Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB

'Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands ... I will not believe'

Voices July 30, 2017

St. Thomas, depicted in Giovanni Serodine's 16th century painting touching Jesus' wounds, declared he would not believe Christ had risen until he had seen for himself. Archbishop Miller said in a recent homily, "By placing conditions, he was, of course, negating the essential dimension of faith, which is trust." (National Museum in Warsaw)

This is an excerpt from a homily given on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of ordination of Archbishop Exner.

On this feast of the Apostle Thomas, it is a joy for us is to be able to thank the good Lord for all he has accomplished through his good shepherd, Archbishop Adam Exner, in the 60 years of his priestly ministry in the life of the Church, a ministry which began with his ordination in Rome, during the pontificate of Pius XII, on July 7, 1957.

Over these 60 years he has given himself to the Church and has carried out in exemplary fashion what his episcopal motto affirms: “to serve, as he served.” He has fulfilled what St. Peter charged the presbyters of the early Church to be: “examples to the flock”(1 Pet 5:3). And so he has been: prayerful, faithful, kind, and obedient in all the Church has asked of him—from teaching moral theology, to serving as Bishop of Kamloops (1974-1982), Archbishop of Winnipeg (1982-1991) and as Archbishop here in Vancouver (1991-2004).

Today’s Gospel selection takes us to the Sunday after the Lord’s Resurrection. All the Apostles are gathered in the upper room, this time with Thomas as well. The Evangelist wants us to put ourselves in Thomas’s shoes, like those believers at the end of the first century when the Gospel was being written: those who had not “seen” the Risen Lord. How can we believe in the Resurrection if we have not “seen” him for ourselves?

Thomas is very much a man of our age: cautious, a little skeptical, bent on wanting empirical proof to ground his convictions. It was not enough for him to trust his brothers, who told him: “We have seen the Lord” (Jn 20:25). Their testimony did not satisfy him.

Like skeptics of all times, he put conditions on his belief. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe” (Jn 20:25), he announced to his brothers. He wanted to believe, yes, but on his own terms. By placing conditions, he was, of course, negating the essential dimension of faith, which is trust. Thomas put God to the test, unwilling or unable to trust: the “unless.” I’ll believe God, if he’ll do it, if this will or will not happen .

What is most touching, most merciful in this Gospel account, is despite the arrogance of Thomas’s demand for proof Jesus is truly risen from the dead, the Lord treats him tenderly. Jesus does not abandon Thomas in his stubborn unbelief; he gives him a week’s time, he does not close the door, he waits.

Now, a week later, here is Jesus standing before Thomas, not clothed in majesty to overwhelm but with gaping wounds in his hands and his side—an image of the Christ who, in his body, the Church “is in agony until the end of time.”

He invites him to come closer, to ponder.

Jesus understands Thomas’s predicament. He does not cast him aside or scold him for his unbelief. Rather, he invites him to come closer, to ponder. And he gently says, “Do not doubt but believe” (Jn 20:27).

When Thomas was invited to touch the wounds of Christ—we don’t know if he actually did so or not—he recognized the Risen One before him was the same Jesus whom he had known and loved in the flesh, as they walked the roads of the Holy Land together. He did not recognize him from his face, but from his wounds. Thomas realized the signs that confirm Jesus’ identity are now above all his wounds, in which he reveals to us how much he loved us.

And what about us who have neither seen nor been invited to touch those wounds? Jesus answers this question: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (Jn 20:29).

In every time and place those are blessed—we are blessed—who, on the strength of the word of God proclaimed in the Church and witnessed by Christians, believe Jesus is the Son of the living God.