By CAROLE BRESLIN
There are so many saints named St. Thomas that it is a common practice to call them all by more than Thomas, such as Thomas à Becket, Thomas Aquinas, Thomas More, or any one of the more than 30 others listed in the 1981 edition of Butler’s Lives of the Saints. (I always felt sorry for the good apostle named Judas [Jude] because the other Judas, the betrayer, rather ruined it for him since Judas became a name associated with a person of evil and betrayal.)
It is somewhat curious that St. Thomas the Apostle, about whom there is little known, has had so many famous saints named after him.
Although Thomas is not mentioned much in the first three Gospels, he played significant roles in St. John’s Gospel. In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Thomas is only mentioned when the list of the twelve apostles is recorded. In St. John’s Gospel, however, we find a clearer picture of his nature. The incidents bring to light what may be the two most well-known passages in Holy Scripture.
History has provided little information on the origin of St. Thomas the Apostle except that he was most likely from Galilee and of common birth. His name in Greek, Didymus, is the equivalent of the Syriac name which means twin. However, no evidence has been found that he had a twin.
Thomas seems to have been something of a skeptic. As later events would demonstrate, he had to be thoroughly convinced before he accepted the statements that people made.
In the Gospel of John, as mentioned previously, he is associated with two famous lines of Holy Scripture. In the 11th chapter of the Gospel of John, a messenger arrived to tell Jesus that Lazarus was ill. His sisters begged Jesus to come and cure him. Even though Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, He hesitated and delayed His journey.
Ultimately, He informed His disciples that they would go to Bethany. Thomas spoke up. They all knew that the Jewish leaders wanted to do away with Jesus. Naturally they did not want Him to die. However, supernaturally, Thomas had another idea. Rather than trying to convince Jesus not to go and risk death — since Peter was so soundly rebuked for suggesting avoidance of His destiny — Thomas turned to the other eleven and exclaimed, “Let us go, that we may die with him!”
Such love he had for Jesus — for His merciful love and wisdom — that he wanted to die with Him. The twelve went with Jesus but Jesus did not face an immediate threat at that time. Instead He stunned those present in Bethany when He raised Lazarus from the dead, which turned out to be the last straw for the elders who immediately began to finalize the plans for His death.
A few days later, Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with the apostles. During the last discourse which John has recorded in such marvelous detail, Jesus told the apostles that they could not go where He was going but that He would prepare a place for them. Jesus told them, “Where I go you know.”
To this Thomas responded by asking the question, “Lord, we do not know where you are going and how can we know the way?” (John 14:5).
Then our Lord turned to Thomas and said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
So much of evangelization and catechesis is based upon these words: The way, the truth, and the life. The Holy Scriptures are the word of God and the Holy Eucharist is the substance of God. Surely our Lord could have proclaimed this truth without the prodding of Thomas, but by God’s Providence, it was Thomas who was not afraid to admit his ignorance of these most profound issues.
Thank you, St. Thomas, for showing us that we should not be afraid to ask.
In chapter 20 of St. John’s Gospel, our Lord had risen from the dead and had appeared to the ten apostles in the Upper Room where the Last Supper had been held. For some reason, Thomas was not there. When the other apostles related the visit that Jesus had paid to them, Thomas does not believe. Forever after the name “doubting Thomas” has been given to those who do not believe a statement of fact.
When our Lord appeared again, Thomas was present. It is hard to discount the Resurrection when it is so clearly demonstrated by Thomas’ skeptical reaction at first and then his bold proclamation of faith when he saw our Lord and Jesus invited Thomas to place his fingers in the holes of the nails and his hand in His side.
By Thomas’ expressing his doubt of Christ actually rising from the dead and then being convinced that it was true, the Bible shows us that their faith was not credulous but very credible — that there are reasonable grounds for believing in the Resurrection.
Thomas simply says it all, “My Lord and My God.” Words that echo down through the centuries at the elevation of the Host during the consecration of the Mass.
Thomas is mentioned again as one of those at the Sea of Galilee when Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves Him.
“There were together Simon Peter and Thomas, called the Twin, and Nathanael, from Cana in Galilee and the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples” (John 21:2).
The last time Thomas is mentioned in the Bible took place just after the Ascension. He was among those named who were in the Upper Room once again praying as instructed for the coming of the Holy Spirit before Pentecost. “And when they entered the city, they mounted to the upper room where were staying Peter and John, James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alpheus, and Simon the Zealot, and Jude, the brother of James” (Acts 1:13).
Little documentation of the rest of Thomas’ life exists. However, there seems to be a common consensus that he went to Asia to spread the Gospel. Several independent accounts confirm he definitely went to India. Even Catholic Indians talk of the heritage left by St. Thomas. Most likely Thomas preached the Gospel to the Parthians, Medes, Persians, and Hyrcanians.
He ended his days when he was martyred in India. On July 3 the Church celebrates the Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle.
Dear St. Thomas, thank you for your credible faith. Pray for us that we may not shrink from proclaiming the word of God to all far and near. When we doubt, obtain for us the grace of being confirmed in our faith. May we always be quick to humbly say, “My Lord and my God.” Amen.
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(Carole Breslin home-schooled her four daughters and served as treasurer of the Michigan Catholic Home Educators for eight years. For over ten years, she was national coordinator for the Marian Catechists, founded by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)