• Rev. Lawrence E. Polansky

2nd Sunday of Easter (Sunday of Divine Mercy)

“Eight days later, Jesus came and stood in their midst.”

Entrance Antiphon: 1 Pt 2:2 – “Like newborn infants, you must long for the pure, spiritual milk, that in Him you may grow to salvation, alleluia.”

First Reading: Acts 4:32-35 – “They were of one heart and mind.”

Responsorial Psalm: Ps 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24 – “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, His love is everlasting.”

Second Reading: 1 Jn 5:1-6 – “Whoever is begotten by God conquers the world.”

Alleluia: Jn 20:29 – “You believe in Me, Thomas, because you have seen Me, says the Lord; blessed are those who not seen Me, but still believe!”

Gospel: Jn 20:19-31 – “Eight days later, Jesus came and stood in their midst.”

Communion Antiphon: Jn 20:27 – “Bring your hand and feel the place of the nails, and do not be unbelieving but believing, alleluia.”

Most of us have imperfect recall when it comes to remembering names … in other words, we don’t always remember the names of those we meet. But nicknames, on the other hand, stick like glue. And when a nickname is an implied criticism, it is even harder to shake. I’m sure several former presidents would like to lose their unwelcome labels. How many of you remember “Slick Willie,” or “Tricky Dick?” How about “Cautious Cal,” or “Give ‘Em Hell Harry?” Well, likewise “Doubting Thomas” probably has an equally valid complaint. He makes one wrong move and for over two thousand years, people have never forgotten. Where’s the justice in that?

As a famous theologian once said, “We must learn to regard people less in light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.” By taking a closer look at the probable cause of Thomas’ doubting, we might come to understand him – and ourselves – a little better. For even if our faith has not yet been shaken by the winds of doubt, the lives of the Saints suggest that our time of testing will come.

After the crucifixion of Jesus, all of the disciples were overcome by fear. Saint John’s Gospel states the plain truth. He and Peter and the rest of the disciples were hiding behind locked doors “for fear of the Jews.” They were afraid that what happened to Jesus would happen to them. They expressed no expectation that Jesus would appear to save the day. We can be sure that the hair stood up on their heads and their arms when … like a lightning bolt on a cloudless day … Jesus suddenly stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then He breathed His Spirit on them, sending them out as His Gospel messengers. There was only one problem. Thomas was not there. Maybe he was the only one brave enough to go out for supplies. Maybe he was so devastated by Jesus’ death that he had to be alone for a while with his grief. And perhaps after having offered those possible explanations ... explanations that aren’t recorded in Scripture, maybe we should all give him the benefit of the doubt.

It might be good to remember that before Thomas doubted, he showed great courage and faithfulness. Recall the story of how Jesus decided, despite threats of arrest, to go to Bethany to raise Lazarus. Only one disciple immediately supported Him. In the Gospel of Saint John, we read that Thomas roused the others by saying. “Let us also go to die with Him.”

At the Last Supper, Jesus assured the disciples that where He was going they too would go. Once again it was loyal Thomas who spoke up, seeking direction in case they were separated from Him, “Master, we do not know where You are going, how can we know the way?”

Despite those two stories in which he is looking good, we don’t refer to him as Heroic Thomas or Loyal Thomas. In the movie “Dead Man Walking,” Sister Helen comments about a convicted criminal, “A person is always more than the worst thing they’ve ever done in their lives.” Perhaps it would be good to give it some thought today and every day … maybe we should give each other, whatever our offenses and failings, the benefit of the doubt.

By seeking proof of Jesus’ rising, Thomas prompted high praise for all of us. He had been left out of the most stunning experience that the disciples had ever had. Perhaps his refusal to take their word about the Resurrection was rooted in the fear of discovering that they were victims of an illusion. Thomas had to have proof before he could go on.

In the painting by Caravaggio, Jesus is depicted as guiding Thomas’ finger into the open wound of His side. Once again, Scriptures ... the Gospel, does not say that Thomas actually touched Christ’s wounds. Either way, he and the other Apostles received all Jesus had to give from His pierced heart: the gift of divine mercy that we celebrate today. He saw his risen Master and simply and profoundly exclaimed, “My Lord and My God!” Jesus surely understood Thomas’ doubting. But He uses the occasion to say, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” If Thomas had not suffered his crisis of faith, we might not have been so well praised for our believing … “Blessed are we who have not seen and have believed.”

Here at the end of the Easter Octave, we’re called to reflect on how divine mercy sums up the whole mystery of Christ’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection. Notice how Jesus immediately greets the Apostles on that first Easter with peace, and shares His bountiful mercy – giving them His own power of forgiveness. It is the deepest truth God has shared about Himself: He is mercy and He loves us even when we don’t deserve it.

Hearing that should be tremendously freeing. It frees us from worrying that we’re not good enough to earn His love and it frees us from distancing ourselves from Him out of shame for our sins and defects – as if we could ever hide them from Him! Above all, it sets us free from the great sin of despair, of thinking that we’re too far gone for God to save us. How could a human creature’s mistakes outweigh the forgiveness of the infinite Creator?

When our Lord appeared to Saint Faustina Kowalska in the 1930s, He instructed her to paint what is now the famous image of Himself with two rays coming from His heart, red and white for the blood and water that flowed from His side on the cross, along with the inscription, “Jesus, I trust in you.” The water stands for the washing away of our sins in Baptism and Reconciliation, the blood for the new life that we receive in the Eucharist. As our Second Reading tells us, it’s Jesus, the one who came through water and blood, who has conquered the world.

God’s mercy not only cleanses us from our past, it gives us a way forward. When we allow it into our hearts, it manifests in our works of mercy for others. The peace and mercy Jesus gives the Apostles comes with a command to go and share it: “As the Father has sent Me, so I send you.” These men who had been hiding in a locked room became such powerful witnesses to the Resurrection that they established a community unequaled in solidarity and generosity.

This may seem impossible to us because we know how weak we are. We may have as much difficulty as Thomas did in having faith in what Christ has promised us. To truly love each other as God’s children? ... To be of one heart and mind like the community of the Apostles, setting aside our own attachments to serve the needs of others? There are few things more difficult than this kind of sacrificial love. Yet Saint John insists that these commandments are not burdensome, for whoever is begotten by God – that is, whomever has faith – conquers the world. So let us fix in our minds these five words: “Jesus, I trust in You.”

It has been said that only those who have a deep faith can survive a deep doubt. Thomas encourages each of us to trust in Jesus. He has risen from the dead and is waiting to raise each of us up as well. And so, as we continue with the Mass and as we approach this altar, may we each also be given the grace to make Thomas’ prayer “My Lord and My God!” our own.

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