April 28, 2019 • 2nd Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday)
1st Reading: Acts 5:12-16
Psalm: 118:2-4, 22-27
2nd Reading: Revelation 1:9-13, 17-19
Gospel: John 20:19-31
Give thanks to the Lord for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever! (Psalm 118)
Our Gospel reading today, although perhaps not directly about mercy on this Divine Mercy Sunday, nevertheless shows the mercy of God quite clearly. On that Easter Sunday evening, the embattled and confused disciples were huddled in a house, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews. Probably the uproar about the grave being empty and Christ’s body being gone had begun to get around a bit. Fearing the worst, the Apostles hid. And who can blame them? We remember from Matthew that the chief priests and the elders had paid the guards, who had been struck down in fear at the Resurrection, to say that the disciples came during the night and stole His body. Considering the hatred of the crowds and how easily they were riled up on the fateful day of His death, it was probably a smart thing for the disciples to hide.
And yet in mercy, knowing their anxiety and confusion, Christ visits them. Suddenly the room is filled with His very presence. Twice He bids peace to be with them, willing them to believe that everything was still very much in God’s control. He breathes the Holy Spirit upon them and commands them to go out, just as the Father had sent Him out to the world. Do not hide! Do not be afraid! Go, and God’s peace will be with you! These are quite the words to say to men who are huddled in fear, trying to get a grip on what has been happening to them.
A small aside, but if you went to the Chrism Mass in your diocese, you will have noticed YOUR Apostle (your bishop, in fact) breathing God’s Spirit upon the Oil of Chrism. When I first noticed him doing this a year ago, I was stunned by the similarities between our Gospel passage and what my bishop was doing. An excellent article on the subject found here: http://bit.ly/2GO6tL2 , and has this to say about this longstanding tradition:
Finally, Holy Chrism is a mixture of olive oil and balsam, an aromatic resin. This oil is linked with the sanctification of individuals. In the Old Testament times, the priest, prophets and kings of the Jewish people were anointed. This oil is used in the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and holy orders, since they impart an indelible sacramental character. The blessing of the Holy Chrism is different from that of the other oils: Here the bishop breathes over the vessel of chrism, a gesture which symbolizes both the Holy Spirit coming down to consecrate this oil, and the life-giving, sanctifying nature of the character of the sacraments for which it is used. (Recall how our Lord “breathed” on the apostles on the night of Easter, saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” [John 20:22].) The concelebrants at the Chrism Mass also extend their right hands toward the chrism as the bishop says the consecratory prayer, signifying that, in union with their bishop, they share “in the authority by which Christ Himself builds up and sanctifies and rules His Body,” the Church (Vatican II, Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests, No. 2).”
But back to our main text! We read that, during this appearance of Jesus to the disciples, Thomas was actually not with them. Now you know how badly you can feel when something important has happened and you have been left out of the bargain! It is natural and human (although not very godly) to feel perhaps somewhat resentful and saddened that you were not worthy or able to be at such an occasion. You feel a loss and a drawing away from those who were at the important event, even if you had been close to them before. It seems that poor Thomas was suffering from such a hurt. He refused to believe his closest friends when they told him about the Lord’s visit. Instead, he erects a huge wall between them and himself: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
Eight days later, in His great mercy and love for poor Thomas, who had walled himself in with doubts, prejudices, and fears, Christ appears, speaking peace and challenging Thomas to go ahead and tear down that wall which he had built for himself. “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe!” That is all it took! “Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”
This is Divine Mercy Sunday. The painting revealed to St. Faustina is one in which we see white and red rays shining forth from the heart of Christ. When asked about these rays, St. Faustina had this to say:
When on one occasion my confessor told me to ask the Lord Jesus the meaning of the two rays in the image, I answered, “Very well, I will ask the Lord.”
During prayer I heard these words within me: The two rays denote Blood and Water. The pale ray stands for the water that makes souls righteous. The red ray stands for the Blood which is the life of souls.…
These two rays issued forth from the very depths of My tender mercy when my agonized Heart was opened by a lance on the Cross. (Diary, 299).
Jesus himself bids all those who are burdened and heavy laden, as Thomas was, to come to him, to put their hand to his pierced heart, to let the river of water wash them clean and the river of blood give them new life. He is full of mercy and charity as much in the Catholic Church as he was in any of my Protestant churches. That is probably an odd thing to say, but I know that, for many years, I believed that Catholics did not think of God as loving and forgiving. I was taught and believed that they thought of God in vengeful terms only; a God who delighted in snatching away their salvation; a God who imposed heavy fines upon them for their sins. But I was wonderfully wrong about all that! The Catechism of the Catholic Church, as well as the Vatican II documents which I have read, are full of charity and mercy. They quite took my breath away.
“O Blood and Water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus, as a fount of mercy for us, I trust in You.” (Diary, entry 84; cf. 309), was the prayer which St Faustina was taught by Jesus.
“My Lord and my God!” was the prayer Thomas exclaimed when he finally trusted in the Risen Christ.
“Alleluia” is the prayer of our Easter season, and as St. John Paul II said, “We are an Easter people and Alleluia is our song.”
Happy Easter everyone! Alleluia!