Friday, April 13, 2007

Sunday, April 15 ~ Second Sunday of Easter/Divine Mercy Sunday

John 20:19-31

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you." And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe." Eight days later, his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. The doors were shut, but Jesus came and stood among them, and said, "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing." Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe." Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.

Questions for Reflection and/or Discussion

We do not understand death. Sometimes we think we do, like Thomas thought he did, but we do not grasp the whole truth of it. In the past few months, I have faced three difficult deaths. A college friend was killed in Iraq, survived by his young wife and son. An uncle died unexpectedly in his sleep less than ten days after visiting us. And, this morning, my husband’s grandfather, a man who was more a father to him than any other, passed away peacefully in his sleep at home after a long battle with cancer and various bouts of pneumonia.

In this Gospel passage, the disciples are in fear, in fear of death. Jesus has been murdered, and they fear they, too, are in danger for being his apostles. They hide in a room, huddled together, praying, wondering what is to come. Jesus appears and quiets their fear with words of peace. How often do I fear the dangers of the world and try to lock myself away? Do I put on an air of confidence when doubt is in my heart? Do I welcome Jesus to bring me peace? Do I fear my own death or the death of others?

Most homiletics for this passage focus on doubting Thomas. The poor guy! The way I see it, he is no more at fault than the rest of the disciples, who lock themselves in a room in fear. Fortunately, they all see Jesus and receive his peace, calming their fears. When those in the closed room first see Him, He commissions them once again, sending them forth with the Holy Spirit to forgive our sins. Jesus does the same to us today, giving us courage to step out of the locked room, if only we believe. Am I open to receiving the Holy Spirit? Do I waste hours on needless worries or fears? Do I believe in the power of Jesus’ forgiveness? Do I need to go to Confession, to receive forgiveness from God through a descendent of Jesus’ apostles?

(By the way, this Sunday is Divine Mercy Sunday. There should be extra opportunities for Confession in your area, and an indulgence is available if the normal conditions are met.)

Back to doubting Thomas – he does not believe what the apostles say. He, too, is in fear and does not allow his closest friends to extend the peace of Christ. How often do I refuse an outstretched hand or opportunity for growth, coming from a friend? How often do I let the seed of fear crush my faith? When I see Jesus in others, do I recognize Him? Jesus still extends his compassion to Thomas, inviting him to touch his sacred wounds. Then, he blesses us, you and me – “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”

We have new life in Him, and we can have eternal life with Him. Death does not bind us. We should not fear it. As I told my daughter about her great uncle and great grandfather, they are on their way to Heaven. They were both devout Catholics, so I know they are either already there or on their way (Some saints and Marian apparitions report that the great majority of people go to Purgatory, so I say “on their way” to account for this statistic and not judge or presume.). Reading the headlines, it is easy to see each of us truly is in danger of violence, illness, or death, but so were the apostles. That did not stop them. Almost all of them met their death through persecution, punished for their faith, for not fearing the end. Do I rely on the compassion of Christ to aid my fear of death? Do I have confidence that I will be on my way to Heaven someday? How can I ensure my eternal reward will be with Christ? What do I need to do today to believe?

Encourage souls to say the Chaplet which I have given you ... Whoever will recite it will receive great mercy at the hour of death ... When they say this chaplet in the presence of the dying, I will stand between my Father and the dying person, not as the Just Judge but as the Merciful Savior ... Priests will recommend it to sinners as their last hope of salvation. Even if there were a sinner most hardened, if he were to recite this chaplet only once, he would receive grace from my infinite mercy. I desire to grant unimaginable graces to those souls who trust in My mercy ... Through the Chaplet you will obtain everything, if what you ask for is compatible with My will. ~ Our Lord to St. Faustina of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy