|The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio|
In April of year 2000, Pope John Paul II proclaimed today, the 2nd Sunday of Easter, “Divine Mercy” Sunday. He was inspired by a young nun, Sr. Maria Faustina Kowalska, who lived in Cracow Poland in the 1930’s. Sr. Faustina received extraordinary revelations from Jesus. These revelations were compiled in notebooks – known today as the diary of St. Faustina Kowalska. Pope John Paul II, both in his teaching and personal life, strove to live and teach the message of Divine Mercy – he exhorted us to personally experience God's mercy. Sister Faustina was canonized on April 30th, 2000.
Today’s Easter story is a story of divine mercy. It is a story of how Jesus interacts with his Church – then and today.
Today’s gospel reading begins on the evening of that first day – Resurrection Day. The disciples have no understanding – they have not yet grasped the significance of what just happened. Jesus their Lord, their friend, has been crucified – he is dead. Maybe they will receive the same fate. They are huddled in fear and terror in an “upper room” with locked doors. Like those first disciples, we too experience “the upper room”– where we lock our doors – keeping those out who we don’t understand who we don’t like – where we despair at our failures and betrayals; where we fear about what might come next – most especially the fear of death. We all wrestle with doubts and fears - waiting for God to show us what the resurrected life of Christ means for our earthly existence.
Jesus now comes in his mercy, and though the doors are locked, he stands in the midst of the disciples.
Jesus, still the embodiment of humanity – he now lives on a new level – a new pitch of existence – the disciples experience the glorified body of Jesus – as was anticipated by the sign given to Peter, James and John at the Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor. Brothers and sisters, this risen Christ has stood in the midst of his followers up and down the ages.
“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Jesus stands with us today. When Father says “The Lord be with you”, we acknowledge the presence of the risen Christ among us. We encounter Him in the community, in the Eucharist, in the word of God, in the stranger, in our woundedness, in the act of forgiving.
Bearing the message of divine mercy – Jesus entrusts its ministry to the disciples as He says,” “Peace be with you.” Soon we will share the sign of peace. Here Jesus takes the initiative. Let us offer each other a sign of (His) peace. Jesus speaks peace be with us – shalom. The Peace God wants us to have - is the peace that the world cannot give. Jesus’ peace is beyond the fear of death. His peace is the mercy that endures forever.
When Jesus said this, he showed the disciples his hands - and his side. Here we see the whole drama of Christianity on display. Jesus wounds received during His Passion - are part of the price for our salvation: "By His wounds you were healed" (1 Peter 2:24).
Jesus conquered death - by going through it - to the other side. This is the path of radical love - so different from the mindset of our society. Jesus commands us to a kind of love that is all-embracing and limitless. In her diary, Sister Faustina shares a revelation she received from Jesus, “I demand from you - deeds of mercy, which are to arise out of love for Me. You are to show mercy to your neighbors always and everywhere. You must not shrink from this - or try to excuse or absolve yourself from it.” Jesus calls us to love people whom, we would really rather not – to love those who hate us – those who we would rather leave as faceless and nameless. Christ commands us to give them an incredible love.
“As the Father has sent me, so I send you. No one in all of scripture is given a vision experience of God without being sent on mission - no exception. Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, all….. The Father sends the Son into the world on a mission of love – so he sends you and me. We are commissioned to be bearers of the divine life to the world. The word Mass comes from the Latin word Missa….to be sent. With all the graces we receive at Mass, from hearing the Word of God and most importantly, by partaking of the Eucharist, we will have the strength to “go out” and preach the good news to the world – in a manner of saving love and mercy.
Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
We recall in the Book of Genesis, “God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, - and the man became a living being.” Now the Son of God breathes the spiritual life into his disciples, who are the Church. This breath, in Hebrew, Ruah, is the life breathed out between the Father and Son; Christ gives us a share in the divine life that we lost through sin. To save us from sin, Jesus breathes into the disciples, the Church, and gives the Church the power to forgive sins – an abundant mercy.
Now Thomas was not in the “upper room” with the disciples at the first appearance of the Risen Christ – so – he doubted. When Jesus returns to the upper room - with Thomas there, he tells Thomas to place his finger and hands in his wounds.
Thomas then gives voice to the most impressive confession of faith in the entire Bible - “My Lord and my God.” Thomas became a great beacon of light – from doubter to believer.
Thomas and those first disciples received a wonderful gift – seeing Jesus – embracing Jesus – touching the wounds of Jesus – in his human persona – one of us. In a few minutes - we will see - and receive - that same Jesus – in a small white consecrated host. And just like those first disciples, we love him – believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy.
On every Feast of Divine Mercy - let us echo the words of Thomas "My Lord and My God" and through the intercession of Saint Faustina, let us ask the Lord of Mercy for the grace to become true messengers of Mercy in our own age. Amen.