Friday, December 21, 2012

The Faithful Doubter: St. Thomas and Preparing for the Nativity

O Dayspring, Brightness of the Light Eternal, and Sun of Righteousness: Come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.
Great O Antiphon on Magnificat for Dec. 21

In a marvelous way God's mercy arranged that the disbelieving disciple, in touching the wounds of his master's body, should heal our wounds of disbelief. The disbelief of Thomas has done more for our faith than the faith of the other disciples. As he touches Christ and is won over to belief, every doubt is case aside and our faith is strengthened. So the disciple who doubted, then felt Christ's wounds, becomes a witness to the reality of the resurrection."
From a sermon by St. Gregory the Great

On this, the longest night of the year in northern climes, we are privileged to share in the feast of St. Thomas the Apostle, which (this year) falls on a Friday in Embertide. Thus, all sorts of meanings are at play: faith, doubt, discipleship, ministry, self-denial, the Paschal Mystery, and many others.

For those who use the Daily Office, it is a time of special beauty. After fasting from the Te Deum since the start of Advent, that ancient and beautiful hymn of praise once more sounded forth this morning at Matins. As the sun set, one of the "Great O Antiphons" was used at Evensong. At the Eucharist, the Gloria in excelsis was sung, and the rich red of martyrs was used in the vestments. It is a day of festival in the midst of fast…and yet…

The richness of the liturgical offering cannot obscure the fact that ours is a troubled, dark season in the Church and Nation. Violence, fear of economic collapse, schism, and the ongoing divide of a nation and world in rapid transition all contribute to a sense that the simple act of having hope in the future—let alone believing in a God's victory over evil and death—is too much to ask for many.

For those of us who have chosen Christ, however, the challenges we face are really opportunities to turn anew to Our Lord, joining St. Thomas. For Thomas, though he had not seen the Risen Christ at first and thus doubting the testimony of the other Apostles, nevertheless comes back to be with them in prayer and fellowship. He does not let his doubt become the rejection which kills relationships and hope. Frail in his faith, he remains undaunted in his faithfulness.

As St. Gregory the Great tells us, this willingness to stay committed to the journey of faith even when his own personal understanding is strained beyond the breaking point proves to be the key to the next stage of Thomas' development as an Apostle and the means by which we all are strengthened in faith to this day by reading this account. Through him, we meet the Risen Christ in a new and very tangible way. His experience is ours: through his doubt, we are renewed in faith. Through his perseverance, we are carried on in our own trials.

The story of St. Thomas always brings us back to the centrality of the Cross and Resurrection in Christianity—even as we prepare for the Feast of the Nativity. We are reminded that at its core, the Christian faith is always an encounter with the power of the Risen Christ, God’s overturning desire for our complete transformation into the potential people we were created to be: “Partakers of the Divine Nature.”

As we look ahead towards Christmas and all that this means for us in our culture, today is an important opportunity to see the way Christ uses even our doubts and limitations—when offered to Him in faith—for good. It is this type of faith which the collect says is “never found wanting," a faith so different from the ironclad, rigid imitation so often mistaken for the genuine article.

In so doing, we can perhaps understand in a new and deeper way the significance of the Incarnation we will celebrate at Christmas, with all its embrace of our need, our brokenness, and our potential. Knowing this, we are sent forth to minister the Gospel in humility as “treasures in clay vessels,” yet also personally aware of how much God desires our sharing in His Life—and thus living lives that return to Him again and again after each “Thomas” moment along the way.

Collect of St. Thomas the Apostle
Everliving God, who strengthened your apostle Thomas with firm and certain faith in your Son's resurrection: Grant us so perfectly and without doubt to believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God, that our faith may never be found wanting in your sight; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen

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