The names of the twelve apostles are these: first Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. (Matthew 10:2-4)
Tomorrow begins the Holy Triduum with the Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper. Certainly, our focus remains on the Lord and his institution of the Eucharist, the Mass, and Holy Orders. But let us not forget those twelve men who sat down with Him that night to eat the Passover. Over the past three years, they had seen the blind given sight, the lame made to walk, even the dead rise again. Some had seen Jesus transfigured in glory. All had seen him walk on water. Most, if not all, from the very first moment they saw Jesus and heard his voice, gave up everything they had known in order to follow Him. Yet despite all they had seen and experienced as the closest friends of the Christ, they still were not prepared for the horrific events to begin later that night when one of their own would betray their Master.
And, in some respects, that does not surprise us. For while the Gospels give us more information and about some apostles and much less, if anything, about others, we see how, collectively, they often failed to understand everything Jesus was telling and teaching them. In this regard, it can be easy for us to view them through a critical lens, wanting to hold them to a somewhat higher standard than ourselves because they walked and talked with our Lord--in the flesh--every day. But doing so forgets that these were ordinary human beings like you and me. More importantly, it overlooks that they were sinners in need of a savior, just like us.
In fact, if we look closely, I think we can see ourselves in them--through their very own words. I choose here Peter, the impetuous "leader" of the apostles (always named first in the Gospels) upon whom Jesus founded His Church and gave the keys of the Kingdom; Thomas, often called "doubting"; and John, the disciple whom Jesus loved" and author of the fourth Gospel. For the purpose of this exercise, certainly other apostles could be chosen, but the Gospels put more words on the lips of these three (together with more information about them) than most others.
So, as we prepare for the Triduum and the glorious coming of Easter, let us put the words of these three apostles into own mouths and place their actions into our own lives. Perhaps we are not so very different from them after all:
- Have you ever cried out, like Peter, "Lord, save me!" as you began to sink in the tumultuous waters of this life, asking Jesus to reach out catch you after you tried walking out toward Him? (Matthew 14:28-32)
- Or maybe, during times of stress and confusion in your life, you've said to Jesus "Lord, [I] do not know where you are going; how can [I] know the way?" (John 14:5-7)
- Nevertheless, during times of great spiritual consolation, or simply after Jesus is made present on the altar during Mass, you've no doubt cried out like John, "It is the Lord!" (John 21:7)
- And during those mountaintop moments, I bet, like Peter, you've said "Lord, it is well that we are here," wanting to pitch your tent on that mountain and stay there with Jesus forever. (Matthew 17:4) During those times, you confidently declare with Peter, "I will never fall away." (Matthew 26:33)
- But such highs sometimes seem all too brief, and in darker moments of despair, perhaps related to the death of a loved one, maybe you've said, like Thomas, "let us go also, that we may die with him." (John 11:16)
- Or instead of humbly asking for God's will to be done, have you demanded of Jesus, like John (and his brother James), "Teacher, [I] want you to do for [me] whatever [I] ask of you," seeking some type of material comfort, power or prestige? (Mark 10:35-37)
- Perhaps, during severe times of doubt and testing, you longed for--if not demanded--physical proof of faith in Christ, saying, like Thomas, "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." (John 20:25)
- Or, even worse, in order to avoid the ridicule of others, or just to get along with the world, maybe you've denied Jesus in words or actions, saying multiple times like Peter "I do not know the man!" (Matthew 26:72-74)
- But, also like Peter, you know of our Lord's unfathomable mercy, and after weeping bitterly over your sins, you've approached the great sacrament of reconciliation, saying with Peter "I am a sinful man, O Lord" (Luke 5:8); wash "not my feet only, but also my hands and my head." (John 13:9)
- And then, washed clean by the blood of Christ, you see things anew, and cry out with Thomas "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:28-29)
- Restored to a state of grace, you've no doubt stood beneath the Cross on Good Friday like John, your arms wrapped around the Blessed Virgin Mary, taking her into the home of your heart, as you hear Jesus exclaim "Behold, your mother!" (John 19:27)
- And having seen Christ's love poured out on the Cross, you say Him, like Peter, over and over again, Lord, "you know that I love you." (John 21:15-17)
- Finally, when all is said and done, when you've come to that realization that nothing in this world can fill that hole in your heart, you've fallen on your knees and said "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God!" (John 6:68-69)
Yes, I think there's some Peter, Thomas and John in all of us. At least I know there is in me.
Saints Peter, Thomas and John, pray for us!
God love you.