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Where was St. Thomas on Easter Sunday?

April 7, 2013

Divine Mercy Sunday 2013

(2nd Sunday of Easter)

Acts 5: 12-16             Revelation 1:9-13, 17-19                  John 20: 19-31

Each of today’s readings is about the range of faith to be found amongst people who believe in Jesus. Different people can have different degrees of faith because of their life experiences, their circumstances, and ultimately, the level of trust they place in Jesus and His Church. If we are, for some reason, frightened of things, our faith gets tested. I want to explore these ideas on this Divine Mercy Sunday.

Divine Mercy is another way of describing God’s everlasting love for us. We see it in the gospel today. After the arrest and execution of Jesus, the disciples were terrified that the mob would come for them next. So they met in secret, in a locked room. It is significant that they came together. Being a Christian has, from the very beginning, meant being part of a Christian community – that’s what the word ‘church’ means. God does not want us to be solitary individuals.

And what today’s Gospel proves is that when we are united together in prayer and praise and adoration, the Body of Christ – the Church – is a mystical union. Her head is Jesus Christ; and her body is made up of human beings. Yes, that’s us frail, frightened Christians, who struggle through this life. And the human part of the Church very often fails to hit the mark and makes mistakes, falls into error and commits sins. We know down the centuries and into our own times that there are things done by ordinary Christians, by Church leaders and things done in the name of the Church, that are shameful. But what about Jesus’ disciples? Were they shining examples of Christian virtue? Not to start with! Looking at their stories shows them to be very human. During His ministry Jesus was often frustrated by their lack of understanding. Our first pope, Saint Peter, was often put in his place for being defiant and foolish. One of the disciples betrayed Jesus to the authorities, and when they came for Him, what did all the rest do? Peter wanted to fight, and Jesus stopped him. All but one of them ran off.

Now, put yourself in the shoes of those disciples on that first Easter Sunday evening. You have been on the road with Jesus for three years at least. You have followed Him on his travels and count yourself as one of His closest friends. You have come to realise that Jesus is not only the Messiah but also the Son of God. In addition to being witnesses to astonishing miracles, healings, and listening to his tremendous preaching, you and your fellow disciples have been privileged to receive private explanations from Him of what it all means. Peter and John were even allowed to witness The Transfiguration. 

And when Jesus needed your help, your solidarity, what did you do? You ran off. You ran off because you were frightened. You thought that was it, the end of something special. You betrayed and abandoned your hero in whom you held so much hope for the future.

 And now? It’s the first Easter Sunday and you’ve met up again, with stories that Jesus has risen from the dead. Can this be true? What on earth are you going to say to Him if it’s true? Will He be angry with you? Will He punish you for your lack of faith?

And then suddenly He is there amongst you. Your stomach tightens. Get ready, here it comes…..

And His first words are, “Peace be with you.” And then He says it a second time, “Peace be with you.” He knows you are frightened and ashamed. Yet, after everything – the horror, the pain, the rejection –  Jesus immediately forgives you all. He is saying, ‘Don’t be frightened, it’s OK. I’m not angry with you’. This really is Divine Mercy – God’s everlasting love for frightened, ordinary, frail human beings.

Those disciples ran off because they had suffered a loss of faith. Most of us experience different levels of faith at one time or another. Sadly, for many people brought up as Christians, circumstances can mean they face dilemmas, they lose hope, their faith takes a knock and they make off on their own – they scatter like those disciples. Perhaps some are frightened of what the reaction would be if they came back. And if they then lose all contact with other Christians, they end up separated from the Church, with many never returning.

Someone being separated from the Church also comes up in the Gospel today. When Jesus made His first appearance, Thomas is isolated from the others.

Where do you think Thomas was on the first Easter Sunday? Perhaps he was hidden away somewhere, on his own, terrified. Perhaps he was so overcome with shame that he couldn’t face the other disciples. Completely demoralized and depressed.

The other disciples did not give up on Thomas. They went to find him – they had the Good News that Jesus was risen. They persuaded him to come to their prayer meeting the following week. And in that unity that is the Church, Thomas met his Saviour, and his life was transformed.

Now, I said all but one disciple ran. Which one didn’t? Which one had the faith to bravely stay by the side of Jesus, the only man with the faith to stand at the foot of the cross with the Virgin Mary? It was John. St John. A very holy man who, as we heard today, was a mystic to whom Jesus appeared, with whom he spoke. The man who did as he was told by Jesus, and wrote the book of Revelation – that mystical, mysterious poetic book that is key to getting a better understanding of the Mass.

The mystical experiences of St John are not unique. The saint we associate most  nowadays with devotion to the Divine Mercy Sunday is St. Maria Faustina Kowalska. She is a very modern saint from the 1930s. She was a Polish nun, and is recognised by the Church as a mystic. A mystic is, like the Apostle John, like St Catherine of Siena and St Therese of Lisieux, someone who receives from God a very special grace which enables them to feel the presence of Jesus. St Faustina had a particular devotion to the Divine Mercy, the everlasting love of God.

During the 1930s St. Faustina had a series of 14 revelations from Jesus concerning the feast of the Divine Mercy, which she recorded in great detail in her diary. Like St John, who wrote down today’s gospel, she had visions of Jesus in which He spoke to her; like St John, she wrote these conversations down; her diaries include details of how to pray to the Divine Mercy, now known as the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. Jesus also described to her the picture we now associated with the Divine Mercy – beams of red and white light streaming from Jesus’ breast, symbols of blood and water – the saving blood of Christ, the Head of the Church, and the saving waters of baptism received through His Church.  At first, as is usually the case, the Church was very cautious about St Faustina, and did not recognise the authenticity of her messages; but in 1978 the Church again allowed devotion to the Divine Mercy and the cause for St. Faustina’s canonization began. And then, 13 years ago, the Church recognised her holiness when she was canonized by Blessed Pope John Paul II.

The scripture readings we have heard today are particularly suitable for Divine Mercy Sunday. All three reading give us a message of hope, the hope that under the authority given to the Church by Jesus, when Christians come together, especially on Sundays, through our faith in God, our trust in Jesus, miraculous things can happen.

The message of today’s mass is that God loves us. Regardless of what we have done wrong or failed to do, every person is loved by God. If we can bring ourselves to call on Him with trust, we always receive His mercy, and that love and grace will flow through us to others who need God’s love. This very message is found in one of the prayers revealed to St. Faustina. May it be our prayer during this mass:

‘Eternal Father, I offer You the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Your dearly beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.’

Amen.

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