Saint Thomas the Apostle was absent when the Risen One visited the other apostles in the upper room on the evening of Easter Sunday. When St. Thomas was informed of the Lord’s visit, he refused to believe the apostles’ testimony until he was able to convince himself and touch the wounds of Christ. St. John reports what happened after this rejection: “Eight days later his students were back in the house and Thomas was with them. The doors were closed, but Jesus came and stood under them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas: “Put your finger here and see my hands. And stretch out your hand and put it in my side; don’t believe, but believe.” Thomas answered him: “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him: Did you believe because you saw me? Blessed are those who have not seen and still believe ”(John 20: 26-29).
It emerges from this exchange that St. Thomas was only willing to confess the Risen One as his Lord and God after seeing and touching him in the flesh. Because St. Thomas wanted the certainty inherent to the sense of touch for himself. Commentary on this encounter between St. Thomas and Christ, Charles De Koninck notes: “The attitude of St. Thomas the Apostle is not an example that should be imitated, but we see a familiar experience in it: whenever we want to be very sure about the reality of a thing, about the existence of a thing, reasonable object that we want to check by touch. For this very reason, touch is called a feeling of certainty, while seeing is a feeling of distinction, clarity and representation. “That the attitude of St. Thomas is“ not an example that should be imitated ”is evident from our Lord’s reproach:“ Did you believe because you saw me? Blessed are those who have not seen and still believe. “ However, as De Koninck notes, given our natural human way of knowing and our natural way of gaining certainty about the reality of things in this world, it is not surprising that St. Thomas’s desire to use “the feeling of certainty” as a kind of help . And luckily, our Lord lets himself down from the human weakness of St. Thomas and causes him to bring about an act of divine faith.
Interestingly, this incident with St. Thomas is the second report St. John reports about someone touching the resurrected. The first report concerns St. Mary Magdalene during her visit to the empty tomb. As soon as St. Mary recognizes the Risen One and takes him lovingly, our Lord answers: “Do not touch me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them: I ascend to my father and your father, to my God and your God ”(John 20:17). The divine answer given here may confuse us, especially since it seems to be in such a stark contrast to the way our Lord responds to St. Thomas’s wish to touch him.
However, this confusion resolves as soon as we carefully consider why Christ gives Saint Mary Magdalene a reason, namely “because I have not yet ascended to the Father”. It is for this reason that our Lord teaches Saint Mary that she should not touch him physically before Ascension and that she should touch him in other ways after Ascension. Through this double teaching, Christ prepares Saint Mary Magdalene and, in a broader sense, all of his followers to touch him when he is in Heaven’s right hand and is no longer reasonably present to them. Specifically, St. Augustine says, you and we should touch the resurrected one spiritually or as an object of the act of theological virtue of faith formed by charity.
By teaching us to touch him spiritually through supernatural acts of faith, our Lord reveals to us a type of union with him that is at the same time higher and safer than the physical type of union that can be reached by touch. In other words, when we grasp the Risen One through a supernatural act of faith, we are intellectually connected to him, as opposed to physically, and the firmness of this union is really divine, as opposed to just human.
So when we look at the reports of St. Thomas and St. Mary Magdalene that touch the Risen One, we see two different ways of union with Christ and we see that our Lord wishes that we be united with Him according to the higher and the more certain these modes. That being said, our Lord continues to be mercifully condescended to our human weakness in our spiritual life. Because as Mrs. Gabriel explains from Mary Magdalene: “Jesus felt sorry for the fluctuating faith of the apostle and also for ours; and he not only allowed him to see him as he had allowed the others, but also to touch him, whereby Thomas, the unbeliever, could do what he had not allowed Maria Magdalena, the most loyal. From this incident we derive a better understanding of God’s ways. While giving sensible consolation and more or less tangible signs of his presence to souls who still hesitate in faith, he often leads in very dark ways those who have irrevocably surrendered to him and whose faith he can count on. God is a father. He never denies a soul who sincerely seeks him the requisite props to support their faith, but he often refuses to do what is strong for the weak. “ Let us ask the resurrected one during this paschal tide to strengthen the theological virtue of faith in us so that our spiritual union with him will become purer and deeper.
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