St. Thomas is one the apostles I can most easily identify with due to his skepticism on the resurrection of Jesus:
“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
This type of statement is what I likely would have said if I was St. Thomas:
“I had put my whole life into believing a charasmatic leader that I thought was going to be a prophet to lead Israel to freedom from Roman occupation. My leader was summarily executed during Passover by the Roman authorities. I was afraid for my life. My colleagues were delusional, taking about “seeing our leader”. That was impossible. I saw him crucified. I am a pious Jew. People do not rise from the dead, except perhaps at the end of times. Peter, John mentally ill and seeing things that cannot exist. I have no occupation or home to return to, and I am surrounded by crazy people.”
Such thoughts must have been going through the minds of St. Thomas . . . until everything changed when he saw the Risen Christ. The story of Christianity has been around for 2,000 years and has become so familiar that we are desensitized to its profoundly shocking origins and message. Many believers take the Christian story for granted and non-believers view it as a collection of superstitious myths that should be relegated to history. The story of St. Thomas reminds us that the Christian story of God becoming Incarnate in the form of a poor peasant from a backwater town in the Roman Empire, having a short public ministry, being executed in a gruesome manner and rising in a new spiritual and material form was as absurd to the original disciples as it would sound to us today. In fact it is so absurd, if there were not hundreds of personal witnesses who have changed their life in ways that are counter-intuitive, it would not be believable.
For St. Thomas, it was not believable, so he publicly questioned those who claimed it was. Ultimately, the Risen Christ appeared to Thomas and he believed. However, the lesson is that it is important to ask questions and to confront our doubts, as these doubts can lead us to a deeper understanding of our faith and a deeper relationship with Christ. As Pope Benedict XVI said about Thomas in his wonderful reflections on the apostles:
“his question also confers upon us the right, so to speak, to ask Jesus for explanations. We often do not understand him. Let us be brave enough to say: “I do not understand you, Lord; listen to me, help me to understand.” In such a way, with this frankness which is the true way of praying, of speaking to Jesus, we express our meager capacity to understand and at the same time place ourselves in the trusting attitude of someone who expects light and strength from the One able to provide them.” (Benedict XVI, Pope (2011-03-04). Jesus, the Apostles and the Early Church (pp. 92-93). Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition).
We knew very little about the historical life of St. Thomas. According to tradition, his evangelization covered a large territory, eventually reaching India. Thomas reached Muziris, India in 52 AD and baptized several people who are today known as Saint Thomas Christians or Nasranis. After his murder and death by spear in India, the remaining relics of Saint Thomas the Apostle were enshrined as far as Mesopotamia in the 3rd century, and later moved to various places. In 1258 they were brought to Abruzzo, in Ortona, Italy, where they have been held in the Church of Saint Thomas the Apostle. He is often regarded as the Patron Saint of India, and the name Thomas remains quite popular among Saint Thomas Christians of India.
Tradition holds that St. Thomas was killed in India in 72 AD, attaining martyrdom at St. Thomas Mount near Mylapore (part of Chennai, capital of Tamil Nadu). He was buried on the site of Chennai’s San Thome Basilica in the Dioceses of Saint Thomas of Mylapore. The Acts of Thomas and oral traditions (only recorded in writing centuries later) provide weak and unreliable evidence but the tradition is that Thomas, having aroused the hostility of the local priests by making converts, fled to St. Thomas’s Mount four miles southwest of Mylapore. He was supposedly followed by his persecutors, who transfixed him with a lance as he prayed kneeling on a stone. His body was brought to Mylapore and buried inside the church he had built. The present Basilica is on this spot.