Please allow me to introduce myself. I’m Thomas L. Seltzer. My parents gave me the name Thomas , although they never called me that. I’d like to think I was named after Thomas the Apostle, also called Didymus. Unfortunately, Thomas came to be known as “Doubting Thomas” because he openly doubted Jesus’ resurrection when the other apostles gave him first-person testimony. Like my namesake, I have many doubts. I grew up in Missouri, nicknamed the “Show Me State.”
I am the son of an agnostic Jew and an Irish Catholic. How those two ever got together to have a child is inexplicable. Leon Seltzer married Mary Jane Seltzer, but it appeared that Mary Jane would not be able to bear him any children. Mom had some sort of an eating disorder and kept losing weight. Not wanting to be around to see her starve to death, my father told her he was leaving. She begged him to stay, promising to eat and put on weight. She kept her promise, and the miracle of conception occurred.
Back in those days, a Catholic could only marry a non-Catholic if she had the church’s permission and the latter agreed to cooperate fully in “removing all dangers of the Catholic defecting from the faith and to make a sincere promise to do all in his or her power so that all offspring are baptized and brought up in the Catholic Church. My father agreed with one caveat. My mother could take me to church and indoctrinate me, but if I ever balked, I could walk away from the faith and never look back.
I can recall sitting through numerous renditions of the “Latin Mass,” the most widely used mass liturgy in the world until sometime in the 1960s. Of course, I didn’t understand much but I did sense some sort of a mystical quality in these proceedings. One day, as I sat in the pew, I had an overwhelming feeling of God’s presence. I knew He was real, and I had a sense that He was a Holy God. I don’t know if this thought was sparked by something the priest said, but I think it came from the Holy Spirit.
It was many decades later, that I came to understand how deep spiritual roots were planted in my ancestry. While my mother’s Catholic roots went back several generations, they weren’t as deep as my father’s Jewish roots. I was amazed to learn from my paternal aunt that Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Hasidic faith, was my great- great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather. Referred to as Besht, an acronym of his name, he was a renown scholar and mystic, known for performing miracles.
I did some internet research Israel Baal Shem To. The Hasidic movement, described by one historian as the single most important religious movement of the 18th century, filled a void felt by many devout but average Jews. Besht taught that all Jews could develop a close relationship with God through prayer and devotion to Him. This was a startling contrast to the intellectual style of the mainstream Jewish leaders of that day who put emphasis on a deep knowledge of the Torah, the first five books of the Bible.
Besht was certainly closer to the truth but sadly he stopped short of discovering the real truth. I discovered the truth when I was twenty. A girlfriend of mine challenged me to read the Gospel of John after I mocked her in public about her faith. When I got to the 14th chapter, I read about how Jesus told His disciples he was going away and they could eventually follow him. Doubting Thomas said he had no idea where Jesus was going and therefore could not follow him there because he didn’t know the way.
Jesus then told Thomas the simple truth everyone needs to know. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (John 14:6) By the time I finished reading the Gospel of John, I had come to believe this simple truth with simple faith. That was 44 years ago, but I had a lot more to learn about this simple faith. Frankly, I have still have a lot more to learn about faith. I am looking forward to sharing this with you as you continue your journey with Doubting Thomas.