St. Thomas: In Praise of Doubt
by Fr. Rich Andre, C.S.P.
April 23, 2017

Paulist Fr. Rich Andre preached this homily for the 2nd Sunday of Easter Sunday on April 23, 2017 at St. Austin Parish in Austin, TX. The homily is based on the day’s readings: 2:42-47; Psalm 118; 1 Peter 1:3-9; and John 20:19-31

Easter Sunday is the holiest day of the year. The Church asks us to celebrate that day as if it were eight days long, ending this weekend. We began this week with the discovery of the empty tomb. We end this week with someone not believing that Jesus has risen. Why this story? Why today?

It’s because, in the Easter season, our Sunday gospels are chosen for the purpose of mystagogia – these are the first lessons the Church wants our newly baptized and confirmed Catholic adults to hear. The very first lesson that the Church invites the neophytes – and all of us – to examine is the interplay between faith and doubt.

St. Thomas is called “doubting Thomas,” which is a real shame. Giving him such a moniker misses several of the main points of this scripture passage. Let us ask the Holy Spirit to remind of us of God’s presence, even when we doubt that God is there.

Thomas has received such a bad “rap” by modern Christians, even though he is far from unique in John’s account of the disciples’ initial reactions to Jesus’ resurrection. Mary Magdalene is the first to see the risen Christ, and she fails to recognize him until he calls her name. She tells the other disciples, but they apparently don’t believe her. They stay in the locked room, and even when Jesus appears to them, they don’t seem to understand until he shows them the wounds in his hands and his side. So why do we give Thomas such a hard time when he, like the others, doesn’t believe that Jesus is risen until he sees it for himself?

I once took a course about the proofs for God’s existence offered by the greatest philosophers of all time, including Aristotle, Plotinus, Augustine, Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, and John Duns Scotus. It was a fascinating class, but here’s what I concluded: I can’t objectively prove that God exists. I know that God exists because of my personal subjective experiences of God. But even if I told you about my experiences, they probably wouldn’t convince you that God exists. You will determine if God exists through your own experiences, not by listening to mine. If we could objectively prove that God exists, then it would cease to be an issue of faith. It would be an issue of science.

People speak as if doubt is a bad thing. They act as if “doubt” is the opposite of “faith.” I disagree. To me, faith and doubt are two sides of the same coin. If I can’t objectively prove that something is true, I must allow room for doubt. Doubt is integral to the existence of faith.  

Even the disciples who came to believe in the risen Christ allowed room for doubt: Mary Magdalene doesn’t storm off in a tiff when no one believes that she’s seen the risen Christ. In a similar way, the disciples don’t kick Thomas out of the community when he doesn’t believe that Jesus has risen: they allow him to continue to spend time with them.  

So, what happens when we don’t allow room for doubt or for questions? Things get ugly. We seem to have entered an era in our society where doubt is not allowed to have a place at the table. We’ve become overly certain about everything. An astonishing number of people are absolutely certain that they understand the complexities of our economic system. If you disagree with me about how to solve our political problems, that’s fine with me because I’m right and you’re wrong. I’ll just shout very loudly until you go away.  

Jesus, however, has a very different approach. When he appears to Thomas, Jesus doesn’t chastise him. Instead, he gives himself completely to Thomas. Since Thomas says he needs to put his fingers in the nailmarks, Jesus offers to let Thomas do exactly that.

Jesus calls us all to be evangelists, to proclaim the gospel. But perhaps Jesus’ gentle example with Thomas is a model for us. If those we know and love are not convinced about our Christian faith, that’s OK. Instead of us insisting that they come to believe in the same way that we came to believe, perhaps we would do better to take their doubts seriously. In looking at our faith from their perspective, we may be surprised at what we discover. In John’s gospel, it is Thomas who makes the most profound statement about Jesus once he comes to faith, calling him “My Lord and my God.” 

Perhaps our prayer this week can be taken from the gospel of Mark [9:24]: “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!”