It’s the story that Thomas, great apostle though he was, is most remembered for: he struggles to believe. Even though he’s experienced Christ’s miracles firsthand and has devoted years of his life to be His disciple, still he cannot bring himself to believe, to have hope in what Jesus has promised. Jesus’s Resurrection seems to Thomas too good to be true, an idealized happy ending that his fellow apostles imagined to cope with the unbearable sorrow of the Crucifixion.
But Jesus’s response to Thomas reflects His great mercy. He doesn’t reprimand Thomas or let him dwell in disbelief. No, Jesus appears to Thomas and allows him to place his hand in His side. He wants Thomas to share in the joy of the Resurrection. Jesus knows our weaknesses and doubts, and He wants to heal us despite our sinfulness.
If we are determined not to believe, then no miracle can convince us otherwise. We will find a way to explain away anything, even putting our very hand in Christ’s side. Every day we are surrounded by miracles, messages of God’s love for us, but so often we ignore them. The parable of Lazarus and the rich man tells us, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31). The story of Émile Zola’s visit to Lourdes exemplifies this message. Zola was a staunch atheist who sought to prove how ridiculous it was to believe in the Marian appearances and miraculous healings at Lourdes. Zola, like Thomas, laid out seemingly impossible terms under which he would believe: instead of asking to place his hands in Jesus’s side, Zola said he wanted to see a cut finger dipped into the water at Lourdes and come out healed. The miracles he witnessed exceeded the mere healing of a finger: he saw an girl with three incurable diseases and ulcerated flesh all over her body emerge from the waters completely healthy, as well as another healing of a woman with tuberculosis. However, Zola was still unconvinced. The very thing he’d named as “impossible” had come true, but his motives were not as pure as Thomas’s. He was not open to believing, and his pride in being “right” about his own worldview blinded him from seeing the truth. Ultimately, he concluded, “Were I to see all the sick at Lourdes cured, I would not believe in a miracle.”
Doubt is a natural part of the human experience. Part of having faith is struggling to trust in a God Who is beyond our understanding. To use St. Augustine’s analogy, trying to understand God is like trying to fit the ocean into a seashell. Our minds can only hold a fraction of His infinite glory. When we experience doubt, we shouldn’t be afraid of it or push it away. Instead, with faith seeking understanding, we can seek to know more about the things that confuse us and ask Jesus to help us believe.
It’s what we do with our doubt that matters. Do we refuse to accept that there might be things beyond our own understanding, things that we can’t quantify or control? Or do we present our doubt before God, being honest about our paltry faith and asking Him to help us see and understand, to draw us deeper? If we are open to receiving Him, He will bend to meet us where we are and lead us to a greater faith. Like Thomas, we will kneel before Him and declare, “My Lord and my God.”
1. Caravaggio, The Incredulity of St. Thomas / PD-US
2. Émile Zola, self-portrait / PD-US
3. Diego Velázquez, St. Thomas / PD-US