“We’re set for the Phillies’ home opener,” I texted a friend. “Just got the tickets. Seats are in the clouds but at least we’re in the park!”
Neither of us had ever been to a baseball team’s opening day, so we were both excited. Admittedly, I’m something of a disaster as a Phillies fan. I talk nonstop throughout the game, sing the National Anthem too loudly, and pay more attention to the Phanatic than to the team. I usually miss the best plays because I’m in line for ice cream, trying to decide if I want sprinkles or hot fudge. But I go to every game I can, because in my own scatterbrained way I truly enjoy America’s national pastime.
One season, in an effort to become a more educated spectator, I squinted at the scoreboard and asked what it meant when a player “fled out.” My seatmate wearily replied that the term was “flied out,” explained its meaning, and then resumed watching the game in silence.
An inning later, I pounced on another scoreboard caption. “Struck out swinging,” I proudly repeated. “That’s when the player swings at the pitch, even though he misses, right? Now there’s a motto to live by. Put that on my gravestone!” My friend didn’t speak to me for the rest of the game.
The Apostles – Jesus’ starting lineup in his kingdom – certainly struck out as they faced various opportunities to demonstrate faith. Often they didn’t bother to take a swing. And in denying Christ three times, Peter seemed to throw down his bat altogether.
Of all the Apostles, Thomas had a unique opportunity to hit a homer. He wasn’t there on that first day of the week when Jesus appeared to the disciples in the locked room (John 20:19-29). When his fellow Apostles told him that they had seen the Lord, Thomas could have replied with a tremendous confession of pure faith: “I may not have seen him, but I believe in his promise to rise from the dead, and I believe in the testimony of my brothers.”
Instead, Thomas eyed the pitch and thought it wasn’t worth the effort. He’d proven before that he could deliver a hit. When Jesus announced he would return to a hostile Judea to raise Lazarus, Thomas rallied the protesting Apostles by saying, “Let us also go to die with him” (John 11:16). Maybe fear and sorrow over Jesus’ death – and feeling excluded from the other disciples’ joyous encounter with the Risen Lord – was too much of a curve ball for Thomas.
But, as baseball legend (and philosopher in his own right) Yogi Berra pointed out: “It ain’t over till it’s over.” Thomas may have missed a perfect pitch, but the game was far from lost. “The disbelief of Thomas has done more for our faith than the faith of the other disciples,” declared St. Gregory the Great. “As he touches Christ and is won over to belief, every doubt is cast aside and our faith is strengthened.”
When Jesus reappeared in that same locked room, Thomas was there, and his next at bat was a resounding success. The Lord challenged Thomas to touch his very real wounds, and the doubting disciple exclaimed, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:27-28).
St. Gregory reminds us that “what is seen gives knowledge, not faith.” So if Thomas now had knowledge, why did Jesus ask him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me?” (John 20:29)
“What (Thomas) saw and what he believed were different things,” St. Gregory explains. “God cannot be seen by mortal man. Thomas saw a human being, whom he acknowledged to be God … Seeing, he believed; looking at one who was true man, he cried out that this was God, the God he could not see.”
Thomas got a second chance at that curve ball, and this time he nailed it.
During his general audience on Sept. 27, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI gave several reasons why Thomas is an important model of Christian faith. The Apostle’s struggle to believe “comforts us in our insecurity … (and) shows us that every doubt can lead to an outcome brighter than any uncertainty,” the pope said. “The words that Jesus addressed to him remind us of the true meaning of mature faith and encourage us to persevere … along our journey.”
And for Thomas, it was quite a journey indeed. According to tradition, he witnessed to the faith throughout Persia and as far as India, where he was martyred in 72 A.D.
Now that’s what I call knocking it out of the park.