St. Thomas and the beating, living, healing, Heart of Love.

The nice folks at One Peter Five invited me to post a weekly column for Sundays. I’ve happily obliged. This week, I think it best to share here something of what I wrote, there.. just a few bits.

By me at One Peter Five:


Christ showed [the Apostles in the locked room] His hands and feet and side, to demonstrate that He had a real body and that it was also is His Body. He didn’t pick up some unwounded, perfect Body that He was now inhabiting. We are our bodies, as we are our rites. The fact that the wounds remained in His Body’s hands, feet and side provided continuity with His Body before and during His Passion. He isn’t a mere shade of the Lord. Nor has he exchanged Himself for an unwounded version. In this way Christ began to show them the traits of the risen Body, traits which we, too, will share in the Resurrection: clarity (reflecting God’s glory), impassibility (incapable of suffering), agility (ease and speed of movement), subtlety (unhindered by barriers).


We don’t know why Thomas wasn’t with the other ten Apostles in the room for that first appearance of the Lord. I like to imagine that it was his turn to get the “take out” for the rest of them.

Thomas, who had doubted, put his trust in the Lord at this point. In fact, he literally handed his trust to Him where the point of the lance had left its mark on the Lord’s glorious Risen Body, a wound from a Roman lance large enough to insert his hand. The Lord told Thomas to “thrust” (Greek bále) his hand “eis ten pleurán… into (His) side”. If we want to be picky, we might note that the Greek word “cheír”, insofar as our anatomy is concerned, can mean “hand”, but it can also mean “finger” or “hand and arm”, the later so much so that in some contexts additional words are added to denote “hand” as distinct from the arm (cf. Liddell-Scott-Jones, A Greek-English Lexicon aka LSJ – “χείρ , ἡ”).

This is significant for depictions in art, as in the famous painting by Caravaggio, wherein Thomas puts his finger into Christ’s side and peers into it, which smacks of the spirituality of St. Bonaventure who wrote about how Thomas the Apostle looked through the Lord’s visible wounds and saw His invisible wound of love. It also affects depictions of the crucifixion of the Lord and of His risen Body, with the holes of the nails in the hands. Some maintain that Christ would have been crucified with nails through the wrists so that the ulna and radius bones would sustain His Body’s weight rather than tearing through the flesh of His hands.

Christ tells Thomas to explore with his finger (dáktylos) the spike holes of His “hands/wrists”, which would be more or less the size of a large finger. However, he tells Thomas to use his hand for the wound in His side. The Greek suggests to me that the Lord instructed Thomas to push, thrust His hand into the wound channel left by the Roman lance, which had gone so far as to lacerate the Lord’s Sacred Heart.

We don’t have in the Gospel account of this stunning moment, to which John was eyewitness, a precise statement by John that Thomas physically did it. All it says is that Thomas responded, “My Lord and my God!” Christ responded with a “beatitude” (v. 29): “Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”

Was Thomas so overwhelmed that He could not touch the Lord in that way? All He could utter was that amazing witness to belief in the divinity of Christ? The clearest and most exultant of any in the Gospels?

Christ refers to Thomas seeing Him, but He did not say, “because you have touched me”. Nevertheless, it seems to me that if the Risen Christ tells you to do something, you do it. Furthermore, John immediately concludes this chapter with something so definitive that it feels like the end of the whole work (vv. 30-31):

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.

There follows chapter 21 and the account of the reconciliation of Peter at the Sea of Galilee. We moderns count that as chapter 21. Remember, the Gospels were not written with chapters and verses and not even word breaks. Those were imposed centuries later. Yet, one has the sense that what happened between Christ and Thomas was so amazing that John penned something like a conclusion to his Gospel after Thomas’s cry of faith, arguably the climax of John’s account.

Given the various meanings of “hand” in Greek, and that word “thrust”, and the fact that the wound from the lance remained, therefore remained all the way to His Heart, perhaps Our Lord required Thomas not merely to touch His side but even to feel the breath, the ruach, in His torn lung. Did Thomas, while feeling the ruach on his wrist, touch with his hand the physical, risen, subtle, impassible, agile, blazing bright Heart of Jesus?

By the way, in art, statues and painting, the Apostles are usually depicted with the instruments of their martyrdom. St. Thomas is often depicted with a lance.

On this Sunday we emphasize the mercy of God and the institution of the Sacrament of Penance, perhaps the greatest encounter we have with incarnate Mercy, Holy Communion notwithstanding.

Christ told Thomas to do what He did before witnesses so that they too would understand about the traits of His risen Body and that it was truly His own. Knowing full well that we would one day read this, He inspired the disciple He most loved to write his Gospel account, an account that connects Thomas to the inspiration of the Spirit and the mercy of Christ’s Heart in a way that other Apostles didn’t experience on that first Easter evening appearance.

When we go to confession, we enter into Mercy in order to be breathed upon by the Spirit and to feel the beating, living, healing, Heart of Love.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Ms. M-S says:

    “Let us also go that we may die with Him.” I like to remember that Thomas, who is noted for his tendency to take the report of the Resurrection without reservation, was the one who said this.

  2. Pumpkin Eater says:

    The encounter begins with our Lord singaling out St. Thomas to answer for his doubt. How did Jesus know? Did the others rat out Thomas or was it another miracle? I prefer to believe the latter and that that is what prompted Thomas’s immemorable response.

  3. TonyO says:

    I have speculated that Thomas’s first response, on the late evening of Easter Sunday, was one born of (all too human) frustration: The whole day had been spent in wonder, turmoil, argument, speculation, dismay, and doubt: First there was Mary Magdalen’s report that the tomb was open, and then the report of the women that they had seen an angel who had said “Jesus is risen”, then the later report of the women (and, separately, of Mary) that “we have seen Him,” and then, to cap it off, the report from the two disciples who returned from Emmaus that they had not only SEEN the Lord, they had spoken to him during a long, long walk. The apostles must have been very, very troubled at these reports, not only as to trying to weigh the credibility of them, but also some wonder and dismay at “hey, we (the chosen twelve) were the Lord’s closest companions, why hasn’t he appeared to US?” It would not be surprising in the least if one of the apostles, in the emotional and psychological pressure of the last report (from the 2 disciples returned from Emmaus) decided that he would “step outside” for a while to just plain de-compress for a bit: to “walk it off”, to talk to himself without 10 or 20 other voices chiming in, to sort out what he should believe and what is nonsense, to release some nervous energy, and to get control of himself emotionally.

    Imagine if you were that apostle, having gotten upset at yet another report of someone seeing the Lord, but (seemingly) the Lord snubbing the Twelve, and after half an hour you come back only to hear: “we, too, have seen the Lord, while you were out!” If I were that man, in my first reaction I might be angry indeed at the rest of the apostles pulling my leg to tweak me, knowing (as they did) how upset I already was, and I might well react with rather firm resistance to their claims. I might even have used a bit of French in castigating them for their ill-timed joking.

    It is always necessary to remember that the accounts in the gospels do not record every detail: in any large group over more than just a few minutes of time, people MOVE AROUND, they get up, they sit down, they make side comments (sometimes out loud, sometimes sotto voce), they walk away and come back, some new people show up that weren’t there at the start, etc. The scenes are not static.

  4. Gaby Carmel says:

    I’ve often wondered about one detail here: if Thomas was not there on the day of Resurrection, then he was not breathed upon by Jesus to give him the power to forgive sins. So when did this happen for Thomas? By a sort of ‘osmosis’? Or did Peter later lay hands on him? Or did the episode of finally seeing Jesus for himself, and uttering his cry of faith, bring him to that fullness of blessing which included the power to forgive in the name of God? Has anyone written anything about this?

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