Saturday, 5 July 2014

The feast of St. Thomas the Apostle.

Entrance to Church of St Thomas, Jersey
The feast of St. Thomas the Apostle on on the 3rd July -  the week after the celebration of the Sacred Heart  - was a fitting time to reflect on the place of ‘doubting’ Thomas in the history of the Sacred Heart.   The image of  Thomas – ‘called the twin’ – placing his hand into the side of Jesus is very well known  and is found in some of the earliest Christian art.  Representations vary, with some showing St Thomas just looking, and other touching, and others with Thomas placing his fingers into to the wound.  Some, show Jesus holding or guiding the hand Thomas's hand. It is a common subject in iconography as in other forms of religious art.

No better introduction to St Thomas can be found than that written by Benedict XVI, read HERE. 

For me one of the most striking things about the passage is that Jesus says to Thomas 'Give me your hand: put it in my side’.   His response is to proclaim , Dominus Meus et Deus Meus, ‘My Lord and my God.’   In this context we also recall something that Jesus also said to Thomas when he later asked ‘ Lord, we do not now where you are going so how are we to know the way?'  To which Jesus replies: ‘ I am the way, the truth and the life’. When Jesus invites Thomas to place his hand in the wound made in side by the spear that pierced his heart, he tells Thomas to hold his hand.  He holds Thomas’ hand in his hand to guide it to his wounded heart.  Jesus is saying: ‘here is the way, the truth and the life’.  'I am the word of God made flesh and I love you with my heart – my wounded heart’. 'Learn from my gentle and humble heart.'  

One of the most moving reflections on this episode in the Gospel of  John  is to be found in Henri Nouwen’s little book on the Sacred Heart: Heart Speaks to Heart. Here is what he says: 

Whenever I touch your broken heart, I touch the hearts of your broken people, and whenever I touch the hearts of your broken people, I touch your heart.  Your broken heart and the broken heart of the world are one…Lord Jesus , you always call me closer to your wounded heart. There you want me to know true joy and true peace… To Thomas who heard your voice and touched your pierced side, you said, ‘You believe because you can see me.  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.’ There, O dear Lord, is the mystery of your love.  I have not seen you  and yet  I truly see you every time I look at the broken bodies of my fellow human beings.  I have not heard you and yet I truly hear you every time I hear the cries uttered by men, women and children in pain.   I have not touched you, and yet  I truly touch  you every time I touch all those who come to me in their pain, I see, I hear and touch the heart of humanity, your humanity, the humanity of all the people embraced by your love.  Thank you , Jesus, for your heart.  Thank you for showing me your heart. Thank you for letting me believe more every day, hope more every day and love more every day. My heart is little, fearful and very timid. It will always be so. But you say ‘Come to my heart. My heart is gentle and humble and very broken like yours. Do not be afraid. Come and let your heart find rest in mine and trust that all will be well.’  I want to come, Jesus, and be with you.  Here I am, Lord, take my heart and let it become a heart filled with your love.’  Heart Speaks to Heart: Three Gospel Meditations on Jesus, Kindle edition, pp 54-57

Such inspiring and powerful words from Henri Nouwen!

A painting which I find is helpful to reflect upon the story of Thomas is the one by Caravaggio. There are, of course,  numerous images to choose from  which to explore Thomas's doubt,  but this painting has given me most food for thought and prayer. 

Jesus takes Thomas’s hand firmly and allows him to touch his wounded side from which poured the blood and water of his pierced heart.  Jesus is the source of light in the picture - the light of the world. Thomas is pointing towards the Heart of his Lord and and his God - and the other apostles look intently at the way, the truth, the light and the life. 

Caravaggio pulls us into the space as firmly as Christ directs the hand of Thomas into the wound.  We too, like the apostles, are drawn into contemplating the wounded heart of Christ. We, like them, stand in awe at the the mystery of God's love.   I think that perhaps we are all Thomas’s twin (for the name of his twin sibling is not recorded).  In this painting, we are the twin who is absent – who is called to believe without seeing, hearing and touching.  And yet Jesus is still asking us to put our hand in his, and have faith in his love for us.  He invites us to give us our hand that he may guide us. He calls us to  give him our heart so that we may love him. He desires that we, like Thomas, touch his heart-  so that we may be one with him.

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