A few weeks ago, we heard of the discovery of another Earth-like planet not so distant from our own home, barely 40 light-years away. In lay terms, we would need 40 years to get there if we travelled at the speed of light… which is currently well beyond our ability. Nevertheless, it’s quite fascinating that we can look into such distant and inaccessible corners of the universe from our own tiny speck of cosmic dust called the Earth. As the human race, we have travelled a much greater distance than to that newly-discovered planet. We have travelled for a few thousand years, at a comparably modest speed, to attain the current level of knowledge and understanding of our world and beyond. We started millennia ago fearing the powers of nature, with a very superficial and mostly incorrect grasp of reality. Yet slowly and gradually, driven either by practical necessity or by simple curiosity (or a mixture of both), we have developed a better understanding of different aspects of nature. Eventually we seem to have reached what looks to us like the pinnacle of human knowledge – although I’m pretty certain that in a hundred years’ time our successors will look back with disbelief at our primitive tools and mistaken ideas.
This whole process of scientific and social development has been driven by people who didn’t simply accept things as they were presented in their day. Today’s gospel tells us about one of them, usually looked upon with disdain – Thomas the Doubter. I personally admire him, and think about him as the patron saint of science in the broadest sense. He’s the one to question what others claimed to be true, and the one to demand proof to back up their claims. His attitude is commonly recalled as an example not to be followed; I’d dare to claim otherwise – each and every one of us should follow in his footsteps. Now, I feel obliged to explain my stance, otherwise I’d be expecting you to place your trust solely in my words, and therefore I’d be contradicting myself.
Since Easter Sunday, the gospel readings at weekday Masses have been relating stories about the Risen Lord. Honestly, I find them confusing in their inconsistency. Last Friday’s had a sentence that summarised that confusion: ‘None of the disciples was bold enough to ask, ‘Who are you?’; they knew quite well it was the Lord.’ Well, they didn’t know, they assumed it was the Lord. The only one bold enough to question what the others assumed is Thomas – as we heard in today’s gospel. Thomas demands proof to back up the ridiculous claims made by his friends. Lo and behold, his bold approach is rewarded by Jesus himself supplying the proof. Jesus’ words to Thomas: ‘You believe because you can see me. Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe’, we might be tempted to consider as a reproach. But think about it. You do not believe what you see (you don’t have to believe I’m here, you can see and hear me) – you do believe in what it represents. After the showing, Thomas acknowledges Jesus as his Lord and God. So, those words of Jesus are a call to us to believe that He is indeed the Living Lord, without our literally touching his scars. But it doesn’t rule out our search to back up with convincing argument what seems initially to be a ridiculous claim.
The newly-discovered planet has been described pretty well in detail. In fact, nobody has actually viewed it. Our telescopes aren’t powerful enough; they aren’t even strong enough to survey our neighbouring planets. No spacecraft has yet travelled 40 light-years to that planet to have a closer look. All we know of it is based on tell-tale indicators, educated guesses and on predictions based on our collective scientific knowledge to date. Religious faith is no different. Doubts and questions are the bread-and-butter of a better and deeper understanding of the faith. Without them personal faith cannot develop, cannot mature. That’s why the faith of so many people collapses at one point in their lives – because it remains static and undeveloped from our early schooldays, a childish faith that comes across as ridiculous or redundant in adulthood. So, do not be afraid to have doubts, to have questions about your faith. Just don’t stop there; look for answers. Be afraid if you have neither doubts nor questions, because it means you’re losing your religion, or even worse – turning into a dogmatic religious fanatic. St Thomas the Searcher, pray for us.