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St. Thomas the Apostle – December 21

Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira

Biographical selection:

St. Thomas was ordered by Our Lord to go to India, which he did in the company of Abbanes, a provost of one of the kings of India who had come to Caesarea looking for an architect. After dealing with this King and building a palace for him, not on earth, but in Heaven by giving his treasure to the poor, and after converting multitudes in India through his innumerable miracles, Thomas headed to Upper India.

An Indian postal stamp featruing St. Thomas

St. Thomas on a stamp from India
There he converted Queen Migdonia and her sister to the Catholic Faith. From then on, they refused to lie with their pagan husbands. The King became furious and ordered that Thomas be brought before him, his hands and his feet bound. He was commanded to reconcile the wives to their husband. But the Apostle answered the King saying that he could not do this so long as he professed a false faith.

Irate, the King commanded that pieces of burning iron be brought forth and that the Apostle should stand on them in his bare feet. And immediately, by the will of Our Lord, a spring of water sprang up and quenched the iron.

Next, the King, following the counsel of his brother-in-law Carisius, had him thrown into a fiery furnace, but miraculously it was made so cold that the next day he issued out all safe, without harm.

Then Carisius said to the King: “Command him to sacrifice to the god of the sun. That will bring down on him the wrath of his God, who so far has been protecting him.” They tried to force Thomas to do this, but the Apostle responded that the devil was in the idol, and that God would break it to pieces the moment he would approach it. And so it happened.

After that miracle, the high priest killed St. Thomas piercing him through with a sword. The King and Carisius did not convert, but fled away, for they saw that the people would avenge the Apostle.

Comments of Prof. Plinio:

Our Lord said that the Apostles would work more and even greater miracles than He Himself did: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father (John 14:12). Why did He say this? What principle is behind these words?

It is not easy to respond with precision to this question, but among many answers, there is one worthy of attention.

A painting of Our Lord appearing to the doubtful St. Thomas

Doubting Thomas by Duccio di Buoninsegna
A person who saw Our Lord Jesus Christ and heard the words that issued from His divine mouth already experienced a kind of special miracle, which was to see with his own eyes the Incarnate God. Our Lord’s presence was so supernatural, so divine, so out of proportion to any human measure that for a man of faith, nothing else would be necessary to believe in His divinity. His presence was more than any miracle imaginable.

For this reason He censured those who were asking for miracles. He addressed them as a “faithless and perverse generation” who only believe when they see miracles. Thus, it is a blessing to believe without miracles. St. Thomas also received a similar criticism from Our Lord: “Because thou hast seen me, Thomas, thou hast believed. Blessed are they that have not seen, and have believed” (John 20:29).

This selection mentions some of St. Thomas’ astonishing miracles in India. He worked one miracle after another, but still the King did not convert. His mind was made up and he did not want to believe. In the end, he remained an unbeliever and allowed his high priest to kill St. Thomas. One miracle, two miracles, many miracles were not enough for him. When he was defeated by the evidence of the miracles, he became an accomplice to the murder of St. Thomas.

This mentality is shared by those who are not satisfied with normal graces, but are always asking for miracles. In appearance, they are thirsty for miracles, but at depth they are too lazy to open their souls to grace. If God would give a miracle, it would not satisfy them. They would become more hardened, and even reject the saint who worked the miracle. They share in some way the psychology of the pagan King.

This leads us to consider the depth of human wickedness. Man stained by original sin and excessively complacent with his actual sins has a strong tendency to close his soul to grace, even to miracles. Often nothing but very exceptional graces can touch a soul like this.

Another symptom of such hardness is when a person, like the King in India, is subject to superstitions. I knew a person with a great vocation who came to our fight for the Church but never had a true generosity toward Our Lady. He ended by going astray. He was a superstitious man, always carrying an amulet that he believed had occult powers. I don’t think his defection was caused by the malefic power of the amulet. I think that by relying on magical powers he rejected the grace and disregarded the rich supernatural help the Church places at our disposition.

A painting of Our Lady handing her girdle to St. Thomas, by Gozzoli

The Virgin handing the girdle to St. Thomas - Gozzoli
A point also worthy of consideration is the attitude of St. Thomas regarding his previous infidelity. He was unfaithful when he doubted the Resurrection of Our Lord. He was chastised for that: he was the only Apostle who was not present at the death of Our Lady. He arrived late, when Our Lady was already starting her Assumption in the air. With a marvelous manifestation of her tenderness for him, she took off her girdle and let it fall for him. He was chastised, but at the same time she inundated him with her tenderness.

St. Thomas converted because of her sweetness as well as Our Lord’s severity and became a truly penitent soul. What is a truly penitent soul?

It is one who committed a bad action, but with shame and sadness repents of the evil he did and, when the occasion presents itself he takes advantage of it to admit his bad action. He is happy to humiliate himself in public and accuse himself of the evil that he committed. He hates his sin and wants others to hate it also. This is the profile of the truly penitent soul. Regarding sins of purity, this rule only applies for those sins that are public and notorious for obvious reasons.

Even after this person makes expiation for his fault and practices acts of virtue, he always has before him the sin he committed. This is what David sang in one of his penitential psalms: “Peccatum meum contra me est semper” – my sin is always before me. That is, I hate my sin, it will stand there facing me all my life, and only my death will annihilate it. Repentance is a swelling hatred for the evil that one has done. Insofar as a man comes to understand the consequences of his bad action, he is increasingly sorrowful. To be implacable toward ourselves is one of the starting points of the Catholic and counter-revolutionary spirit.

The incredulity of St. Thomas, by Verocchio

The incredulity of St. Thomas by Verocchio
There is another way one can note this sense of penance in a man. A person who is convinced of the effects of original sin in himself likes to be reprimanded. He is grateful when someone shows him that he did something wrong. He feels relieved when he is reproved, because from then on he can avoid that error and improve.

St. Thomas went far and wide evangelizing and I am sure that, like St. Peter, he wept over his past infidelity. I am sure he repented publicly without fear of causing scandal or a bad impression. Penance, when it is sincere, only attracts and advances others on the path of virtue.

Here are some points for an examination of conscience: Are we really sorry for the sins we committed? Is our repentance as serious as it should be? Do we have a true severity toward the evil we committed? Do we always have our sins before us so that we might hate them and make reparation for them? Are we happy when others reprove us for our faults or do we flee from those who criticize us with rage in our heart?

If this examination reveals that we are not as penitent as we should be, we can direct our prayers to all the penitent saints who are in Heaven – especially St. Thomas – and ask them to have mercy on us, give us the grace of true repentance, penance, and the splendid sadness of contrition along with a hatred for the evil that is in our souls.

The soul with the true spirit of penance loves without self-interest the virtue opposed to the sin he committed. This soul attracts Our Lady. She comes to his soul, enters, and remains in it, bringing with her the Holy Ghost her Spouse, Our Lord Jesus Christ her Son, and God the Father. Let us beg her to make us worthy of this.


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Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
The Saint of the Day features highlights from the lives of saints based on comments made by the late Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira. Following the example of St. John Bosco who used to make similar talks for the boys of his College, each evening it was Prof. Plinio’s custom to make a short commentary on the lives of the next day’s saint in a meeting for youth in order to encourage them in the practice of virtue and love for the Catholic Church. TIA thought that its readers could profit from these valuable commentaries.

The texts of both the biographical data and the comments come from personal notes taken by Atila S. Guimarães from 1964 to 1995. Given the fact that the source is a personal notebook, it is possible that at times the biographic notes transcribed here will not rigorously follow the original text read by Prof. Plinio. The commentaries have also been adapted and translated for TIA’s site.

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