How interesting that today, December 21, just four days before Christmas, we celebrate the Feast of St. Thomas, the Apostle. Think of Thomas and most will think about “Doubting Thomas.” Before we can get to the Nativity of our Lord, the manifestation of the incarnation, we must first face Thomas and his “doubts” about the resurrection. James Dennis, writing at Domini Canes, says this “interruption in our Advent preparation … makes perfect sense.” It is, I believe, a necessary interruption.
This interruption reminds us that while every feast day has its own story, it is not an isolated story. No feast can be fully understood apart from every other feast. They all are in some way each telling the same story. Look, for example, at the similarities of the icons of the resurrection and the nativity. The various feasts are like chapters of one larger story.
Set the Feast of St. Thomas next to the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord. What do we see?
- Two great dogmas of the Church: the incarnation and the resurrection;
- Two men of faith: Thomas and Joseph; and
- Two men wrestling with doubt and questions.
We know Thomas’s story. But Joseph? A doubter? Where does that come from?
Look at the iconography of the nativity. In the bottom left corner we find St. Joseph looking troubled. Next to him is an old man. That is Satan, the deceiver. It’s not too hard to imagine the conversation. “A virgin giving birth? God becoming human? Really?! Joseph, you know better than that. Wonder where Mary was all those times you were out of town? Who do you think she was with?”
It is not unusual for someone to say to me, “I shouldn’t have all these questions. If I just had more faith I wouldn’t doubt.” Truthfully, I am less concerned about those who have questions than I am those who are certain they have all the answers. I have learned that it is the faithful who have the most questions and are most worried about their doubt.
Too often it seems that faith and doubt are viewed as opposites, as mutually exclusive. That is the picture we often paint of St. Thomas. It was, however, Thomas’ doubts and questions that kept him in the struggle that would lead to his confession, “My Lord and my God.” Likewise, the nativity icon suggests that faith and the temptation to not believe stand side by side.
What can we learn from St. Thomas and St. Joseph? Maybe they teach us to be faithful doubters.