Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Second Sunday of Easter, Sunday of Divine Mercy

April 11, 2021
St. Patrick Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas

Acts 4:32-35
Psalm 118
1 John 5:1-6
John 20:19-31

The first words attributed to the Risen Lord are “peace be with you.”  One can presume that the community of Apostles and other disciples that had gathered behind locked doors was in some state of disquiet. One reason was fear and confusion at Jesus’ death, but another may have been divisiveness and resentment since Jesus next speaks about forgiveness. He says, “If you forgive others’ sins they are forgiven; if you hold them bound, they are held bound.” To receive fully Christ’s resurrection gift of peace, requires that we also accept forgiveness and exercise our Christian capacity to forgive.

The Gospel tells us that Thomas was not physically present when Jesus first appeared, and when informed of Jesus’ appearance, he refused to believe it. Thomas’ refusal to accept the Resurrection causes a further rupture in the community, which would require forgiveness and understanding from the other disciples. Jesus Himself set an example for them by His patience with Thomas’ doubt.

The way Jesus dealt with Thomas also sets an example for us. The Church today has its fair share of disagreements and misunderstandings, and suspicions and ill-feelings abound in all dioceses and parishes. There is the fomenting of discord among Catholics through those who benefit financially and cultivate vainglory by way of social media and blogs. Further, there have been persecutions and wars waged in the name of religion, and divisions that wound the Church and hinder our witness to the faith. The passion for being right has served the cause of egoism more than serving the cause of Christ.

Does this mean that anything goes … that there is no truth worth fighting for? Absolutely not. It means that there is no truth without Christ and that there is no love without Christ; it means that truth and love have their harmonious fullness only in Christ. Without Christ we lose sight of the truth and replace it with an egoism about being right. Without Christ, love becomes an emotivism of false security. What provided the occasion for Jesus to empower the Church, that is to send us the Holy Spirit, was the fact that Apostles were gathered in His name. Thomas had not put himself above the Church. Although he doubted, Christ’s love was the power that bound him to the others. The other Apostles did not close the doors to Thomas. He was still ready to believe, and the members of the Church grew even stronger in faith through his presence in Christ.

Thomas sets conditions before he will accept faith in the Resurrection of Jesus; these conditions include the intention to inspect Jesus’ wounds in almost forensic detail. The disciples have been entrusted with the mission of mercy, the power to forgive sins. This entrusted mission has enabled them to be merciful and patient with Thomas even in their own fears and doubts. Jesus peacefully encounters them again through the doors that their shameful fears have locked. He mercifully agrees to meet Thomas’ conditions for faith and in so doing manifests the inadequacy of these conditions. This encounter of faith with the risen Christ occurs in the presence of the disciples gathered together — as the Church. It is not an isolated experience of a crowd of individuals, each of them pursuing their own happiness or agenda. Our encounter of faith with the mercy of the risen Christ occurs in our presence as the disciples gathered at Mass with our focus set on Christ, and in that gathering we are transformed into the Church.

Jesus’ response to Thomas’ disbelief was to offer Thomas entry into Jesus’ wounds… to recognize that injury and division, misunderstanding and suffering, disbelief and forgiveness are part of living together as the Church, a community of disciples. They are part of His mission of mercy entrusted to the Church. Jesus shows Thomas His wounds and in so doing reveals to Thomas his own wounds. Thomas’ wounds are self-inflicted by sin. Jesus’ wounds are not self-inflicted, but they have been willingly accepted by Jesus in obedience to the Father for the sake of Thomas’ and our salvation. Jesus knew what His wounds would be. During His Passion as recorded in John’s Gospel, Jesus says, “This above all is why my Father loves me; for I lay down my life willingly that I might take it up again. No man takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own free will. I have the power to lay it down; and I have the power to take it up again. The Father has given me this power.” 

Jesus’ wounds are real wounds; they are not the scars of healed wounds; they are not scabby wounds; they are not bloody or infected wounds; they are glorified wounds in the mercy of the truth of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ. Thomas, the doubter and skeptic, responds to Jesus with awe and reverence. “My Lord and my God.” This prayer echoes throughout the history of the Church, and is spoken by most of us each time we attend Mass. Such is the transformative power of the Resurrection. May the Resurrection so transform us to grow in both belief and the power to forgive. If we pray for the desire to forgive and God grants our prayer, then we can pray with the Psalmist in communion as the Church, “Let the House of Israel say, His Mercy endures forever.”

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