We probably have experienced this before in our faith journey: we have a time of strong faith followed by a time of deep doubt in God. One moment we are filled with faith and courage in following the Lord Jesus Christ. The next moment we find ourselves filled with doubts and insecurities, easily succumbing to our irrational fears.
St. Thomas’ experience of this fluctuation in faith can help to shed light on this common experience. When Jesus had resolutely determined to return to Judea despite the attempts of the Jews to stone Him to death, Thomas had exhorted his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.”(Jn 11:16) What faith, boldness, and courage he had then. He was ready to follow Christ in suffering unto death and he even invited his companions to do the same.
Fast forward a few weeks later. Everyone else had come to faith in the risen Lord, except Thomas. He now settles for a conditional faith, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in His hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”(Jn 20:25) He whose faith was so bold before that he was ready to suffer and die with Christ now demanded to touch Christ’s wounds before he would believe in His resurrection. The bold leader in faith now made his companions even doubt their faith in the risen Christ.
We learn some things from the experience of St. Thomas about how to dispose ourselves when we begin to waver in our faith in the risen Christ.
Firstly, those moments of wavering are moments when we must cultivate gratitude for the gift of faith. Faith is a gift from God in Jesus Christ, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent Me draws him…No one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”(Jn 6:44, 65) He willingly went to the cross so that we can have a faith that will triumph over death, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.” (Jn 3:14-15)
Our desire and resolve to follow Christ in faith and to keep His words consistently is a gift of God’s merciful love. When we waver in faith, do we ever pause and offer thanks for the gift of faith that Christ merited for us on Calvary and bestowed on us in Holy Baptism? How grateful are we for the faith we have in His Real Presence in the Eucharist? Are we grateful for that faith by which we humbly confess our sins to a priest and receive divine forgiveness with divine guarantee? Our trials in faith are to bring us to this deep gratitude for the faith that we easily take for granted.
Secondly, moments of wavering faith are also moments when we should place all our trust in Jesus Christ. Only Christ Jesus Himself, the “author and perfector of our faith,”(Heb 12:2) can remove our doubts and restore our faith when we are wavering. We cannot fake it and we cannot restore our faith by our own actions. No amount of “We have seen the Lord” uttered by the other disciples could restore Thomas’ faith. He needed an encounter from the risen Christ Himself.
When we go through those painful trials of faith, let us remember these words: “The God of all grace who called you to His eternal glory through Christ Jesus will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you after you have suffered a little.”(1Pet 5:10) Only the God who bestows faith on us as His gift can restore it. Instead of panicking and abandoning the faith, we can face our wavering faith with patient trust, waiting for Him with confidence to renew our faith.
Thirdly, we are to cultivate our dwindling faith with persevering prayer and by studying the word of God. Thomas continued to listen to the words of his companions, “We have seen the Lord,” even if he did not come to faith immediately. He did not reject those words but he just could not come to believe them. However, those words disposed him to receive a restored faith from the risen Christ.
When faith begins to dwindle, we must remember that “faith comes from hearing and what is heard is the word of Christ.” (Rom 10:17) Thus, we give our risen Lord the chance to restore and deepen our faith when we faithfully spend time praying to God with the aid of His words to us.
Fourthly, we face our wavering faith by actually examining our conscience more diligently in the light of God’s word. By the grace of God, we want to remove the obstacles to faith, beginning with unrepented sin. Because such sins kill and wound our faith, Jesus bestowed on His Church the means to forgive sins in His name and by His authority, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retained are retained.” (Jn 20:22)
God’s merciful love does not just remove sins but also re-enkindles our faith in the risen Christ. Our faith cannot be restored when we are holding on to or compromising with sin: “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” (Mk 1:15) The first step in a strong faith is true repentance from sin. Mercy is meant to bring us to a boundless faith in the lordship of the risen Christ, just like it did for Thomas, “My Lord, and my God.”
Fifthly, we must not base our faith in Christ on our conditions, circumstances, or performance in this life. Thomas struggled with his faith because it was conditional and dependent on what he could see and touch, “Unless I see, I touch, I feel…” Our faith in the risen Christ is as fleeting as the conditions of our lives when we base our faith on our external conditions. Jesus asks us for unconditional faith because such faith is His gift to us, one that is independent of our circumstances in this life: “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”
Sixthly, we must remain united in the community of faith even when our faith wavers. Though Thomas could not believe in the risen Christ, he did not abandon the community of faith. He remained with them until Jesus returned a second time just to restore his faith. Most likely, his community continued to pray for him and be patient with him.
In the same way, we must not abandon the community of faith because of our trials in faith. Christ always returns to His people to restore their dwindling faith. He returns to us in each sacrament, especially in each Eucharist, making His glorious wounds present to us repeatedly with their power to heal our unbelief, “By His wounds you have been healed.”(1Pet 2:24)
Lastly, we persevere in faith to the very end even when faith seems to waver because we are convinced that the ultimate reward for our faith is in heaven. We cannot give up our faith because of our earthly conditions or experiences. The risen Christ spoke these words to the exiled St. John, “Do not be afraid, I am the first and the last, the one who lives. I was dead, but now I am alive.”(Rev 1:17-18) St. John glimpses the reward that God offers to those who persevere in faithful witness to Him in the face of persecution and hardship in this life.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, there are so many things in this life that threaten our faith in the risen Christ. We have a myriad of possible excuses to abandon our faith in Him. We have inner struggles that just seem to linger forever. We feel helpless in the face of the many acts of evil and injustice in our lives and in the world. Our futures may appear dark and gloomy, filled with challenges and obstacles. Even the Church as the community of faith is riddled with the most abhorrent scandals.
We cannot always avoid these trials of our faith. They tend to make us settle for a conditional faith, saying like St. Thomas, “Unless I see, hear, have, possess, feel, enjoy, achieve…, I will not believe.” Jesus does not reward us for such faith but for a faith that has nothing to do with our condition or performance, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”
Each Eucharist is our encounter with the risen Christ, the source and summit of our faith. He does not always prevent these trials of faith because He desires that through them we cultivate a strong and lively faith, the only thing able to “conquer this world.”(1Jn 5:4) He knows well all our individual trials of faith today. In His merciful love, He comes to restore and strengthen our wavering faith so that we can follow Him with a lively faith all the days of our lives and one day share with Him eternal glory.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!