Painting Conversion

One of my favorite paintings is “The Incredulity of Saint Thomas” painted by Caravaggio circa 1601.

I first came to learn about this painting while a student at Rhode Island School of Design. The reason why it struck a chord is that I was struggling with my faith during college. An event back then in 1989 caused me to question everything—much like Thomas.

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas. Caravaggio, c. 1601–1602

The disciples were cowering in the upper room after the death of Jesus. Our Lord appeared to them and gave them proof of his resurrection. Luke recounts that Jesus ate fish in order to show them that he had a body—that he was not an incorporeal ghost:

“‘Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.’ And as he said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed, he asked them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of baked fish; he took it and ate it in front of them.” Luke 24:39-43

But Thomas was not there. Upon his return they told him “We have seen the Lord.” But Thomas said he wouldn’t believe unless he saw the nail wounds in Jesus’ hands and put his finger into his side.

Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. Jesus appeared and took Thomas up on his offer. And this is precisely the moment Caravaggio captures—the second that doubt turns to belief. Notice in the painting that Jesus does not merely offer his side to Thomas, but Jesus grasps his hand and gently leads him to conversion.

After seeing the Risen Lord and probing his wounds, Thomas did a 180. This Sunday we hear him say to Jesus one of the most profound statements in all of the New Testament.

“My Lord and my God!”-John 20:28

This is the first time any of the disciples declared Jesus to be God. His exclamation surpassed all that had been uttered before. His confession is the climax of John’s Gospel and is one of the clearest affirmations of Christ’s divinity. Too bad the Apostle is remembered for his unwillingness to believe and got stuck with the moniker “Doubting” Thomas!

But such is the power of Easter. It is a call to conversion—an invitation to reorient our lives toward Him.

As for my collegiate crisis, I too came to believe through an encounter with the Risen Lord. No, I did not probe our Lord’s wounds, but I came to know him as did the two at Emmaus-in the breaking of the bread. That was the source of my conversion, or rather, reversion.

My reversion story was posted on the Coming Home Network website. I invite you to read it to get a better understanding why the MassExplained app and website is the culmination of a journey—an often painful one—that led me away from the Church of my youth, only to rediscover it again with a relentless fervor that has not subsided a quarter century later.

1 Comment

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Domenic Accetta
April 24, 2014 at 7:06 pm

Thomas is depicted actually probing the side of Christ. For me, it brings to mind Psalm 139, though in a reverse way, “O Lord, you have searched me and know me” where the psalmist speaks of God knowing him.

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