Some of the Apostles have nicknames in the Bible. James and John are referred to as “the sons of thunder.” There was a “zealot,” a “just,” a “greater,” and a “lesser.” Poor Thomas was called “doubting.” It has stuck to him down through the ages because he missed out on a visitation from our Lord. I find it interesting that we don’t refer to Peter this way. Peter had the faith to step out of the boat in the storm but, in a moment of doubt, sank into the water. Peter had the faith to proclaim Jesus as the Son of God but, when contemplating the cross, became a Satan in his rebuke. Peter had the faith to declare his loyalty to Jesus to the last but, when confronted, denied Him three times. Peter could very easily be called “doubting.”
Suffering the nickname “doubting” tends to overshadow Thomas’s other great qualities. Among the Apostles, he is steadfast in his loyalty. He is direct in his speech and very brave. Where Jesus goes, Thomas goes—even into great danger. Preparing to go to Lazarus, our Lord’s disciples pointed out the enmity of the Jews and the danger of the mission. Thomas remarked, “Let us also go to die with him” (John 11:16).
Where was Thomas when the resurrected Jesus came? John’s Gospel records that he was not with the others who were behind locked doors for fear of the Jews (John 20:19). Scripture doesn’t tell us where he was, only where he wasn’t. In a way, it almost implies he wasn’t as fearful as the others. He was out while they were hidden away inside. When they came to him afterward, Scripture doesn’t say they told him Jesus was alive and well. It says they told him, “We have seen the Lord” (John 20:25). Thomas remarked, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). His reply to them may not be so much an expression of doubt in our Lord as doubt in them. Are they delusional? Did they see a ghost? He was a man who needed proof. He didn’t want to see an apparition of Jesus. He wanted to touch His body and know He is real.
The climax of the story shows the divine mercy of our Lord. What he asked of our Lord, was provided in His compassion to relieve Thomas’s misery. He who had been loyal and brave returned to the Apostles and joined them in their room. Jesus came and spoke to him directly. He invited Thomas to touch His hands and to put his hand into His side. These are the hallmarks of Him who was called “Jesus the crucified” (Matt 28:5) by the angel at His resurrection. What a reward for Thomas’s loyalty to Him! See how He loves His own! Thomas cries out, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). No disbelief remains. He is humbled. How much more will our Lord provide for our faith who have not seen Him yet believe!
From His side had flowed blood and water when pierced by the lance of St Longinus (John 19:34-35). Ezekiel had foreseen this river of life which would flow from the heart of the New Temple in the coming age (Ez 47). Jesus is the New Temple (John 2:19-21) and those who believe in Him have rivers of living water within them (John 7:38). The blood which flowed is the life of His own flesh (Lev 17:11). We are washed clean in the waters of Baptism and participate in the life of Christ through His eucharistic body and blood. The divine mercy of our Lord is His life given for us and transmitted through the Sacraments of the Church!
All but one of the Apostles suffered horrific deaths and it’s hard to find saints who didn’t also suffer. Suffering is part of our identity in communion with our Lord. Visit an art gallery with a collection of religious themes… you will see the suffering of the saints. As Jesus is called “the crucified” so might James be called “the thrown down” or Peter be called “the inverted crucified” or Joan of Arc be called “the burned.” Most stories of the lives of the saints recount their suffering. Suffering for the Kingdom becomes part of our identity.
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church… (Col 1:24).
When we doubt and question our faith or encounter challenges, I have to think that spiritual wounds form and scars develop. When we fast and subject ourselves to mortifications, they leave a mark. They become reminders. Years later, we can feel these wounds and experience the longings we felt… and the answers we received. The deeper our questions and devotions, the greater the reminders. They may be like the scars to our physical bodies… reminders of battles fought.
I want to reflect on the story of St Bademus in this regard.
St. Bademus (d. 376 A.D.) was a wealthy and noble citizen of Bethlapeta in Persia. Desiring to give himself completely to God, he gave away his wealth and founded a monastery where he led a life of prayer and austerity. His sanctity was known to all, and he trained his monks to progress in devotion, virtue, and love of God. One day he and seven of his monks were abducted during the Christian persecution by King Sapor of Persia. He was chained in a dungeon for four months and whipped daily for his faith. He suffered his tortures for Christ and triumphed over them with patience and joy. One day a Christian prince named Nersan was also put into the dungeon, and, seeing the torments he would endure, apostatized from the faith in order to be released. To prove his conversion, the king ordered Nersan to slay St. Bademus on the spot. Bademus, after declaring his willingness to die for Christ, also warned Nersan of the account he would have to give to God for his actions. Nersan, timid and fearful, then killed Bademus with several awkward and misplaced blows. The pagans who were present admired the abbot’s holy and resigned death, while abhorring the king’s cruelty. (Saint of the Day)
The world might pity poor Bademus in his “misfortune.” The world would see a life wasted and a painful death after horrible persecution. Those things occurred… but so did piety, sacrifice, and faithful service to an eternal Kingdom. I pity poor Nersan. He was offered an opportunity for greatness in the Kingdom of God and faltered in his faith. This is a story with triumph and despair. The triumph belongs to Bademus. Nersan despaired and failed.
When I picture the communion of saints, I picture old veterans showing off their scars to their compatriots. “This one I got serving with…”; “This one came from standing between the enemy and…”; “This one is from the time we liberated…”; and “I got this when I was attacked…”. We may have that type of banter in Heaven when we look back on our time here in the Church Militant. Even in His glorious body, our Lord shows His wounds from crucifixion. We who have been saved by those wounds, love them. I think He loves our scars as well—won in service to His Kingdom. Each one will tell a story. Each one will speak of God’s glory. Each one will be cherished for what it means in our life of faith.
We are all on a journey through this valley of tears. We stumble. We fall. We are attacked. We are lonely. We experience joy through tribulation. We battle against evil and our own concupiscence. We will be scarred by the end of it—physically and spiritually. Through it all, our Lord will be with us (Matt 28:20). He knows what we need before we even ask… but in our asking we acknowledge His providence. We remind our bodies and spirits who is Lord of our lives and eternity. He is the one who has gone before us—suffered everything we can suffer—and He bears the visible marks of His suffering as a trophy of His triumph. We share in His triumph when we unite our suffering to His and do all we may for the glory of God.