“Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds.”
--William Shakespeare, Sonnet 116
Among all the figures prominent in the Passion and Easter Scriptures, your Grand Knight’s favorite is the Apostle Thomas, whose name I took at Confirmation in 1969. Then, at the age of 12, I was already considering the law as a profession and was questioning the reasoned basis for everything (whether it be parental authority or matters of faith); thus, the person of “Doubting Thomas” was highly attractive. To this day, St. Thomas the Apostle is a kindred spirit.
As any human being, St. Thomas had both admirable and flawed character traits. The Gospel of John, which from a literary and thematic standpoint emphasizes stark contrasts such as light vs. darkness, sight vs. blindness, truth vs. lies, and life vs. death, carefully identifies and contrasts St. Thomas’ good and bad traits of character. On the positive side, St. Thomas is portrayed as a man of loyalty and courage. By its 11th Chapter, the Gospel of John makes clear that it was dangerous for Jesus to preach or even appear anywhere near Jerusalem. Yet, when Jesus left for Bethany, near Jerusalem, to raise Lazarus, it was St. Thomas who loyally uttered the words, “Let us go along, to die with him.” John, 11:16.
Similarly, after the Resurrection, the Apostles were locked in a room for fear that their own deaths would soon follow. Except, that is, for St. Thomas, who the Gospel specifically says was not present when the risen Christ first appeared to the rest of the Apostles in that locked room. John, 20: 24. St. Thomas, in other words, was the only Apostle with the courage to leave the locked room in which his fellow Apostles cowered.
But St. John’s literary method of articulating stark contrasts then appears in the next verse, for when St. Thomas returned to the locked room, he was told about the Lord’s appearance. His response was a stubborn refusal to believe: “I will never believe it without probing the nail prints in his hands, without putting my fingers in the nail marks and my hand into his side.” John: 20, 25.
A World War II general once remarked that there is a fine line between courage and foolhardiness. So also is there a fine line between reasoned faith and stubbornness. St. Thomas, apparently a practical man, reacted to Jesus’ death much like a lawyer: show me the evidence!! And, the only evidence that St. Thomas possessed was that Jesus had been nailed to the Cross, had died in agony and had been buried in a tomb. Jesus was dead, along with his message. No amount of protestation by his fellow Apostles would convince St. Thomas otherwise, absent solid empirical evidence to the contrary. A week later, of course, Jesus re-appeared to the Apostles in the locked room and provided that irrefutable evidence to St. Thomas.
Shakespeare wrote that “love is not love which alters when it alteration finds.” Love is unconditional; it is not withdrawn or changed when one discovers a previously unknown flaw—an alteration—in a person upon whom love has previously been bestowed. If it were otherwise, no marriage relationship would survive.
So it is with our relationship to God and with St. Thomas’ failure of faith. For St. Thomas, faith was not faith which altered when it alteration found. With the crucifixion of Jesus, St. Thomas’ world view had been annihilated. Jesus, who St. Thomas had followed for three years, had gone from being the final, decisive Word of God’s revelation of the plan of salvation (and also, as the four Gospels’ portray it, the Apostles’ mistaken assumption that Jesus was a political leader who would finally liberate Israel from Roman military domination) to being a common corpse in the space of three hours. Finding his understanding of Jesus radically altered by the events of Good Friday, St. Thomas’ faith was altered—indeed, destroyed—and so he was bereft of faith entirely. His faith was restored only when the resurrected Christ revealed himself to St. Thomas as being far different in nature and in mission than the Apostle had previously grasped.
Scripture tells us that the name “Thomas” means “twin.” We are, indeed, twins of St. Thomas. We who have believed without seeing nevertheless tend to view God through our own preconceived lens of what God’s plan is for us and what God should be doing for us. Rather than listening and then seeing what God intends for us, we paint the picture of life ourselves. Then, when family, financial, employment or health hardships occur, which constitute “alterations” in our plan, we are tempted to allow our faith in God to be shattered, just as was St. Thomas’ faith. But as St. Thomas’ experience demonstrates, it is precisely at that point that we need to encounter Jesus in prayer again, to be converted in spirit again and to understand again that no matter what happens to us in this life, the love of God is unconditional and that “neither death nor life, neither angels nor principalities, neither the present nor the future, nor powers, neither height nor depth nor any other creature, will be able to separate us from the love of God, that comes to us in Christ Jesus, our Lord.” Romans, 8: 38-39.
Bernard A. Smith
April 15, 2012