The Second Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday)

Today’s readings

Today, on the eighth day of Easter, which we still celebrate as Easter Sunday, we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday, which was instituted by Pope Saint John Paul II, of blessed memory.  On this Sunday, we remember that the resurrection of our Lord was an act of intense mercy for us sinners, obliterating the power of sin and giving us the possibility of life eternal, if we are willing to live the Gospel and turn away from our sins.

And even though His Holiness did not choose the Gospel reading we have for today, I don’t think he could have chosen a better one to illustrate God’s Divine Mercy.  Today, Saint John recounts the evening when the disciples were together, save for Thomas, pretty much just trying to figure out what to do next.  So far that day, they had come to find the tomb empty, and Mary Magdalene reported that she had seen the Lord alive.  Obviously, they needed to process what was happening.

But they were incredibly afraid.  They knew that they could easily suffer the same fate as the Lord, and feared that the Jews were hunting them down.  I think in some ways, too, beginning to realize that the Lord had truly risen, they were afraid that they might not be doing what our Lord expected of them.  So they meet together in perhaps the same upper room in which they had eaten the Last Supper, with the doors locked for fear of their pursuers, and they’re talking things over.  Suddenly, into their confusion, the Lord appears, bringing his gift of peace, and bestowing on them the Holy Spirit.  Immediately, they come to believe and go out to do what believers do: tell the story.

Which brings us to poor Saint Thomas, who, for whatever reason, was not with them when the Lord appeared.  It’s important to remember that the only reason the others believed was because they had received the Holy Spirit: it takes that gift of Divine Mercy to come to understand our Lord’s message.  Since Thomas had not received that gift, he’s at a different place on the faith journey than the rest of them.  So before we get too hard on “doubting Thomas,” I think he should get a bit of a break here.

Then our Lord comes and gives him what he asked for: a direct, personal, intimate encounter, in which his questions are answered and he is able to hold his Lord and come to full belief.  Here, he too receives the Spirit, and can then go out to preach the Gospel to those our Lord entrusts to him.

I think we see Divine Mercy here in a few different ways.  First, we see it in our Lord’s wounds, which he showed to Thomas at his request.  Jesus truly suffered in the flesh for us, dying an agonizing death on the Cross, that death that paid the price for our own sins.  He paid the price for us, and he paid it in a horrible, painful, public way.  No one dies for those he doesn’t love, and so we see in our Lord’s wounds his immense Divine Mercy for us.

We see Divine Mercy in the gift of the Holy Spirit.  It takes the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which we receive in baptism and confirmation, to embark on a life of faith.  Confusion reigns where the Spirit has not been received: that was the case for the disciples including Saint Thomas, and it is the case for all of us.  Without the Holy Spirit, we can’t know God or enter into relationship with him.  But thanks to his Divine Mercy, we have the gift of the Holy Spirit at our disposal.

And finally, we see Divine Mercy in the interaction with Saint Thomas.  Jesus could have left Thomas in his doubt.  He wasn’t there with the others, he refused to believe, so let him sort it all out.  But our Lord wouldn’t – couldn’t – do that.  Instead, he pursues Thomas, and gives him what he needs to believe.  He does that with us too, never giving up on us.  That’s Divine Mercy.

Here’s the message though.  Like our Lord’s other gifts, Divine Mercy isn’t meant to be received and then kept in a neat little box on our prayer shelf.  Our world is desperate for God’s Divine Mercy.  There are hungry people to be fed, there are people who need to know the Lord, there is terror and war and animosity that needs to be drenched in God’s love, there are people in our own lives who need our forgiveness.  So we disciples, who received the gift of the Holy Spirit as a direct outpouring of God’s love, need to take that Divine Mercy to a world that needs it so desperately.

Holy God, holy mighty one, holy immortal one, have mercy on us and on the whole world.

Jesus, I trust in you!

The Second Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday)

Today’s readings

I often wonder what brings people to Mass on the Second Sunday of Easter.  We had crowds of people here last Sunday, as you know, but things this Sunday are, perhaps a bit unfortunately, back to normal.  The Easter duty is done, and most people go back to their normal Sunday routines, whatever they may be.  But many of us still gather for worship this morning.  What is it that brings us here today?

Maybe our motives are grand ones.  We can’t get enough of the Word of God and his Real Presence in the Eucharist – I hope that’s the case!  Or maybe we need to be together with the community in order for our faith to make sense and our life to be on track.  Maybe we know that our presence in the worshipping community isn’t just about us, but rather about all of us being together, that there would be no community without all of us present.  Maybe you came to one of my Masses last Sunday and were struck with awe at the inspiring words I preached!

But maybe our motives aren’t quite so lofty.  Maybe, at some level, we’re here because of fear.  Fear that our lives aren’t going the way we’d like them to.  Fear that family problems are not getting resolved.  Fear that our jobs are unfulfilling or our relationships are in disarray.  Fear that our lives are empty spiritually, and we don’t know where to find our Lord.  Fear that missing Mass will lead us to hell.  Fear that if we don’t get out we’ll be lonely.  I think if we’re honest, there’s a little fear in all of us, and at some level, that fear leads us here.

And if you find that’s the case for you, you have ten patron saints locked up in that room.  They too had a great deal of fear.  Fear that they too might be led to the cross by the same people who took Jesus there.  There was certainly some reality to that fear, and I think we can all understand it.  But I also think it’s significant to realize that the Eleven, all of whom lived closely with Jesus for three years, were not yet able to overcome their fears and pursue the mission of Jesus.  Instead, they gather in a locked room, mourning their friend, confused about the empty tomb and stories of his appearances, and fearful for their own lives.  We whose lives are filled with fear at times definitely have the Apostles as our kindred spirits.

The truth is that, like the Apostles, it doesn’t matter what has gathered us here.  The important thing is that at least we are here.  At least in our fear we did not hide away and refuse to be brought into the light.  Because there are many who have left us, aren’t there?  Many have had enough of church scandals and have decided to take their spiritual business elsewhere.  Many have been hurt in all kinds of ways and have not found immediate healing in the Church.  Many have been influenced by the allurements of the world and the false comforts of pop psychology and have given up on a religion that makes demands of them.  Many have left us, but at least we are here, at least we have gathered, albeit in fear, albeit locked up in our own little rooms, but definitely in the path of our Lord who longs to be among us in our fear and to say, “Peace be with you.”

The peace that Jesus imparts is not just the absence of war or conflict in our lives.  It is instead a real peace, a peace from the inside of us out.  A peace that affects our body, mind and spirit.  A peace that brings us into communion with one another and most especially with God for whom we were created and redeemed.  The peace that the Ten had upon seeing their Risen Lord, the peace that Thomas had just one week later, is the same peace that our Risen Lord offers to all of us fearful disciples who gather together as a refuge against the storms and uncertainties of our own lives.  That peace is a peace that invites us to reach out like Thomas did and touch our Lord as we receive his very Body and Blood in all his Divine Mercy.

That peace is not some passive greeting that rests upon us and goes no further.  Whenever we are gifted with any blessing, it is never intended only for us.  We who have been gifted and healed and transformed by the peace of our Risen Lord are called just like the Eleven to continue to write the story of Jesus so that others may see and believe.  We now become the peace of Christ to reach out to a world that appears to be hopelessly un-peaceful.  We must extend that peace by reaching out to touch those who are sick, or poor, or lonely, or despairing, or doubtful, or fearful, or grieving, or fallen away.  Our own presence in and among our loved ones and in and among the world must be a presence that is rooted in the Risen Lord and steeped in his peace.  We must be the ones who help a doubting world to no longer be unbelieving but believe.

We have come here today for all kinds of reasons.  We may have come here in doubt and fear, but as we approach the Eucharist and receive the very Body and Blood of our Lord who invites us to reach out and touch him in all his brokenness and woundedness, as we go forth to glorify the Lord this day, may we leave not in doubt and fear but instead in belief and peace.  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Peace be with you.

The Second Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy)

Today’s readings

Today, on the eighth day of Easter, we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday, which was instituted by Pope Saint John Paul II, of blessed memory. On this Sunday, we remember that the resurrection of our Lord was an act of intense mercy for us sinners, obliterating the power of sin and giving us the possibility of life eternal, if we are willing to live the Gospel and turn away from our sins.

And even though His Holiness did not choose the Gospel reading we have for today, I don’t think he could have chosen a better one to illustrate God’s Divine Mercy. Today, Saint John recounts the evening when the disciples were together, save for Thomas, pretty much just trying to figure out what to do next. So far that day, they had come to find the tomb empty, and Mary Magdalene reported that she had seen the Lord alive. Obviously they needed to process what was happening.

But they were in fear. They knew that they could easily suffer the same fate as the Lord, and feared that the Jews were hunting them down. So they meet together in perhaps the same upper room in which they had eaten the Last Supper, with the doors locked for fear of their pursuers, and they’re talking things over. Suddenly, into their confusion, the Lord appears, bringing his gift of peace, and bestowing on them the Holy Spirit. Immediately, they come to believe and go out to do what believers do: tell the story.

Which brings us to poor Saint Thomas, who, for whatever reason, was not with them when the Lord appeared. It’s important to know that the only reason the others believed was because they had received the Holy Spirit: it takes that gift of Divine Mercy to come to understand our Lord’s message. Since Thomas had not received that gift, he’s at a different place on the faith journey than the rest of them. So before we get too hard on “doubting Thomas,” I think he should get a bit of a break here.

Then our Lord comes and gives him what he asked for: a direct, personal, intimate encounter, in which his questions are answered and he is able to hold his Lord and come to full belief. Here, he too receives the Spirit, and can then go out to preach the Gospel to those our Lord entrusts to him.

I think we see Divine Mercy here in a few different ways. First, we see it in our Lord’s wounds. He truly suffered in the flesh for us, dying an agonizing death on the Cross, that death that paid the price for our own sins. He paid the price for us, and he paid it in a horrible, painful, public way. No one dies for those he doesn’t love, and so we see in our Lord’s wounds his immense Divine Mercy for us.

We see Divine Mercy in the gift of the Holy Spirit. It takes the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which we receive in baptism and confirmation, to embark on a life of faith. Confusion reigns where the Spirit has not been received: that was the case for the disciples including Saint Thomas, and it is the case for all of us. Without the Holy Spirit, we can’t know God or enter into relationship with him. But thanks to his Divine Mercy, we have the gift of the Holy Spirit at our disposal.

And finally, we see Divine Mercy in the interaction with Saint Thomas. Jesus could have left Thomas in his doubt. He wasn’t there with the others, he refused to believe, so that’s that. But our Lord wouldn’t – couldn’t – do that. Instead, he pursues Thomas, and gives him what he needs to believe. He does that with us too, never giving up on us. That’s Divine Mercy.

Here’s the message though. Like our Lord’s other gifts, Divine Mercy isn’t meant to be received and then kept in a neat little box on our prayer shelf. Our world is desperate for God’s Divine Mercy. There are hungry to be fed, there are people who need to know the Lord, there is terror and war and animosity that needs to be drenched in God’s love. So we disciples, who received the gift of the Holy Spirit as a direct outpouring of God’s love, need to take that Divine Mercy to a world that needs it so desperately.

Holy God, holy mighty one, holy immortal one, have mercy on us and on the whole world.

Tuesday of Holy Week

Today’s readings

Today’s Gospel reading contains four of the most chilling words in all of holy Scripture: “And it was night.”  Those narrative words come just after Judas takes the morsel and leaves the gathering.  But the Beloved Disciple didn’t include those words to tell us the time of day.  In John’s Gospel, there is an overriding theme of light and darkness.  The light and darkness, of course, refer to the evil of the world that is opposed by the light of Christ.

That John tells us it was night meant that this was the hour of darkness, the hour when evil would come to an apparent climax.  This is the time when all of the sins of the world have converged upon our Lord and he will take them to the Cross.  The darkness of our sinfulness has made it a very dark night indeed.

But we know the end of the story.  This hour of darkness will certainly see Jesus die for our sins.  But the climax of evil will be nothing compared to the outpouring of grace and Divine Mercy.  The darkness of evil is always overcome by the light of Christ.  Always.  But for now, it is night.

In these Holy days, we see the darkness that our Savior had to endure for our salvation. May we find courage in the way he triumphed over this fearful night.

The Second Sunday of Easter

Today’s readings

Today is the feast day for those of us who sometimes question things, and the apostle, St. Thomas, is our patron saint. And so today we can give Thomas a hard time for his unbelief, and we can disparage all those other “doubting Thomases” in our lives, or, maybe, we can just come to the Lord in our humility and say “My Lord and my God!”

Because I’m sure we can all think of at least one time when we were reluctant to believe something, or had our faith tested, only to have Jesus stand before us and say, “Peace be with you.” I remember the time that it became apparent to me that the Lord was calling me to go to seminary after so many years being out of school. I had a long list of reasons why that wouldn’t work, why it couldn’t be done at this stage of my life, why anyone would be a better choice than me. And I never got a direct answer to any of that. Never. In some ways, all I got was Jesus standing in the midst of my questioning and saying to me “Peace be with you.” And six months later I was in seminary.

You’ve had that same kind of experience at some point in your life, I’d bet. Maybe it was in college when you started really questioning your faith and felt like everything anyone had ever told you was a lie. Or maybe it was the time you were called to do something at Church, or even take a turn in your career, and couldn’t possibly believe that you were qualified to do that. Maybe it was the time it suddenly dawned on you that you were a parent, and had no idea how you could ever raise a child. It could even have been the time when you completely changed your career – as I did – and weren’t totally sure that was God’s will for you.

Like Thomas, we want evidence, hard facts, a good hard look at the big picture, before we’re ready to jump in. We want to “see the mark of the nails in his hands and put our fingers into the nail-marks and put our hands into his side.” But that’s not faith. Some people say that seeing is believing, but faith tells us that believing is seeing. “Blessed are they,” Jesus says, “who have not seen but still believe.” We sometimes first have to make an act of faith, a leap of faith if you will, before we can really see what God is doing in our lives. And that’s the hard part; that’s the part that, like Thomas, we are reluctant to do.

Jesus makes three invitations to us today. The first is to believe. Believe with all your heart and mind and soul. Believe first, and leave the seeing to later. Trust that God is with you, walking with you, guiding you, willing the best for you. This is Divine Mercy Sunday, so we are called to trust in our merciful God who pours out his love on us each day.  Be ready to make that leap of faith. What God has in store for us is so much better than our puny plans for our lives. Be blessed by not seeing but still believing.

The second invitation is to touch. “Put your finger here and see my hands,” Jesus says to Thomas, “and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” He makes that same invitation to us every time we walk up to receive Holy Communion. What a gift it is to be able to share in Christ’s wounds, to be bound up in his Passion, to live the resurrection and to be nourished by his very body and blood. Just like Thomas, we’re invited to touch so that we too might believe.

The third invitation is to live a new day. The Gospel tells us that Jesus first came to the Apostles on the evening of the “first day of the week.” That detail isn’t there so that we know what day it is or can mark our calendars. In the Gospel, the “first day of the week” refers to the new day that Jesus is bringing about – a new day of faith, a new day of trust in God’s Divine Mercy, a new day of being caught up in God’s life. We are invited to that new day every time we gather for worship.

We have doubts, periodically and sometimes persistently. But God does not abandon us in our doubt. Just like Thomas, he comes to us in the midst of our uncertainty and says to us: “Do not be unbelieving, but believe.” “Peace be with you.”