The Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle is a great celebration in India. It is tradition that St. Thomas was the only Apostle to leave the Roman Empire to preach the Gospel, traveling to Syria and Persia and then to India, as far south as the southwest region of Kerala. He was eventually martyred, fulfilling his declaration during Jesus’ public ministry, “Let us also go [with Jesus], that we may die with him.”
Despite Thomas’ courage and missionary spirit, he is perhaps best known as being “Doubting Thomas.” Perhaps it’s a bit unfortunate that he is best remembered for his lack of belief in the Resurrection of Christ, since the other Apostles were also unbelieving until they saw Jesus in the flesh. On Easter Sunday, Thomas was not with the Apostles in the Upper Room when Christ appeared to them. When he heard their testimony, he declared, “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
The following Sunday, Christ appeared to them again, and this time Thomas was with them. Jesus did not reprimand Thomas, but told him, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:24-28)
Thomas must have had a close relationship with Christ to be allowed such intimate contact with him. Such a personal experience, a prying into one’s hand and side, must not be taken lightly. Clearly, Thomas was Christ’s friend. The Apostles had spent three years with Christ — spending time day in and day out, walking with him, confiding in him, working with him. They had accompanied Him in his ministry. They had learned from him. They had left everything for him.
They were his friends.
We too are called to that intimacy with Christ. He desires each of us to enter into that close relationship with him — and we call that relationship “prayer.” (CCC 2558) We spend time with him. We confide in him. We work with him. At times we use formal prayers. Other times we just sit in his presence. He reaches out to us in the sacraments and allows us to touch him — “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing.” And as unworthy as we are, we marvel at his goodness to us and exclaim, “My Lord and My God!”
As we reflect on our struggle to preserve religious liberty, we must never forget the power of prayer. It’s often difficult for us to remember that nothing is more effective or powerful than prayer. We feel like we should be doing something — and often we should be! But sitting in the silence of our room in conversation with God or waking up early to go to daily Mass before work — these are the most effective things we can do for anyone or for any petition.
Praying with others is an especially powerful experience. Not only did Christ promise us he would be with the community in prayer — “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Mt 18:2o) — it can also increase our own faith to hear voices united in common prayer.
America’s hope is the recommitment of families to prayer. When our families begin praying together again, the effects will be seen throughout this country.
Our families are busy, and we may think there is no time to speak with each other- much less to pray together. But if we sacrifice and specifically set aside time to pray as a family, we will give our children a valuable lesson they will not quickly forget.
On a recent family vacation, we decided to pray the Bishops’ prayer for religious liberty together at the end of the day. My sister’s family already gathers for prayers at bedtime, so the prayer was added to the end of their nightly prayer routine. Every night we would gather in the boys’ room (ages 7, 5, 3, and 1.5) and I would pass out the holy cards with the prayer on the back. It was moving to pray “for our children and grandchildren” in the presence of my seven nieces and nephews- to hear my father’s voice praying for the boy playing at his feet, to vocalize that petition while seeing their innocence and wondering what America would look like in their future.
On the last night, some circumstances arose and we decided my sister’s family would go ahead and pray their night prayers without the rest of us. Unbeknownst to anyone else, before they started, my five-year old nephew left the room in search of me. He finally found me and reported, “We need your cards! Come hand out your cards!”
Did he know what we were praying for in that prayer, as he clutched the card in his hand and tried to follow the words? Of course not. Did he know it was important? Yes — because we had made an effort every night to gather together.
We prayed together that night. And I think God heard Andrew’s prayers extra clearly.
Some days we may feel overwhelmed by the threats against religious liberty. Other days we may feel complacent about them. And other days we may feel like demanding proof that God is even alive. But every day he is calling us to himself, asking us to come to him in prayer, and waiting for us to fall to our knees and declare, “My Lord and My God!”