Feast Day of St. Thomas the Apostle

3 July 2017

John Paul II Pastoral Centre

Dear Archbishop Exner, Bishop Monroe and brothers in the priesthood:

Introduction

On this feast of the Apostle Thomas, it is a joy for us is to be able to thank the good Lord for all that 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 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 that the Church has asked of him: from teaching moral theology, to serving as Bishop of Kamploops (1974-1982), Archbishop of Winnipeg (1982-1991) and as Archbishop herein Vancouver (1991-2004).

 

He has “tended the flock of God in his charge” (1 Pet 5:2) with the determination of Jesus, the zeal of the Apostles and the gentleness of Mary. He has proclaimed the word in season and out of season, and always with a magnanimous heart, with the heart (cf. 2 Tim 4:2) of a Pastor who loves the flock entrusted to his care.

Last week, at the Vigil Mass for Sts. Peter and Paul, we read of Peter’s final and definitive call to follow the Lord. Fixing his gaze on the Apostle, Jesus asks him only one thing: “Do you love me?” “Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you” (cf. John 21:15‑19). In this question and answer are revealed the foundation of all shepherding in the Church, because only through the pastor’s love for Jesus that he is able to tend his sheep through his priests.

Archbishop, we give thanks to the good Lord that you have kept our gaze focussed on Jesus, and for all that you have done to contribute with vigour and wisdom to the spiritual growth of the People of God whom you have always loved.

Gospel

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?

“Doubting” Thomas and  Conditional Belief

 

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 . . .

Jesus’ Response to Thomas’s Struggle

What is most touching, most “merciful” in this Gospel account is that, despite the arrogance of Thomas’s demand for “proof” that 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.”[1]

 

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.”

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 that 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 that the signs that confirm Jesus’ identity are now above all his wounds, in which he reveals to us how much he loved us.”[2]

The Apostle’s response to such love was to say: “My Lord and my God!”  The One whom he had called “my Lord” during his public ministry is now also “my God” (Jn 20:28). He is one and the same! His is the most splendid profession of faith in the whole of the New Testament: “My Lord and my God!” (Jn 20:28).

 

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 that Jesus is the Son of the living God (cf. Jn 20:21).

Conclusion

And now as we continue this Eucharist, we too can join with Archbishop Exner saying, “my Lord, and my God,” as he has done for 60 years when through our unworthy hands the Lord Jesus becomes present in our midst to unite us more closely to himself and to one another.

 

+ J. Michael Miller, CSB

Archbishop of Vancouver

[1] Francis, Homily (7 April 2013), 2.

[2] Benedict XVI, General Audience (27 September 2006).


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