Apr. 7, 2018

Second Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy, 2018)

"Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed" (Jn.20:29)

Readings: 1st- Acts 4:32-35; 2nd- 1 Jn. 5:1-6; Gospel- Jn. 20:19-31

Acts of the Apostles describes the “community of believers”. This is not an ordinary community. It is the community that is characterized by active faith in Jesus Christ, and in his resurrection. The Greek word, "Koinonia" stands for "Community" or "Communal life". This community has significant features: one heart and one mind, everything in common, care for the poor and the needy, treat each other with respect and sincerity of heart. The community forms a network of support for their faith.

In the gospel, we read the encounter between Jesus and the apostles. John gives us two accounts of the Lord’s appearance after his resurrection. Significantly, one of the apostles, Thomas, is absent at the Lord’s first visit. Thomas' absence is emphasized because it has strong effects on the community of the apostles. Thomas’ colleagues narrate to him the Master’s visit but he won’t believe. For Thomas, that sounds strange as it would to any of the other apostles. The resurrection is not like any simple or familiar story. It is not common. Thomas would need a proof. He wants to see for himself. Thomas doubts.

Scripture recounts incidents of others also doubting the resurrection narrative: “When Jesus had risen, the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene… She went and told his companions who were mourning and weeping. When they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe” (Mk. 16: 1-10). Even when the two disciples on their way to Emmaus return and tell the eleven others, “they did not believe them either” (Mk.16:13). Jesus reproaches the disciples, "for their unbelief and hardness of heart because they had not believed those who saw him after he had been raised" (Mk.16:14). 

Don't we all doubt God’s power to do certain things beyond human imaginations? This encounter between Jesus and Thomas is very crucial in our faith journey. He invites Thomas to visible proofs: “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe” (Jn. 20:27-28). Jesus says to Thomas, "Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed" (Jn.20:29). Jesus is inviting us to believe in Him. He is inviting us to acknowledge the reality of God’s miracles in our lives. He invites us to the tough journey of faith.

FAITH defines the Christian community, the Church. Faith is belief in God the Father and in his absolute power; “the guarantee of the blessings that we hope for, or proof of the existence of realities that are unseen” (Heb. 11:1). Faith is belief in the Son of God who has come to save us. It is belief in the Holy Spirit who guides and directs us. Faith deals with the invisible and transcendent realities. It tells us that God is able.

Saint Augustine describes faith as, "I believe in order to understand” (Credo Ut Intelligam). Saint Anselm remarks, "I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand". Peter writes in his epistle, "Even though you do not see him now yet you believe in him, you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, as you attain the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls" (1Pet.1:8-9). Faith precedes vision because faith is our spiritual insight which enables us to see.

Think about our regular lives and the things we do. Human beings believe in scientists and technicians. We believe in our doctors when we are sick. We believe in our insurance companies to protect our insurances. We believe in our lawyers when we face litigation. We believe in our therapists when we get depressed, or face disorders. We believe in our teachers to educate us. We believe in our parents to tell us the truth. We even believe in our cars, food, in our dogs. We believe in democracy through which we elect our leaders, etc. These could disappoint us. However, sometimes, it is hard for us to believe in God who is the Creator and Maker of all things including those ones we believe in. We must realize that everything can fail us, but God does not disappoint, as Timothy says, "Even if we are faithless, He is faithful still" (2Tim.2:13). 

Christ reminds us, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed”. That’s like saying, “Blessed are those who have faith, those whose faith are not shaken”. "It is impossible to please God without faith since anyone who comes to God must believe that he exists" (Heb. 11:6). 

By telling Thomas, "Put your finger here; look here are my hands" (John 20: 27), Christ invites him to an encounter, to God's presence. Peter captures it this way, "the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in His GREAT MERCY has given us a new birth as sons/daughters... (1Pet. 1:3). It is faith that attracts us to God's mercy, the DIVINE MERCYABUNDANT MERCY, EVER-FLOWING MERCY, which the church celebrates today. Let us remember what Pope Francis says, "God's name is Mercy". 

As community of faith, we celebrate God's mercy fundamentally in the Blessed Eucharist. Like the Acts of Apostles, we gather at the "breaking of bread" (Acts 2: 42). We feel Divine Mercy, we touch it. God invites us like Thomas. He calls us by name and says, "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" (Jn.20:28). We feel his presence staring at us right from the Cross, and from the Eucharistic table.

We feel God’s mercy in the sacrament of reconciliation. Christ tells the Church (community), “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained” (Jn.20:22-23). Christ sets us free from sin. We feel his presence as we greet the smiling faces of fellow worshippers in the pews and recite with them the great words of the Lord's prayers, "...and forgive us our trespasses". We feel his presence when we commit, "as we forgive those who trespass against us". We feel God’s mercy as we bow down to receive Holy Communion exclaiming like Thomas, "My Lord and my God". 

The Psalm of today recounts: "Let the house of Israel say, His mercy endures forever. Let the house of Aaron say, His mercy endures forever. Let those who fear the Lord say, His mercy endures forever" (Ps.118:2-4). God's mercy endures for the weak, the sinner. His mercy endures for the parent, the child. His mercy endures for the husband, the wife. His mercy endures for the Mother-In-law, Father-In-law, Sons and Daughters-In-law. God's mercy endures for the addicts, the thief, the prostitute. His mercy endures for everyone. But we must believe in the Divine Mercy.

There is a story of an African priest who was about to die. He asked the doctors to invite a politician and a policeman to his bedside, which they did (you know that policemen and politicians are considered as the most notorious in Africa). When these two arrived, he asked them to stay one on his right and the other on his left. They did so. Then the politician was surprised and confused by what the priest was doing and asked to know the implications of the ritual. “What could a politician and a policeman be doing for a dying priest?”, he asked. The priest responded to him, “I want to die like Christ. Christ died between two thieves, so I want to die between two thieves too”. But that was Christ’s mercy. He forgave even on the Cross.  

Today is the perfect day to forgive because we believe in God’s Divine Mercy. Is there anyone you find it hard to forgive? Anyone who has offended or hurt you? Pray particularly for that person in this Mass. Is that person here in the church? Give him/her a kiss of peace. Is he/she at home? Take God's mercy and offer to the person. Just open up yourself to forgive. It is hard. It is tough. But that is what faith does, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed”. Give that person the special divine mercy gift. Tell him/her, “Peace be with you” "I forgive you". God makes all things possible. 

Let us pray: “For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world”.