“Do not doubt but believe.” — John 20:27
There is a charming cartoon by pastor and cartoonist Joshua Harris where St. “Doubting” Thomas laments to his fellow disciples: “All I’m saying is we don’t call Peter, ‘Denying Peter,’ or Mark, ‘Ran away naked Mark.’ Why should I be saddled with this?’ His fellow disciple replies, ‘I see your point Thomas, but really, it’s time to move on.”
The Feast of St. Thomas on July 3 offers one of the more reassuring moments in faith formation. Often, when we think of martyrs and saints, I hope it’s true to say that we are occasionally overwhelmed and abashed. How often do we read a heroic tale of faith within persecution and wonder: “Would I be as strong?” or “Would I pass the test?” It is surely true to say that all of us have moments of doubt, of weakness, of insecurity. Few would feel they truly measured up to the benchmark set by God.
Thomas, for many, is both the hope within weakness, and the fragile person’s source of envy. Not only did he get to walk with Christ, but also, when he doubted, Jesus himself provided the answer to his prayer. “Put your finger here and see my hands” (Jn 20:26). How often have we cried out, at times of weakness: “Show me a sign?” and for most, it is only a quiet faith, through prayer, that has followed the request.
Pope St. Gregory the Great noted that “Thomas’ unbelief has benefited our faith more than the belief of the other disciples; it is because he attained faith through physical touch that we are confirmed in the faith beyond doubt.” St. Gregory goes on to say, “the Lord permitted the apostle to doubt after the resurrection; but he did not abandon him in doubt.” These two factors are of most significance to me: that doubt is not cause for abandonment, and that Jesus is always ready to receive us. It takes the pressure off our imperfections, but remains an incentive to be better.
This is one of the remarkable opportunities that a Catholic university offers, and makes available, to its community. The goal of higher education is to pursue faith and reason; to explore and to doubt; to journey and discover. It was never the goal for Jesus that disciples follow blindly. Indeed, he insisted that they question in order to understand. He never feared the difficult question or shied away from a challenge. Similarly, universities — especially Catholic universities — must never censor inquiry and must pursue discomfort in order to honestly pursue and achieve the truth. As Jesus himself put it, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Turcotte is president of St. Mary’s University in Calgary.