On Doubting Thomas
(Acts.2:42-47; 1Pet.1:3-9; Jn.20:19-31)
In our Gospel this Sunday, Matthew gives us the story of ‘Doubting Thomas’. It’s the story of St Thomas the Apostle who is away when Jesus visits his disciples after his Resurrection. Thomas hears about this visit later on, but he refuses to believe that Jesus is alive until he actually sees Jesus and touches his wounds.
Now, was it a good thing for Thomas to have had these doubts?
Some people think that harbouring doubts is a weakness, but today I’d like to suggest that it can actually be a very good thing to be a Doubting Thomas.
Some people also think that doubt is the opposite of faith, but it’s not. The American writer Anne Lamott says that certainty is the opposite of faith. [i] ‘Certainty’, she says, ‘is missing the point entirely, (for) faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and the discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns. Faith,’ she says, ‘means reaching deeply within …’
What she’s saying is that when we’re certain about something, we tend to stop asking questions, and that prevents us from understanding more deeply.
So, doubt is an essential element of faith. The answers we get from our questions become anchors for our faith; they help make the faith our own. If we don’t work through our doubts, if we don’t make the faith our own, then we just end up borrowing someone else’s beliefs.
Many of the greatest saints lived with doubt. St John of the Cross had his ‘Dark Night of the Soul’, which he knew was a necessary process for purifying the soul. St Paul of the Cross, who founded the Passionists, also had a ‘dark night’ – it lasted for 45 years.
St Therese of Lisieux had her doubts, too, including about the existence of eternity, but these questions only served to deepen her faith. [ii]
And when St Teresa of Calcutta’s letters were published in 2007, we all discovered that she’d been suffering terrible doubts and feelings of spiritual dryness for almost 50 years. How do we explain that?
Well, they say you should be careful what you pray for, because you might just get it. In 1951 Mother Teresa prayed hard that she might share in Jesus’ suffering on the Cross. She said she wanted to drink from his chalice of pain.[iii]
Why did she do that? It’s because she loved Jesus. She wanted to be totally united with him.
Jesus must have answered her prayer, because her suffering was just like his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane; it was like his suffering on the Cross.
If we want to become more like Christ, then we need to be prepared to share his experience of doubt and pain. We need to share his understanding that genuine love is inextricably bound up with sacrifice.
St Gregory of Nyssa said that God wounds the soul: The Son is this wound, and by this wound we are opened up. [iv] And we need to be opened up, don’t we?
Our secular world demands that we think only in terms of scientific rationalism. This makes us doubt anything that’s spiritual. But God’s mind is so much bigger than the closed circle of human logic. If we want to understand the truth, the beauty and the goodness of the divine, then we need to open up our minds.
St Paul wrote, ‘The one who remains on the human level does not understand the things of the Spirit. They are foolishness for him and he does not understand because they require a spiritual experience’ (1Cor.2:14).
So, we must welcome our doubts. Here, Mother Teresa is a great gift to us. She teaches us that faith isn’t just a nice feeling. Faith is a gift; it’s a grace that needs nurturing and growth, and this takes effort.
Despite her darkness and doubts, Mother Teresa kept going. She lifted the lives of millions of people. Jesus was clearly working through her; we know this, even though she didn’t always feel it herself.
According to Fr Benedict Groeschel, who was a good friend of Mother Teresa, her darkness lifted towards the end of her life. [v] That was a great mercy.
Today is Divine Mercy Sunday. Today we focus on the tender loving and merciful heart of our God. Jesus wants a personal relationship with each of us. Not just in our heads, but deep in our hearts. Jesus is calling us to him.
But remember it’s OK to struggle with doubts. If you’re struggling with God, it’s a sure sign that you do have faith.
If you never doubt, your faith will never grow.
[i] Lamott, A. Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, New York: Riverhead Books, 2006.
[ii] Martin, J. A Saint’s Dark Night, New York Times, 29/08/2007.
[iv] Cameron, P.J., The Wounds of Jesus Play a Critical Role, Magnificat, April 2017.