread from Heaven. Moses gave them water, but Jesus changed water into wine and wine into His saving blood. The blood of the Passover lamb staved off a death that would come later, but the Blood of the True Lamb cancels the second death of Hell.
This is clarification. Jesus is helping them to “connect the dots” between what they have known and this startling new reality: that He has overcome torture and death. It is really He, though as the resurrection accounts indicate, He is transformed. He has not merely taken up His former life; He has elevated it to a new and mysterious level. He has a humanity that is not only risen from the dead, but is glorified. His Lordship and glory shows through as never before. He can appear and disappear at will and is able, it would seem, to alter his appearance.
So here is a truth to which we must journey: Jesus is not a mere Rabbi or ethical teacher from the ancient world; He is the Lord. He is our brother and yet also our Lord. He raised our humanity from the dead but glorified it as well. He lives at a new level, and we who are baptized into His death also rise with Him to a new and higher life (Rom 6:4). Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2 Cor 5:17).
In our journey to what is new, the Lord does not destroy what is behind, what He has done. He takes it up, fulfills it, and elevates it. His truth builds, and while what is new challenges us, it does not destroy or cancel our reason or what we have already come to know as true (if in fact it was true).
It is for us to cooperate with His grace and personally lay hold of the truth declared by the Church. The Lord does this in a way that respects our intellect and our sense of the faith. In this way our conflicts are gradually overcome. Our faith is deepened and though communal, also becomes more personal. Now we are ready to become witnesses to the Church’s unchanging declaration, “The Lord is risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” and to every other teaching that flows from this.
IV. Commissioning of the Resurrection– And he said to them, “Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”
What is a witness? Well, it is not someone who merely repeats what others have seen and heard; it is one who testifies to what he himself has seen and heard. The apostles, having contacted personally the certain truth of the resurrection proclaimed by the Church and having had it clarified for them, are now ready to go forth as witnesses. Bishops, priests, deacons, catechists, and parents must move beyond merely repeating formulas, precious and necessary thought they are (please, do not go out and invent your own religion!). That Jesus is risen from the dead is certain and true because the Church solemnly proclaims it: “He is risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!”
Next must come that moment when we allow the Lord to stand before us and affirm what He proclaims through the Church. Having this contact, we must allow Him to clarify it and then commission us to go forth as His witnesses. As witnesses, we can and must say, “The Church says that He is risen. The Scriptures say that He is risen. And I say to you that He is risen.” You are witnesses of these things.
After Christ rose from the dead, He appeared to His disciples at certain places and times, but did not seem to stay with them continuously. On the first Easter Sunday, He appeared six times in rather rapid succession: first to Mary Magdalene, then to the women at the tomb, third as the women left the tomb, fourth to Peter, fifth to the two disciples going to Emmaus, and sixth to the ten Apostles in Jerusalem (when Thomas was not present).
In His public ministry, Jesus seemed to be with His disciples nearly all the time. However, after His Resurrection he would appear, converse, and teach, but then be absent from them bodily. For example, John 20:26 says that “after eight days” Christ appeared to the disciples, suggesting that He was not otherwise present to them during that period.
While it is true that we do not have an exact calendar of His appearances and not every appearance is necessary recorded, it seems apparent that the Lord was not constantly with the disciples during the forty days prior to His ascension.
Why is this?
St. Thomas Aquinas reflected on this question and offers two basic reasons. In so doing he does not propose an absolute explanation, but rather demonstrates why it was fitting that Christ was not with them continuously during the forty days prior to the ascension. St. Thomas writes,
Concerning the Resurrection two things had to be manifested to the disciples, namely, the truth of the Resurrection, and the glory of Him who rose.
Now in order to manifest the truth of the Resurrection, it sufficed for Him to appear several times before them, to speak familiarly to them, to eat and drink, and let them touch Him. But in order to manifest the glory of the risen Christ, He was not desirous of living with them constantly as He had done before, lest it might seem that He rose unto the same life as before … [For as Bede says] “He had then risen in the same flesh, but was not in the same state of mortality as they.”
That Christ did not stay continually with the disciples was not because He deemed it more expedient to be elsewhere: but because He judged it to be more suitable for the apostles’ instruction that He should not abide continually with them, for the reason given above.
He appeared oftener on the first day, because the disciples were to be admonished by many proofs to accept the faith in His Resurrection from the very out set: but after they had once accepted it, they had no further need of being instructed by so many apparitions (Summa Theologiae, Part III, Q. 55, Art. 3).
While St. Thomas observes that there may well be appearances that were not recorded, he is inclined to hold that there were not a lot more of them. He writes,
One reads in the Gospel that after the first day He appeared again only five times. For, as Augustine says (De Consens. Evang. iii), after the first five apparitions “He came again a sixth time when Thomas saw Him; a seventh time was by the sea of Tiberias at the capture of the fishes; the eighth was on the mountain of Galilee, according to Matthew; the ninth occasion is expressed by Mark, ‘at length when they were at table,’ because no more were they going to eat with Him upon earth; the tenth was on the very day, when no longer upon the earth, but uplifted into the cloud, He was ascending into heaven. But, as John admits, not all things were written down. And He visited them frequently before He went up to heaven,” in order to comfort them. Hence it is written (1 Corinthians 15:6-7) that “He was seen by more than five hundred brethren at once … after that He was seen by James”; of which apparitions no mention is made in the Gospels (ibid).
St. Thomas strikes a balance between the Lord’s need to instruct them and summon them to faith in the resurrection, and the need for them to grasp His risen glory. Christ did not merely resume His former life. The disciples were not to cling to their former understandings of Him as Rabbi and teacher; now they were to grasp more fully that He is Lord.
Though Thomas does not mention it here, I would add another reason for the Lord’s action of not abiding with them continuously: It was fitting for Him to do this to accustom them to the fact that they would no longer see Him as they had with their physical eyes. Once He ascended, they would see Him mystically in the Sacraments and in His Body the Church. Thus, as the Lord broke the Bread and gave it them in Emmaus, they recognized Him the Eucharist (Luke 24). Thereupon He vanished from them. It was as if to say, “You will no longer go on seeing me in the same manner. Now you will experience me mystically and in the Sacraments.”
In Sunday’s Gospel, the risen Lord appeared to the Apostles, who were gathered together in one place. The fact that they were gathered in one place is not without significance, for it is there that the Lord chose to appear to them. One of them was not there and thus missed the blessing of seeing and experiencing the risen Lord. It might be said that Thomas, the absent Apostle, blocked his blessing.
Some people want Jesus without the Church. No can do. Jesus is found in His Church, among those who have gathered. There is surely joy to be found in a personal relationship with Jesus, but the Lord also announced a special presence whenever two or three are gathered in His name. It is essential for us to discover how Mass attendance is essential for us if we want to experience the healing and blessing of the Lord. This Gospel has a lot to say to us about the need to gather together to find the Lord’s blessing in the community of the Church, in His Word, and in the sacraments. Let’s look at today’s Gospel in five stages.
I. Fearful Fellowship – Notice how the text describes the gathering of the Apostles: On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews …. These men are frightened, but they are in the right place. It is Sunday, the first day of the week, and they have gathered together. The text says nothing about what they are doing, only that they have gathered, but in a sense this is all we need to know, for this will set the stage for blessings and for the presence of the Lord.
These are men who need a blessing! The locked doors signify their fear of the Jewish authorities. One may also assume that they are discouraged, lacking in hope, and maybe even angry. They have experienced the earthquake that Jesus’ crucifixion was for them. Some of the women in their midst claim to have seen Him alive, but now it is night and they have heard of no other sightings.
Thanks be to God, they have gathered. It is not uncommon for those who have “stuff” going on in their lives to retreat, withdraw, and even hide. This is probably the worst thing that one can do. It would seem that Thomas has taken this approach, though his absence is not explained. Their gathering is an essential part of the solution to everything that afflicts them. This gathering is the place in which their new hope, new hearts, and new minds will dawn.
So it is for us, too, afflicted as we are in so many ways, troubled at some times and joyful at others. It is critical importance that we gather each Sunday, each first day of the week. In every Mass the Lord prepares blessings for us. I am powerfully aware that every Mass I celebrate, especially Sunday Mass, is a source of blessings for me. Not only does God instruct me with His Word and feed me with His Body and Blood, He also helps form me through the presence and praise of others: the people I have been privileged to serve. I don’t know where I’d be if it were not for the steady support of the people of God: their prayers, their praise, their witness, and their encouragement.
The Book of Hebrews states well the purpose and blessing of our liturgical gatherings:
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the Day drawing near (Heb 10:22-25).
So the Apostles are meeting together, encouraging one another. They are about to be blessed, but the blessing occurs only in the context of the gathering, so Thomas will miss it. This blessing is only for those who are there. So it is for us, too, who also have blessings waiting but only if we are present, gathered for Holy Mass. Don’t block your blessings!
II. Fabulous Fact – Then comes the blessing: For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them (Matt 18:20). The text from today’s Gospel says, 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.”
Suddenly there is a completely new reality, a new hope, a new vision. Note that there is also a new serenity, a peace, a shalom. Not only do they see and come to experience an entirely new reality, they also receive an inner peace. Observe again that this is only for those who are present.
This is a basic purpose of the gathering we call the Sacred Liturgy. It is here that we are invited to encounter the living Lord, who ministers to us and offers us peace. Through His Word, we are increasingly enabled to see things in a new way, one that gives us hope, clarity, and confidence. Our lives are reordered. Inwardly, too, a greater peace is meant to come upon us as the truth of this newer vision begins to transform us, giving us a new mind and heart. Looking to the altar, I draw confidence that the Lord has prepared a table for me in the sight of my enemies and my cup is overflowing (Ps 23). The Eucharist is thus the sign of our victory and our election. As we receive the Body and the Blood of the Lord, we are gradually transformed into the very likeness of Christ.
Is this your experience of the gathering we call the Mass? Is it a transformative reality or just a tedious ritual?
As for me, I can say that I am being changed, transformed into a new man, into Christ, by this weekly—indeed daily—gathering we call the Mass. I have seen my mind and heart changed and renewed. I see things more clearly and have greater hope, joy, and serenity. I cannot imagine what my life would be like were it not for this gathering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, where Jesus is present to me and says, “Shalom, peace be with you.” Over the years, I am a changed man.
Yes, the Mass works. It transforms; it gives a new mind and heart. Don’t block your blessings; be there every Sunday.
III. Forgiving Fidelity – Next comes something quite extraordinary, something that simply cannot take place within a private notion of faith. The text says, “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.”
In this remarkable moment, the Lord gives the Apostles the power to forgive sin. Note that He is not simply giving them the ability to announce that we are forgiven; He is giving them the juridical power to forgive or in certain cases to withhold/delay forgiveness. This is extraordinary! Not only has He given this authority to men (cf Matt 9:8), He has given it to the very men who abandoned Him (with the exception of John) at His crucifixion. These are men who are well aware of their shortcomings. Perhaps it is only because Jesus knows of their awareness that He can truly trust them with such power.
There are those who deny that Confession is a biblical sacrament, but here it is in today’s Gospel. There are other texts in Scripture showing Confession to be quite biblical:
Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices (Acts 19:18).
Is any one of you sick? He should call the presbyters of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective (James 5:14-16).
Many consider it sufficient to speak to God privately about their sins, but the Scriptures instruct us away from such a solitary notion and bid us to approach the Church. The Lord gives the Apostles the authority to adjudicate and then to absolve or retain sins, but this presupposes that someone has first approached them for such absolution. St. Paul was approached by the believers in Ephesus, who made open declaration of their sins. The Book of James also places the forgiveness of sins in the context of the calling of the presbyters, the priests of the Church, and sees this as the fulfillment of this passage: declare your sins to one another … the prayer of the righteous man has great power (James 5:16).
Thus, again, there is a communal context for blessing, not merely a private one. I have written more on the biblical roots of Confession here: The Sacrament of Confession.
IV. Faltering Fellowship – We have already noted that Thomas blocked his blessing by not being present. The text says, 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 nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
Thomas exhibits faltering fellowship in two ways:
First, he is not with the other Apostles on resurrection evening, thus he misses the blessing of seeing and experiencing the resurrection and the Lord.
Second, Thomas exhibits faltering fellowship by refusing to believe the testimony of the Church that the Lord has risen.
One of the most problematic aspects of many people’s faith is that they do not understand that the Church is an object of faith. In the Creed every Sunday we profess to believe in God the Father and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, and to believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life. But we are not done yet. We go on to say that we believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. We know and believe what we do about Jesus Christ on the basis of what the Church hands on from the Apostles. Some say, “No, I believe in what the Bible says,” but the Bible is a book of the Church. God has given it to us through the Church who, by God’s grace, collected and compiled its contents and vouches for the veracity of the Scriptures. Without the Church there would be no Bible.
Therefore, in rejecting the testimony of the Church, Thomas is breaking fellowship and refusing to believe in what the Church, established by Christ to speak in His name (e.g. Lk 24:48; Lk 10:16; Matt 18:17; Jn 14:26; 1 Tim 3:15; inter al.), teaches. We, too, falter in our fellowship with the Church if we refuse to believe the testimony of the Church in matters of faith and morals. This a privatization of faith, a rejection of fellowship, and a refusal to gather with the Church and accept what she proclaims through her Scriptures, Tradition, and the catechism.
Note that as long as Thomas is not present, he has blocked his blessings. He must return to gather with the others in order to overcome his struggle with the faith.
V. Firmer Faith – Thomas then returns to fellowship with the other Apostles. Just as we do not know the reason for his absence, his return is also unexplained. Some may wish to chalk up his absence to some insignificant factor such as being busy, or in ill health, or some other largely neutral factor, but John seldom provides us detail for no reason. Further, Thomas does refuse to believe the testimony of the others, which is not a neutral fact.
Praise God, Thomas is now back with the others and in the proper place for a blessing. Whatever his struggle with the faith, he has chosen to work it out in the context of fellowship with the Church. He has gathered with the others. Now comes the blessing.
You know the story, but the point here is that regardless of our doubts and difficulties with the faith, we need to keep gathering with the Church. In some ways faith is like a stained glass window that is best appreciated from inside the church. From the outside there may seem very little about it that is beautiful. It may even look dirty and leaden, but once one ventures inside and adjusts to the light, one can see that the window radiates beauty.
It is often this way with the faith. I have found that I could only really appreciate some of the more difficult teachings of the Church after years of fellowship and instruction by the Church, in the liturgy and in other ways. As my fellowship and communion have grown more intense, my faith has become clearer and more firm.
Now that he is inside the room, Thomas sees the Lord. When he was outside, he did not see and so he doubted. The eyes of our faith see far more than our fleshly eyes, but in order to see and experience our blessings we must gather; we must be in the Church.
Finally, it is a provocative but essential truth that Christ is found in the Church. Some want Christ without the Church. No can do. He is found in the gathering of the Church, the ekklesia, the assembly of those called out. Any aspects of His presence that are found outside the Church are mere glimpses, shadows emanating from the Church. He must be sought where He is found, among sinners in His Church. The Church is His Body and His Bride. It is here that He is found. “Feeling” His presence while alone on some mountaintop can never compare to hearing the priest say, “Behold the Lamb of God.”
Thomas found Him, but only when he gathered with the others. It is Christ’s will to gather us and unite us (Jn 17:21). Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor (The love of Christ has gathered us in one).
Note: This Sunday is also Divine Mercy Sunday. I published a homily in the past (Perfect Mercy) with this focus.