|by Angela Lambert|
April 23rd, 2017; Divine Mercy Sunday
Gospel of John 20:19-31
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” Now, Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.
Christ is risen, He has won victory over sin and death. As He said to the Father from the Cross, His redemptive work “is finished.” Jesus has done His part, now we must do ours. When Jesus appeared to the apostles, He offered them Peace and forgiveness of sins; sending them out to extend His peace and forgiveness to the world.
Thomas missed the opportunity to encounter the risen Christ. However, the apostles shared the Good News with him and offered the peace and hope that Christ had shared with them. Thomas refused to accept it. He refused to accept the authoritative word of the apostles and refused the joy and graces of the resurrection. Despite the numerous prophecies of Jesus that this would happen, or Thomas’ witness of Jesus’ power to raise the dead (even very recently with Lazarus), and ignoring the unanimous testimony of his fellow apostles, Thomas demanded to see it for himself before he would submit.
St. John shares with us that Thomas was also called “Didymus”, or “twin.” How many of us could claim to be Thomas’ twin? We might be passionate about serving Christ, crying out “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:16), but we struggle to resurrect with Christ. Maybe we can accept that He has poured out His mercy in the lives of others, but we need to see it to believe it to accept it for ourselves.
When we truly realize the gravity of sin, especially our own sin, our feelings of shame and regret can challenge our trust in Jesus. It’s easy to say, “Jesus died for our sins”; it’s much harder to believe “Jesus forgives me of this particular sin.” That shame and regret then spirals further, making it seem impossible to begin anew. “There can be no fresh start for me”, we say, then fruitlessly endeavor to redeem ourselves or despair altogether and give up.
If you struggle with overcoming shame and self-doubt by accepting the mercy of Christ, you are not alone. Despite Thomas’ disbelief, Jesus mercifully appeared to him that he might believe and receive the gift of peace and life. In 1931 Jesus appeared to a humble Polish nun, St. Faustina, asking her to spread the message of His mercy anew. Jesus lamented to Faustina that distrust on the part of souls caused His greatest suffering. Jesus burns with love for us and sacrificed to save us, but we cannot be saved if we refuse His love and mercy. He appeared to her many times after that, with a message of mercy He wanted made known. He asked for an image to be painted of Him, with two rays coming forth from His side – white and red – representing the water and blood which poured out of side from the Cross, and the words “Jesus I Trust in You” beneath. We receive Jesus’ redemptive mercy through the sacraments when we are washed in the waters of baptism and united to Him in the sacrament of His Body and Blood in the Eucharist. He also asked that a Feast of Mercy be instituted, to be a day of extraordinary graces and an opportunity for us to make an act of trust and abandon so that He could be free to pour out His transformative love.
St. John Paul II perceived the truth and wisdom of Jesus’ message to St. Faustina. He affirmed her sanctity, canonizing her in 2000, and established the requested Feast of Divine Mercy as the Sunday following Easter. St. John Paul II witnessed the misery and despair caused by atheism – promoted by communism in his youth, and consumerism in his older age. He worked tirelessly to the very end, to exhort us to trust in Jesus. Even when Parkinson’s reduced him to a wheel chair and frustrated his speech, he proclaimed the Good News that Christ loves us and can transform us. I remember the last time I saw John Paul II. I attended a Wednesday audience at St. Peter’s in 2002. The formerly vibrant, strong, energetic, outdoorsy pope, had to be wheeled out on stage. He personally delivered his message even though his words slurred making it difficult to understand and bits of drool forced their way down his mouth. I remember thinking, “what courage, what humility, what determination!” No matter how hard his body fought against him, John Paul II proclaimed the Gospel of Christ with conviction. George Weigel fittingly titled JPII’s biography as “Witness to Hope”. Even on his death bed, thousands gathered outside the window to his room and millions (including me) held vigil while viewing it on TV.
St. John Paul II knew our struggle to accept Christ’s mercy and did everything he could to make that merciful love felt. Pope Francis also perceives this problem and called a Jubilee Year of Mercy to renew the message in a powerful and universal way. In his book The Name of God is Mercy, Pope Francis responds to the question “Why, in your opinion, is humanity so in need of mercy?” by relating this observation:
|“— Because humanity is wounded, deeply wounded. Either it does not know how to cure its wounds or it believes that it’s not possible to cure them… Humanity needs mercy and compassion. Pius XII, more than half a century ago, said that the tragedy of our age was that it had lost its sense of sin, the awareness of sin. Today we add further to the tragedy by considering our illness, our sins, to be incurable, things that cannot be healed or forgiven. We lack the actual concrete experience of mercy. The fragility of our era is this, too: we don’t believe that there is a chance for redemption; for a hand to raise you up; for an embrace to save you, forgive you, pick you up, flood you with infinite, patient, indulgent love; to put you back on your feet. We need mercy.”|
Like Thomas, many of us need to see mercy to believe it. Jesus desires that we believe without seeing. Yet, He graciously touches our lives anyway as He did for Thomas, condescending even further to meet our weakness.
Today, on this Feast of Divine Mercy, let us be strengthened by the witnesses of hope that Christ has sent to us. Let us take a leap of faith and trust Christ with abandon. He invites us to receive His mercy in the sacraments of Confession and Communion where His blood His poured out in our soul to free us from sin and free us to love. Inspired by this love, He calls us to share the Good News with others and practice the works of mercy that they too might see His mercy through His Mystical Body, and believe.
- When have you experienced mercy?
- In prayer or at church, did you experience the peace of Christ?
- After Confession, have you experienced the feeling of joy?
- Have you experienced emotional or material support from someone when you were in need?
- Do you find it difficult to accept help from others? Why do you think that is?
- Do you find it hard to accept unconditional love from Christ? Do you struggle with feelings of needing to earn His love or be perfect before you can be saved? Pray about what underlies that resistance:
- Is it pride – you want to feel worthy of friendship with the Lord?
- Is it despair – you don’t believe Christ can accept you as you are?
- Is it past wounds that need healing – you have been denied mercy by others or your understanding of your dignity has been chipped away by abuse or patterns of toxic thinking.
- Reflect on the freedom and joy of unconditional, merciful love.
- Offer prayers of praise and thanksgiving if you have experienced this.
- If you haven’t experienced it, consider the example of people you know who have this exchange of love, or Christians who surrender to it in their relationship with Christ. What do you notice about how it affects their perspective, their choices, their demeanor, and the quality of their life?
- Who might you extend merciful love to? What relationships have too many conditions?
Make a Resolution (Practical Application):
- Each day this week, pray the words “Jesus I Trust in You,” multiple times throughout the day.
- Read a psalm of praise each day, strengthening and proclaiming your belief in God’s love for you. (Try beginning with Psalm 139!)
- Resolve on one way to be a person of mercy each day. Decide on who, what, when, and where you can be an encounter with Christ’s merciful love to someone. Works of Mercy
~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2017
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