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home : religion : religion March 25, 2023

12/23/2022 6:02:00 PM
Doubting Thomas: From Incredulity To Faith
This Christmas--just believe
St Thomas, as painted by Sir Peter Paul Rubens.
(Contributed Photos)

St Thomas, as painted
by Sir Peter Paul Rubens.

(Contributed Photos)

(Top to Bottom)
Caravaggio’s “Incredulity of St Thomas” is one of my favourite paintings.
This plaque along Addison’s Walk features a poem by CS Lewis (left).
Addison’s Walk: An evening stroll down this walk along the River Cherwell with his friends and fellow Oxford professors, JRR Tolkien and Hugo Dyson, changed Lewis’s life and led him to embrace Christianity in 1931.
(L-R) St Thérèse of Lisieux, GK Chesterton and JRR Tolkien

(Top to Bottom)

Caravaggio’s “Incredulity of St Thomas” is one of my favourite paintings.

This plaque along Addison’s Walk features a poem by CS Lewis (left).

Addison’s Walk: An evening stroll down this walk along the River Cherwell with his friends and fellow Oxford professors, JRR Tolkien and Hugo Dyson, changed Lewis’s life and led him to embrace Christianity in 1931.

(L-R) St Thérèse of Lisieux, GK Chesterton and JRR Tolkien

Thomas Lark
Staff Writer

STANLEY––As I compose these lines, it is my name day: the Feast of St Thomas the Apostle, Dec 21.

After only a brief sleep, I have arisen early in the cold pre-dawn darkness, words buzzing round my head that won’t let me alone. Is it, as many writers believe, the voice of God Himself, with some message to impart, wishing whimsically to use one of the least worthy instruments in His cosmic toolbox, perhaps for His own private amusement? Or is it merely a restless muse that won’t be quieted until I’ve put pen to paper or clumsy fingers to a keypad? I know not.

Following a surgery 10 days ago, I’ve been having a rather hellish time of it. Insomnia has plagued me worse than usual. Often profoundly uncomfortable, perhaps I am “living out my Purgatory on earth,” as Fr Kenneth Novak of the Society of St Pius X once quipped.

Why the Church decided to place a feast that would seem to have entirely more to do with Easter than with Christmas right at the end of Advent was once a mystery to me, until I learned that Dec 21 was the day of Thomas’s death. And for 20 years, I have deeply appreciated that this day is here on the cusp of Christmas, and I’ve been very glad of it.

It co-incides of course with the winter solstice: the first day of that season. And this year’s Christmastide, they say, will be the coldest in decades.

As an old English rhyme puts it:

St Thomas Day, St Thomas grey,

The longest night and shortest day.

In the Gospel of St John, Chapter 20, we read of the risen Christ appearing unto His Disciples:

“But Thomas––called Didymus, one of the Twelve––was not with them when Jesus came.

The other disciples therefore said unto him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’

But Thomas replied, ‘Except that I see in His hands the print of the nails and put my finger therein and thrust mine hand into His side, I will not believe.’

After eight days, again His disciples were within and Thomas with them. Then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and He stood in their midst. Said He unto them:

‘Peace be with you.’

Then saith He to Thomas, ‘Reach hither thy finger, and behold Mine hands. And reach hither thine hand, and thrust it into My side. And be thou not faithless, but believing.’

Thomas cast himself upon the floor at the feet of Jesus, crying out unto Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’

Jesus saith unto him, ‘Because thou hast seen Me, Thomas, thou hast believed. But truly I tell thee: Blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed.’”

This account has always hit me right in the gut. For long years, it has served as a seemingly personal admonishment––curiously, perhaps, the stern reminder of God Himself, directly to me––to believe. Knowing all too well how miserably I fail Him on a daily basis, these little epiphanies often come at my lowest ebb, when I’m angry at Him or doubting His very existence. Is it all a lie––a manmade fantasy, however beautiful––a reversal: God made in the image of man, as one of my old professors used to say, more than three decades ago, in yet another sophomoric statement I was young and dumb enough to believe, thus leading me to long years of atheism? Or is it the truth––the real truth––in fact, the ultimate Truth?

It’s usually around this time that God slaps me hard in the face with some proof of His existence, His way of saying:

Stupid boy. Grow up. And by the way, I love you. 

A quarter-century ago, I played CS Lewis, the great Christian apologist, in Shadowlands, the play based upon his life that was made into a film 30 years ago, starring Sir Anthony Hopkins, Debra Winger and the late Edward Hardwicke. Maybe you’ve seen this very moving movie. Our version was on the stage at Belmont Abbey College.

Quite funny, one of the Abbey’s old monks came by one evening to watch a rehearsal. He was an Englishman, as it turned out, and not only that but also one of Lewis’s former students. He asked the director:

“Who’s the English chap you have playing Jack Lewis? He sounds just like him!”

Praise indeed, sir.

On the campus, there was a 24-hour prayer chapel, in which the Blessed Sacrament was exposed. People would come in quietly, day or night, and pray in the Real Presence of the Eucharist.

“Try it,” someone said.

I did. Very late one night, I went in an atheist. I emerged a believer.

Something similar happened to Lewis. An atheist since adolescence, crushed by the death of his mother when he was just 9 years old, Lewis’s experiences as a lieutenant in the Great War had left him mentally scarred and embittered, running from God­, who chased him like a divine Hound of Heaven––to paraphrase Francis Thompson, the great English Catholic poet of a generation earlier.

But at the age of 32 in 1931, Lewis took an evening stroll down Addison’s Walk, which lines the River Cherwell on the campus of Magdalen College at Oxford University, where he taught. Walking with him and engaged in a deep discussion about the nature of God were Lewis’s friends and fellow Oxford professors, JRR Tolkien and Hugo Dyson, both men devout Christians themselves.

By the end of the walk, by then the wee hours of (appropriately enough) a Sunday morning, Lewis had to admit to himself that he’d been wrong––quite wrong indeed––all those years. He embraced God. He would go on to become an Anglican, rather to the chagrin of Tolkien, who of course was a devout Catholic and had hoped his friend would join him in the Church. After all, Lewis was much influenced by the works of the great Catholic writer, GK Chesterton, whom he extolled as “the most sensible man alive.” Still, based upon my own copious research of Lewis (who certainly had a lot of Catholic friends, including a nun with whom he corresponded), I like to think he would’ve finally crossed the Tiber had he not died in 1963, just shy of 65.

Recalling the walk, Lewis wrote to his friend, the painter, Arthur Greeves:

“We began on metaphor and myth—interrupted by a rush of wind which came so suddenly on the still, warm evening and sent so many leaves pattering down that we thought it was raining. We all held our breath, the other two appreciating the ecstasy of such a thing almost as you would. We continued (in my room) on Christianity: a good, long satisfying talk in which I learned a lot.”

Sweeping the ashes of atheism

Lewis’s Trilemma is quite famous among Christian apologists. He proposed that Christ was either a liar or a lunatic, or if not, then He was just Who and What He said He was and is: the Lord Himself, the Son of the Living God.

In Lewis’s Mere Christianity, a highly influential if problematic book, he writes:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic––on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg––or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this Man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool. You can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon, or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about Him being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to…Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend. And consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.”

When I was an atheist, I never got up on a soapbox about it. I was a real atheist; that is, someone who quietly and matter-of-factly realises there is no God––that man made Him up and has done so repeatedly throughout human history. I erected no strange god out of atheism, and I never sought to impose my private views upon others. Sincere people who prayed before sporting events and town hall meetings offended me not a jot. They won’t, not when such things don’t matter to you.

But the Richard Dawkinses of the world offended me enormously, even when I was an atheist. Dawkins and others of his sorry ilk do indeed fashion strange gods of atheism and secularism, and theirs is a worldview dishwater-dull and dreary indeed. As someone said, “Christians are always the most interesting guests at the dinner table,” whereas professional atheists are insufferably obnoxious. I didn’t want to be like them.

Quite funny, the old idiot was made a public fool of by a Christian apologist in a debate some years ago. By clever Chestertonian logic, the man, whose name escapes, tricked Dawkins into admitting that God exists after all.

“Well, uh,” the old fool stammered, “that would seem to indicate, ah––the existence of intelligent design.”


Before Constantine legalised Christianity not three centuries after the death of Christ, countless believers were persecuted, tortured and martyred. People don’t go cheerfully to their deaths over lies or agreed-upon myths.

We believe in the existence of any number of figures from the ancient past. Yet there is more proof (especially contemporaneous references) of the existence of Christ than there is for any of those other people. There’s the Titulus (Latin for “title”), the ancient wooden sign that hung above Christ’s head on the Cross. In Latin (as well as Greek and Hebrew), its inscription reads:


Or, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”

More famously, there is the Shroud of Turin. Modern muddleheaded Marxists love to pooh-pooh this, claiming it’s a mediaeval forgery. Don’t you believe these idiots, as they’re all a bunch of liars and among the worst people you’d ever wish to avoid. What they carefully don’t tell you, devils that they are, is that the Shroud contains an inner cloth: a fabric known in and carbon-dated to the time of Christ, and it contains the pollen of plants––now extinct, mind you!––unique to ancient Israel and indeed hyper-specific to Jerusalem.

As for St Thomas, following the Great Commission of Christ to His Disciples, he evangelised India. There he was speared to death, martyred some 40 years after the crucifixion of Christ. To this day, on the Malabar Coast, there is a thriving Christian community whose members descend from the converts first baptised by Thomas himself not 2,000 years ago.

Are you struggling with doubt? Are you having what St John of the Cross called “the dark night of the soul”? Mother Teresa famously admitted to years of spiritual dryness, feeling very far from God, and yet she kept on sacrificing herself for the good of the poor anyway. St Thérèse of Lisieux wrote of experiencing her own dark night.

What did they all have in common? They kept on, keeping on. Even if you’re just going through the motions, keep at it, and you just might find that you’ve discovered or re-discovered a deep and sincere belief.

And so this Christmas, believe. Just believe. You’ll be amazed by what you can do to live out your faith.

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