Gospel Contemplation: Thomas-Encounters-Jesus
Gospel Contemplation is a way of praying that St. Ignatius proposes quite frequently in his Spiritual Exercises. You are invited to use your imagination to enter the scene, to take part, to let the scene unfold. As Ignatius suggests, notice the people, listen to them, watch what they do [SE, 106, 107, 108]. Perhaps you may sense an invitation to be one of the individuals in the scene and engage in a conversation with one of them. You can do this on your own, or use the text below as a guide.
If this way of praying is new – simply relax and try to become engaged in the scene. Try not to worry about what you are “supposed to” be doing. If you find yourself distracted during your prayer, very gently bring yourself back to the scripture text or your imaginative contemplation.
If at any point during the guided contemplation your imagination comes to life in such a way that God invites to you stay with a particular moment, follow the invitation that you sense, rather than move on to where the written contemplation is going. In that case you might want to stop reading and continue on your own.
A Note on Praying with this Gospel Passage
This week’s gospel contains two discrete moments, each of which could be the subject matter for a full prayer session. The first is Jesus’ appearance among the disciples where he gives both a blessing of peace and a mission. The second is the apostle Thomas’ encounter with Jesus. As you listen to the gospel reading, pay attention to where you feel more drawn. If it’s to that first moment, then pray with that. You would read the scripture twice, getting a sense of it, and then imaginine yourself in the room with the disciples when Jesus suddenly appears and go from there. If you feel more drawn to the second half, then continue with the written contemplation below.
Quiet your body and mind
- Choose a position where you can be relaxed but alert.
- Breathe deeply several times and let your body relax
- Breathe out any worries or stressful thoughts and put them in God’s hands
- Become aware of God’s presence here with you now, looking at you with love.
Ask for a grace
- Ask God for the grace of belief despite doubt.
Read the scripture passage
Read the passage slowly, savoring the words and beginning to imagine the scene. Read it twice if that helps you to visualize it.
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”
Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.”
Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”
Now, Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.
See, in your imagination, the room where the disciples have locked themselves. What is this room like – is it light and airy, dark and stuffy? Are people sitting or standing – are there chairs or tables around? What is everyone doing?
The city is still roiled from the recent executions, and the rumors of a resurrection. Followers of Jesus, men and women, have come together to seek comfort from one another and share stories of their own encounters with the risen Lord. You are there too. Do you have a story to share?
After a while, you notice that Thomas is making a bit of scene, challenging the stories of those who claim to have seen Jesus. He’s not going to believe until he’s seen the Lord with his own eyes. Do you join in the conversation or just listen? If you do join in, what do you say? Spend a moment listening or conversing.
As the debate continues, you notice a disturbance on the other side of the room – and you realize that folks are gathered around one person. Drawing closer, you see that it is Jesus. How do you react? What do you feel?
Jesus says to you and everyone, “Peace be with you.” Receive his greeting of peace.
Jesus moves towards Thomas, offering an outstretched hand, saying, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Watch as Thomas talks with Jesus.
Then Jesus turns to you, offering his hand and side. What do you do?
Spend a few moments with Jesus. Can you be honest with him about your own doubts and your own faith? How does he receive what you say?
When you are ready, close with your favorite prayer.
Review of Prayer
St. Ignatius recommends that we review our prayer. A written review has many advantages. It enables us to look back on our prayer experience, and to notice what happened. It allows us to be fully present to our experience of prayer. We do not write while we are praying. The review of prayer enables us not to judge ourselves or look for how well we are doing. It helps us to become more sensitive to how God is speaking to us in the here and now. It is also a precious record of our journey with God, which nourishes wholeness and integration.
Some questions to assist with your review:
What happened in your prayer?
What feelings did you experience?
During the prayer period, when did you feel encouraged?
When did you feel discouraged?
Did you receive the grace you asked for?
What did you receive?