Doubting Thomas

Question: My father constantly holds up the example of St. Thomas the Apostle, who doubted that Jesus had risen even when the others said so. He says this is why it is OK that he should question everything — that doubt isn’t wrong even regarding the teachings of the Church.

Tom O’Neil, via email

Answer: Yet the fact is, the Lord rebukes Thomas; he does not praise him for his stubbornness or resistance to believe. He instructs Thomas, “Do not be unbelieving, but believe” (Jn 20:27).

Consider, too, the enormous blessings Thomas missed failing to gather with the others (i.e., the Church) that first week before when Christ appeared. He missed seeing the Lord in his risen glory.

Thomas’ declaration “I will not believe” to the declaration of the early Church — “We have seen the Lord!” — is not praised.

For we who are baptized, the Church is an object of faith. We say each Sunday in the creed and what was affirmed at our baptism: “I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” To refuse to believe what the Church professes and declares to be revealed by God is for us therefore a sin against faith.

Thanks be to God, St. Thomas’ journey does not end with his refusal. At some point, he relents and is gathered with the community of the early Church the following Sunday. The Lord, in his mercy, grants Thomas’ request to see and touch the wounds, but teaches that this is an exceptional mercy: “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed” (Jn 20:29). Thus, the mandate to believe without seeing is emphasized, and Thomas’ insistence on seeing is rebuked.

It is true that Thomas’ journey yields an extraordinary testimony: “My Lord and my God!” God sometimes does permit our stubbornness to believe to yield even stronger faith (e.g., St. Paul and St. Augustine). God can write straight with our crooked lines. But he shouldn’t have to.

The story of St. Thomas ends happily, but it does not follow that the story of every doubter or denier of the Faith will end happily, and your father is under the same mandate from Christ that any believer is to “Repent and believe” (Mk 1:15).

Mass tardiness

Question: I was told that if a latecomer to Mass gets there by the homily, the obligation to attend Mass is fulfilled. Is this so?

Name withheld, via email

Answer: These sorts of pastoral guidelines are not taught by the Church officially. Such exacting distinctions can be helpful but also can tend to a legalism or minimalism that is unbecoming for one called to love. A young man does not negotiate with his beloved as to the least amount of money he can spend on a date. This is not the language of love.

In a similar way, one who loves God is eager to get to Mass and is seldom late. If something rarely comes up, he can repent for whatever part he played in the delay, trust and seek God’s mercy, rather than insist on exacting delineations.

That said, pastors of souls, to assist troubled consciences and provide some parameters, have often set the demarcation you reference, but there is no official teaching currently regarding this.

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to msgrpope@osv.com. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.