Apostle and Martyr
(† First Century)
St. Thomas was a fisherman, born in Galilee. The divine Saviour received him among His Apostles, to announce His Gospel to the world, and to convert mankind. From the time that he was chosen to so high an office, Thomas followed his beloved Master everywhere, and feared no danger. One day, when Jesus spoke of going to Judaea, to awaken Lazarus from the dead, some of His disciples opposed Him, saying: “Rabbi, the Jews but now sought to stone Thee, and goest Thou thither again?” They probably feared that they would have to suffer with Him. Thomas, however, more courageous than the others, said: “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.” By these words the Apostle manifested that no fear of death would separate him from Christ; and that, rather than leave Him, he would die with Him. It is true that later, with other disciples, he left Him on the Mount of Olives, when He was taken prisoner by the Jews; but he returned soon, and joined the rest of the Apostles.
On the day of His resurrection, Christ appeared to them. Thomas, however, was not with them. When they told him afterwards, that they had seen the Lord, he doubted, and said: “Except I shall see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” By this, Thomas meant that he did not believe the resurrection of the Lord, although he had several times heard from the lips of Jesus, not only a prophecy of His sufferings and death, but also of His resurrection; and although the Apostles and several pious women had repeatedly assured him that they had seen the risen Lord. The Holy Fathers say that Christ permitted this unbelief in Thomas, not only that from it we might learn our own weakness, but also that all who believe in Him might be so much better instructed in the mystery of His resurrection, and strengthened in their belief in it. Hence, St. Gregory writes: “The unbelief of Thomas has been more useful to our belief than the belief of the other disciples of the Lord, who, without hesitation, received the news of His resurrection,” because the unbelief of Thomas gave occasion for new proofs of the resurrection of Christ.
The eighth day after that event, Christ came into the hall where Thomas was with the other Apostles, and greeted them with the words: “Peace be unto you.” Then, turning to Thomas, He said: “Put in thy finger hither, and see my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and put it into my side; and be not faithless, but believing.” What Thomas must have felt at these words, and at seeing his risen Saviour, each one may picture to himself. He saw himself suddenly convinced, not only of the resurrection, but also of the omniscience of his dear Master. With shame and fear at the remembrance of his fault, but also with love and confidence at the thought of the meekness of the Saviour, he touched, with deep veneration, the holy wounds, and exclaimed: “My Lord and my God!” In these few words he repented of his unbelief, and at the same time made a confession of his faith, in presence of those whom he had scandalized by his obstinacy. He remained until his end, constant in his belief; and, after the descent of the Holy Ghost, announced, not only the glorious resurrection of the Lord, but also the other mysteries and articles of the faith.
St. Thomas passed some time in Judaea, preaching the Gospel, and then went into distant countries, inhabited by savage races, as Parthia, Media, Persia, Hyrcania, and came, at last, to India. In all he preached the Gospel of the Lord, notwithstanding the manifold difficulties which the Evil One placed in his way, through the enemies of the faith, and the numerous persecutions which he everywhere endured. How many thousand souls this holy Apostle converted to Christ is known only to Him from whom nothing is hid. The many miracles which he almost daily performed, persuaded the people that the faith which he preached was truly divine: hence his success with the most embittered pagans. He made the largest number of converts in India. This immense territory he traversed in every direction, and established Christianity in it so firmly, that traces of it were found there in the sixteenth century, fifteen hundred years after his death. Even in China, indubitable signs of it were discovered. He erected many churches, and placed Christian teachers in them, that the faith he had personally preached during his life might be preserved after his death.
At the building of the church at Meliapor, one of the chief cities of India, a wonderful event took place. The sea had cast ashore a very large tree, which the king desired to make use of for the palace he was just erecting. But neither men nor many elephants could move the tree. The holy Apostle, full of trust in the Almighty, offered to draw the immense burden all alone, if the king would make him a present of it for the Christian church he was about to build. The king consented, and St. Thomas, loosening his girdle, tied the end of it to one branch of the tree, made the sign of the Cross, and drew the tree away from the place where it was lying. All present were greatly astonished at this miracle, and many were converted, and assisted the Apostle in building the church. In this church the Saint erected a cross of stone, which, it is said, is still to be seen at this day. Upon this cross he engraved the following words: “When the sea will have reached this spot, men will come from Europe to propagate the faith which I began to preach.” The sea was, at that time, far off, but at the time when St. Francis Xavier landed there, it had reached the cross, and the prophecy was fulfilled.
The idolatrous priests who could not contradict the faith which St. Thomas preached, and which he verified by so many miracles, were enraged at his success, as they lost considerably in temporal goods by the conversions that took place. They therefore endeavored to arouse the king’s wrath against him, or to make away with him in some other manner. Some write that they persuaded the king to pronounce his death-sentence, and that he was shot dead with arrows. Others relate that the Brahmins themselves took the life of the holy Apostle. They had ascertained that the Saint went every day, towards evening, to a cross which he himself had erected, and that he remained there a long time in prayer. This gave them a favorable opportunity to vent their wrath upon him. They came together silently to the place where, on bended knees, the Saint was saying his prayers. One of them thrust a lance into him so violently that he sank upon the ground; after which, the others continued to beat him and to trample on him until all signs of life ceased.
When St. Francis Xavier came to India, the signs of blood were still to be seen on the cross where this murderous deed was committed; and more than once drops of blood appeared on this cross during the celebration of Mass, when crowds of people were present. St. Xavier, shortly after his arrival in India, went to the tomb of St. Thomas, and passed many days and nights there in prayer. He begged God fervently to bestow upon him the Spirit and zeal of this holy Apostle, that he might be able to restore the Christian faith which St. Thomas had preached there, but which had gradually been entirely exterminated. Before undertaking any important work, he went, if possible, to the tomb of St. Thomas; and when this was impossible, he invoked the holy Apostle’s intercession, and endeavored to follow his example in all things.
I. St. Thomas, for three years, accompanied Christ our Lord; was present at His divine instructions; saw the many miracles He wrought; and yet became incredulous and remained so for eight days, and might have remained still longer, had not Christ mercifully restored his faith. Go, O man, and build upon your own strength, or if you have lived piously for some time, imagine you are secure against falling! Oh! how foolish, how presumptuous you are! That which happened to an apostle may surely happen to you. The sad fall of our holy Apostle, ought not, however, to make you despondent or fearful; it ought only to incite you not to trust too much in your own strength, but to walk continually in the fear of the Lord, and to pray to Him daily, that He may give you the grace not to offend Him, but to remain constant in His service If you remain continually in the fear of the Lord, you will walk carefully and not fall into any great sin. For, it is written: “The fear of the Lord is unto life; and he shall abide in fulness without being visited with evil,” (without falling into sin.) (Proverbs, xix.) Tertullian writes: “Fear is the foundation of our salvation. Whoever fears is careful. Through fear we shall become careful, and through carefulness we shall be saved. Whoever is careful is sure.” If we cease to fear God, then we are near falling, even if we have reached the highest pinnacle of perfection. This the Holy Ghost indicates in the following words: “Unless thou hold thyself diligently in the fear of the Lord, thy house shall quickly be overthrown.” (Eccles. xxvii.)
II. Thomas is called unbelieving by Christ, although he disbelieved only one article, the resurrection. Hence, it is clear that he who doubts, or rejects only one article of faith, cannot be counted among true Catholics, although he believes all the others. A Catholic must believe every truth revealed by the Almighty, be it great or small, as God cannot fail either in small things or great. The offence which we do to God by denying even the smallest article of faith, is as great as if we denied an important one, or all of them together; for, it is just as if we said: God has been deceived, or He has deceived us in revealing this article. Whether this is said of great and important articles, or of one that is small, makes but little difference; or if we desire to make a difference, we must say that it is a greater offence to God to ascribe to Him a fault in a small matter than in a great; for, what can be more blasphemous than to maintain that the Almighty has been deceived in a trifling matter, or that He intends to deceive us? They should ponder on this, who sometimes entertain doubts about an article of faith, or even go so far as to say that in some matters, they agree with non-Catholics, and consider them right. These are no longer Catholics. Their faith is lost; and if they do not repent, as St. Thomas did, they will go to perdition, because they are incredulous. They are disobedient who obey nine of the Commandments but not the tenth. What is the fate of the incredulous? Christ Himself pointed it out when He said: “Who believes not in the Son, will not see life, but the wrath of God will remain with him.” (John viii.)
Lives of the Saints: Compiled from Authentic Sources with a Practical Instruction on the Life of Each Saint, for Every Day in the Year by Rev. F. X. Weninger. Permissu Superiorum. New York: P. O’Shea, Publisher, 67 Barclay Street and 42 Park Place .1876.