Those struggling with religious doubt often believe it would be easier to have faith if they had been witnesses to Christ’s resurrection. If only they had encountered the risen Lord along the road to Emmaus. If only they had seen the burial clothes in the empty tomb.
Yet, on the Second Sunday of Easter, the Church deals with the presence of disbelief even among the first disciples. Locked away in a room on the Sunday of the Resurrection, Jesus dwells in the midst of the disciples, offering them peace. It is God’s very peace, the sudden irruption of life out of death. This peace is present in the power of the Holy Spirit, now given to the once scattered disciples through the breath of the risen Lord.
Of course, as we all know, Thomas is absent. He cries out, perhaps in frustration, perhaps in sorrow, perhaps with a heart immersed in doubt, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” (Jn 20:25).
How deeply Thomas longs to encounter the risen Lord. The God who would ease the pain of his own sorrow, forgiving his sins, bringing him from death to new life.
A week later, Jesus appears, offering this very peace. He invites Thomas to put his finger into his side. This is more than Jesus making himself empirically present to Thomas. He is giving his very flesh and blood that is now the source of all life. Thomas is invited into intimate communion with the risen Lord, and he cries out, “My Lord and my God!” (Jn 20:28). The Lord is risen, he is risen indeed, and now Thomas, too, can rise from the death of sin.
Nonetheless, the encounter is not quite finished. We, like Thomas, are left with Jesus’ haunting words at the end of the Gospel, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed” (Jn 20:29).
Unlike Thomas, we have not put our hands into the side of the risen Lord. We have not seen his bodily presence walking among us. We have not seen miracles carried out by Peter. We have not had visions like John of Patmos. We believe not because we have seen and touched the risen Lord. We believe in the apostles, in the witness of the saints who testify to the risen Lord. But ours seems to be a precarious belief indeed.
Yet, perhaps it is false to say that we have never seen the Lord. Each week, when we gather to worship Christ in the Eucharist, we find that “He is present upon a table, homely perhaps in make, and dishonored in its circumstances; and faith adores, but the world passes by” (John Henry Newman, “Christ Hidden From the World,” No. 4). We encounter his presence in the poor, who are the hidden Christ whom we feed and clothe and love. He is present in the humble words of the Scriptures as the Spirit enlightens our hearts. He still lives.
The season of Easter is not a time for us to cease religious practice. Instead, it is 50 days for us to train our senses to see the risen Lord dwelling among us. To long with Thomas for the healing that comes when we meet our Lord and our God hidden in the world. Doubt can still dissipate through an encounter with the risen Christ, if we only give ourselves over to the reformation of our spiritual senses in the sacramental life of the Church.
Timothy P. O’Malley is the director of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy.