Saints for Our Times: From the doubting to the purest of heart

By Mary Lou Gibson

Columnist

The people that Jesus chose for his inner circle each had a special place in his public ministry and were given a unique role in spreading the Gospel. Two such people with feast days in July and August are Thomas, the Apostle, and Mary, the Blessed Mother.

Thomas will always and ever be known as the apostle who doubted the reports of Jesus’ resurrection. Hence the name of "doubting Thomas" has been attributed to him because he refused to believe that Jesus had truly risen. He was not with the apostles when Our Lord appeared to them. His famous quote lives on: "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."

Some eight days later, Thomas was with the other apostles when Jesus suddenly appeared in their midst. When Thomas acknowledges the Lord as the risen Christ, he addresses Jesus as "My Lord and my God." Author Richard McBrien writes in "Lives of the Saints" that this confession of faith is the only instance in the New Testament where Jesus is explicitly addressed as God. Paul Burns reports in "Butler’s Lives of the Saints" that Thomas’s full confession of faith in Christ’s divinity is one of vital importance.

Thomas was a Jew and probably a Galilean. He was called Didymus, the Greek equivalent of Thomas.

After Pentecost, there is much uncertainty about Thomas’s missionary activities. One tradition has him preaching to the Parthians in what is now Iran. Burns writes that the most persistent tradition is that he went to the Malabar coast in southwest India. The Syrian Christians of Malabar claim they were evangelized by him.

Pope Paul VI declared Thomas the Apostle of India in 1972. He is also the patron saint of the East Indies, Pakistan and architects. His feast day is kept on July 3, the date of his death in the year 72, by the Syrian churches and in Malabar. His name became one of the most popular Christian names in the West.

Mary is described by Malcolm Day in "A Treasury of Saints" as supreme among the saints and not tainted by "original sin." Devotion to Mary as the Mother of God began in the second century. She is always depicted as a loving and responsible mother. She is the patron of far more conditions, causes and countries than any other.

From early times, Christians have believed that Mary remained a virgin throughout her life. After the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, little is known of her. Rodney Castleden writes in "The Book of Saints" that there is no mention of her death in official church documents. From about the 6th century, the church doctrine that she was taken up to heaven in body and soul was widely accepted. Still, much of what we know about her life comes from pious tradition and the revelations of mystics. Sarah Gallick writes in "The Big Book of Women Saints" that our belief in Mary’s assumption into heaven comes from a vision of St. Elizabeth of Schönau. She saw Mary soaring to heaven surrounded by angels.

Burns writes that for ages the church has believed that the body of Mary was preserved from corruption and taken into heaven to be reunited to her soul. In 1950, Pope Pius XII defined this belief as a truth revealed by God that Mary, when the course of her life on earth was finished, was taken up body and soul into heaven. This was published in the bull "Munificentissimus Deus." The doctrine of the Assumption was not only unopposed but testified to in sermons and numerous works of art, according to David Farmer in the "Oxford Dictionary of Saints."

Author Rosa Giorgi writes in "Saints – A Year in Faith and Art" that the Assumption of Mary bears her to a higher dimension. The Assumption presents a particular involvement in the Resurrection of Jesus and anticipates the resurrection of all Christians, Giorgi reports.

Farmer reports that Mary had the unique privilege of being the mother of one who was both God and Man and that this is at the heart of the special honor paid to Mary.

The feast of the Assumption is on the General Roman Calendar on Aug. 15 and is one of the four Solemnities devoted to Mary. The others are: Mary, Mother of God – Jan. 1; Annunciation – March 25; and the Immaculate Conception – Dec. 8.

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