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July 3, 2019

Fr. Justin Sheehan, OCSO

13th Tuesday in Ordinary Time
St. Thomas the Apostle

Thomas was the first recorded “doubting Thomas,” because he refused to believe the reports of sightings of a risen Jesus until, according to this morning’s Gospel, “I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the print of the nails, and place my hand in his side”.

A short time later, Jesus appeared to Thomas, and Thomas finally calls him “my Lord and my God”. Jesus seems to mock him gently when he responds, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”

A late tradition sees Thomas as having carried the gospel of Jesus to India, first to the northwestern kingdom of Gondophorus. Then, according to the third-century Acts of Thomas, in the year 52, the apostle sailed, in the company of a Jewish traveler named Abbanes, to the southern tip of India, to the port of Muziris, present-day Pattanam, in Kerala state.

Kerala was home, even at that time, to a Jewish community. A 17th-century work called Thomma Parvam (Songs of Thomas) says that he converted 40 Jews upon his arrival, along with 3,000 Hindus of Brahmin origin.

Modern historians believe that Christianity actually arrived in India several centuries after the era of the historical Thomas, with the arrival of Christians from Syria and from Persia.

The martyrdom of Thomas, however, took place not on the western coast of India, but on the other side of the subcontinent, in the southeastern city of Mylapore, near the modern Chennai. There, around the year 72 AD, Thomas came into conflict with the Hindu priests of Kali, who killed him for insulting their god – or simply for converting many of their followers. (Marco Polo, in the 13th century, heard that Thomas had died, more than a millennium earlier, when an archer out hunting peacocks had accidentally shot him.)

His bones were then brought into the city of Mylapore and buried inside a church he had already built there, where in the 16th century, Portuguese explorers built the São Tomé Basilica, which was rebuilt by the British in 1893.

October 6 is observed as the feast day of St. Thomas in the Syro-Malabar rite in India. His spiritual descendants, known as “Mar Thoma Nazranees (Nazarenes)” or St. Thomas Christians, exist to this day.