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Father Cantalamessa: On Faith as a Gift

Pontifical Household Preacher on the Doubting Thomas

ROME , APRIL 25, 2006 (Zenit) - Here is a translation of a commentary by Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the Pontifical Household preacher, on the Gospel for the Second Sunday of Easter.

* * *

(John 20:19-31)

"Unless I Place My Hand in His Side, I Will Not Believe"

"Eight days later, his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. The doors were shut, but Jesus came and stood among them, and said: 'Peace be with you.' Then he said to Thomas, 'Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing.' Thomas answered him, 'My Lord and my God!' Jesus said to him, 'Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.'"

With the emphasis on the incident of Thomas and his initial incredulity ("Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, I will not believe"), the Gospel addresses the man of the technological age who believes only what he can verify. Among the apostles, we can call Thomas our contemporary.

St. Gregory the Great says that, with his incredulity, Thomas was more useful to us than all the other apostles who believed right away. Acting in this way, so to speak, he obliged Jesus to give us a "tangible proof of the truth of his resurrection." Faith in the resurrection benefited by his doubts. This is true, at least in part, when applied to the numerous "Thomases" of today who are the nonbelievers.

The criticism of nonbelievers and dialogue with them, when carried out in respect and reciprocal loyalty, are very useful to us. Above all they make us humble. They oblige us to take note that faith is not a privilege or an advantage for anyone. We cannot impose it or demonstrate it, but only propose it and show it with our life. "What have you that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?" says St. Paul (1 Corinthians 4:7). In the end, faith is a gift, not a merit, and as all gifts it can only be lived in gratitude and humility.

The relationship with nonbelievers also helps us to purify our faith of clumsy representations. Very often what nonbelievers reject is not the true God, the living God of the Bible, but his double, a distorted image of God that believers themselves have contributed to create. Rejecting this God, nonbelievers oblige us to go back to the truth of the living and true God, who is beyond all our representations and explanations, and not to fossilize or trivialize him.

But there is also a wish to be expressed: that St. Thomas might find today many imitators not only in the first part of his story -- when he states he does not believe -- but also at the end, in that magnificent act of faith that leads him to exclaim: "My Lord and my God!"

Thomas is also imitable because of another fact. He does not close the door; he does not remain in his position, considering the problem resolved once and for all. In fact, we find him eight days later with the other apostles in the Cenacle. If he had not wished to believe, or to "change his opinion," he would not have been there. He wants to see, to touch: Therefore, he is searching. And at the end, after he has seen and touched with his hand, he exclaims to Jesus, not as someone defeated but as victorious: "My Lord and my God!" No other apostle had yet gone out to proclaim Christ's divinity with so much clarity.

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