Second Sunday of Easter (or Sunday of Divine Mercy)
Doubting Thomas? ART : The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio
Reading 1 ACTS 2:42-47
They devoted themselves
to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life,
to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.
Awe came upon everyone,
and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.
All who believed were together and had all things in common;
they would sell their property and possessions
and divide them among all according to each one’s need.
Every day they devoted themselves
to meeting together in the temple area
and to breaking bread in their homes.
They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart,
praising God and enjoying favor with all the people.
And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
Responsorial Psalm PS 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24
R. (1) Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, his love is everlasting.
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.”
R. Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, his love is everlasting.
I was hard pressed and was falling,
but the LORD helped me.
My strength and my courage is the LORD,
and he has been my savior.
The joyful shout of victory
in the tents of the just:
R. Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, his love is everlasting.
The stone which the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
By the LORD has this been done;
it is wonderful in our eyes.
This is the day the LORD has made;
let us be glad and rejoice in it.
R. Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, his love is everlasting.
Reading 2 1 PT 1:3-9
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope
through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading,
kept in heaven for you
who by the power of God are safeguarded through faith,
to a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the final time.
In this you rejoice, although now for a little while
you may have to suffer through various trials,
so that the genuineness of your faith,
more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire,
may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor
at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Although you have not seen him you love him;
even though you do not see him now yet believe in him,
you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy,
as you attain the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
Alleluia JN 20:29
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
You believe in me, Thomas, because you have seen me, says the Lord;
blessed are they who have not seen me, but still believe!
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel JN 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 nailmarks
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.
From The Abbot in the Desert
Monastery of Christ in the Desert, Abiquiu, New Mexico
My sisters and brothers in the Lord,
Thomas the Apostle Sunday! Divine Providence Sunday! Octave of Easter Sunday! And many other names have been used for this Sunday, the Second Sunday of Easter, the First Sunday after Easter, etc. Christ is risen! He is our life.
The first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, is about the early life of these Christians. “They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favor with all the people.” We all know that the early Christians eventually had their challenges as well. But, like and new movement, at first everyone was so taken up with the Resurrection of Jesus and His presence among them, that community life was almost completely positive.
Like any human community, however, eventually our flawed and broken humanity shows up once again and we must begin the struggle to be faithful to that first and glorious revelation: He is risen! Incredible! I can love others and give everything for others! But in time, my brokenness or the brokenness of another person comes back into play and I must struggle.
These early Christians had a wonderful gift of being so close to the Resurrection. But they also began to falter. We who live so many centuries later are given the same gift of faith. Those early Christians, those followers, are the same as we followers today: we must struggle to be faithful and never be dismayed by sin and brokenness. Christ can conquer all. Christ does conquer all. But in the way of Christ: a completely faithful love and forgiveness. Christ is risen! Alleluia!
The second reading is from the First Letter of Peter and tells us the same message today: “rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, as you attain the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” That salvation only comes because Jesus loves us and forgives us. We are asked by Jesus to do the same with all others, no matter how awful they may be to us.
And then in today’s Gospel, from Saint John, we have the wonderful account of Saint Thomas, who doubts, who expresses his doubts and who, in the end, embraces completely His Lord, who invites him once more to believe. What a wonderful account! It reflects at times our own challenges of faith. We are invited on this great Sunday to give ourselves completely to belief, no matter how often doubts may come to us, no matter how often we fail in our faith, no matter how often we sin and deny the Lord.
Christ is risen! Christ gives us redemption! Christ forgives us and pardons us! Christ loves us all! You and I are asked to live that same faith and to love and forgive all others, no matter how often we have failed. No despair! No think that we are unworthy! We are unworthy, but we are loved and forgiven! Christ is risen! Let us rejoice in HIM.
Your brother in the Lord,
Keith Wheeler carriers across from Tacloban to tanauan, the Philippines after the Typhoon. Photo by Dan Kitwood, Getty Images. — Typhoon Haiyan, November 2013
Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
23 APRIL, 2017, Divine Mercy Sunday
WHERE IS DIVINE MERCY TO BE FOUND?
Like the apostles in the Upper Room, we are living in fear and anxiety each day. With growing instances of terrorist acts committed by wounded, confused and wrongly indoctrinated individuals and groups, the world is such an unsafe place to live in. Even if such incidents are not terrorist acts, we read of very disturbed and angry people taking innocent lives. Indeed, in spite of technology and better standards of living, the world remains a very precarious place to live in. Wars abound, crime, religious fanaticism, religious division and discrimination are on the increase. On the personal front, we are besieged with the demands of daily living; marital conflicts, rebellious children, worries about our finances and our work, illnesses and the challenges of looking after elderly, demented parents or those with sicknesses.
Like the apostles, we just want to hide from all these problems and challenges. We too want to run away from it all. We wish we could have some peace. Sometimes we wish we could die earlier as this life is so difficult, challenging and tiring. Is there peace? Is peace possible? Is peace a dream? Maybe it is true after all, that there can be no peace until we die. Even then, those who survive after us would simply write on our tombstone, “May he rest in peace!” Again, it is just a wish. Those of us who die full of bitterness, anger and disillusionment might not only not die in peace but even after death, the soul remains restless and unhappy. This would be even more tragic than simply suffering on earth, for at least, as St Peter says, we only suffer for a while.
So where can we find peace? Peace comes from Divine Mercy. This is the lesson in today’s liturgy. Indeed, the Church today celebrates Divine Mercy Sunday. In the gospel, Jesus reveals the mercy of God in the wounds of His hands. Although He came as the Risen Lord, He came as a crucified Lord. He appeared to Thomas and the apostles in the wounds that He suffered from the betrayal of men, including the apostles, the injustice of the authorities, the jealousy of the religious leaders and the ignorance of the crowd who simply went where the wind blew. By appearing to Thomas in His holy wounds, He wanted to remind Thomas that He is the Lord of Mercy only because He had experienced all our pains and sufferings. Having forgiven His enemies, felt the abandonment of His Father, entered into the hell of the atheist, died completely to His ego in the humiliation of the cross, we can, looking at Christ now, truly say that He is Divine Mercy.
Hence, for those of us who are skeptical of God’s mercy, the Lord wants us to remember His passion and death on the cross for us. Like St Thomas, this is particularly true for the atheist and agnostics who do not believe in the resurrection. And so true for many of us too! Many have given up on God because they cannot feel the mercy of God. They feel that God has let them down and abandoned them in their difficulties, suffering, failures in study and work, illnesses, abandonment and bereavement. If this God has no mercy, then He has no love and therefore it does not matter whether He exists or not. If this God cannot look after us or help us, then we had better direct our entire attention to looking after ourselves as He is not reliable and maybe does not exist at all.
How, then, do we explain the reality of suffering and Divine Mercy in our lives? How can we say that Jesus came to give us peace as His first Easter gift when we are still suffering? In fact, many of us might feel that we are still in our tomb. There is no solution in sight. We are still persecuted at home, in our workplace and in church. We have not resolved our financial woes and personal conflicts. There is still no reconciliation with our loved ones. We are still sick and abandoned. So where is the peace and mercy of Christ?
We must, at the outset, be clear that the peace of the Risen Lord is not pacifism or inactivity. The peace of the Risen Lord is the peace of the heart. The joy of Easter is not like the peace of the world. It does not mean that we should be smiling all the time and project a happy face. Of course, some of us do genuinely feel liberated and therefore happy. Even then, it does not mean that we have no problems, sufferings or challenges in daily life.
Rather, the peace of Easter comes from knowing that the Lord is with us in our difficulties and challenges. Even after they left the Upper Room, the apostles did not have peace in the sense that they no longer had problems with their enemies. On the contrary, the moment they began preaching about Jesus as the Risen Lord, they were arrested, threatened and beaten up. But they were at peace in spite of the persecutions because they knew that the Lord was with them. In His resurrection, He is now with us always. Indeed, the parting words of Jesus to the apostles at the Ascension was, “I will be with you till the end of time.” Knowing that the Lord is with us is enough to give us peace, just as when our friends assure us of their support and prayers during difficult moments in our lives. We live on the assurance of their love and support. But how does the Lord draw near to us? He gives us the Holy Spirit. He gives us the power to do what He did. “After saying this he breathed on them and said: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” With the Holy Spirit, we can go out to the world to face our challenges and enemies.
Secondly, we are at peace because we are always assured of His divine mercy and forgiveness. By manifesting Himself to the apostles after His death, the Lord wanted to assure them that He understood their fears, their betrayal and their flight. He did not hold their sins or infidelity against them. On the contrary, He continued to have confidence in them. Instead of reprimanding them, He forgave them and as if that was not enough, He made them emissaries of His forgiveness and peace. He commanded them, “’As the Father sent me, so am I sending you. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained.’” Today, through the sacrament of reconciliation, we continue to be assured of His divine mercy and forgiveness. The Lord readily forgives us, knowing how weak we are. So we should never deprive ourselves of the experience and celebration of His divine mercy in the sacrament of reconciliation.
Thirdly, divine mercy is shown by the Lord when He made us children of God. St Peter wrote, “Blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy has given us a new birth as his sons, by raising Jesus Christ from the dead.” Only because of His death and resurrection are we now reconciled with God, and through the bestowal of the Holy Spirit, we are given a new birth as God’s sons and daughters. How wonderful to know that we are given a new lease of life in Christ! Through Christ, we have recovered our true identity.
Fourthly, divine mercy comes through His Church, the Body of Christ. In the first reading, we read of the early Christian community coming together to listen “to the teaching of the apostles”, for “the brotherhood, the breaking of bread and to the prayers.” Coming together as Church, “they all lived together and owned everything in common; they sold their goods and possessions and shared out the proceeds among themselves according to what each one needed.” Such was the union and fellowship that the early Church enjoyed. They did everything together, supporting each other, “shared their food gladly and generously” so much so that “day by day the Lord added to their community those destined to be saved.” If we are to experience divine mercy today, the Christian community needs to be more supportive of each other. We need to care for each other, especially the less privileged. What saddens me is that Catholics are often intolerant of each other, whether at the car park, in church, over noisy crying children, etc. Many have left the Church because the Church is perceived to be businesslike, calculative, strict, regimental, lacking compassion and sensitivity. We must learn from St Thomas never to leave the Christian community, if we want to see the resurrected Christ.
Finally, divine mercy is seen in Christian charity. The world is looking for God’s mercy. We cannot contain God’s mercy within the Church. It springs forth from the mercy of God in His Church but it must be spread to all regardless of language, race or religion. Through works of charity, let us spread His divine mercy to all. Only mercy is capable of overcoming evil and destroying selfishness and hatred. If we love the Lord, then we must ensure that God’s merciful love reaches to all. Let the mercy of God in our hearts bring peace to the world, between peoples and among religions and cultures.
In view of our great hope that is now certain because of the resurrection, we can live our lives courageously and purposefully like the apostles. With the resurrection, we know where our future lies. “You did not see him, yet you love him; and still without seeing him, you are already filled with a joy so glorious that it cannot be described, because you believe; and you are sure of the end to which your faith looks forward, that is, the salvation of your souls.” With the resurrection, we know where true power lies. “I was thrust down, thrust down and falling, but the Lord was my helper. The Lord is my strength and my song; he was my saviour.” What is needed for us is to strengthen our faith in His divine mercy each day, for only faith in Christ will help us to withstand the trials of life so that “when Jesus Christ is revealed, your faith will have been tested and proved like gold.” With St Thomas, we confess, “My Lord and my God!”
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ ACTS 5:12-16; PS 117:2-4, 22-27; REV 1:9-13.17-19; JN 20:19-31 ]We are living in a very harsh world. It has no patience for those who are weak or make mistakes in life. There is no second chance. Not only is there no mercy for those who fail, there is no compassion for the weak, the sick and the hungry.
If we are going through such straits in life, we can understand why people lose faith in God. If there is God, why are we suffering? Why is this God so indifferent to our pains and struggles? How could God be love and mercy when we only experience just the opposite of what is taught to us in the bible. When God is not feeling with us, then this God does not exist. Life has no meaning and purpose. Indeed, the primary cause of atheism in the world is the experience of suffering and the lack of encounter with the mercy of God.
Consequently, today as we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday, and especially during this Jubilee Year of Mercy, we need to proclaim loudly the mercy of God, just like the apostles in the Portico of Solomon who were “loud in their praise” and as a result, “the numbers of men and women who came to believe in the Lord increased steadily.” All three scripture readings today underscore the same message that God is mercy. He is not only love but mercy as well. His love is expressed most clearly in His mercy.
In the gospel, Jesus shows the mercy of God, especially to those imprisoned by fear and guilt because of their sins and their enemies. “In the evening of that same day, the first day of the week, the doors were closed in the room where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews.” Who were their enemies? It was not primarily the Jews. They were external enemies. The real enemy was their guilt because of their shamefor abandoning their master when He most needed them at the Garden of Gethsemane and during His passion, and most of all, when He was hanging on the cross. But Jesus forgave them. He knew their fears and shame. So “Jesus came and stood among them. He said to them, ‘Peace be with you,’ and showed them his hands and his side.’” The first gift of the Risen Lord is peace to those who live in guilt, shame and fear of their past.
Secondly, Jesus comes to free us from our external enemies. These enemies come from fear of the world and our anxieties. Most of all, the greatest enemy is the fear of death. To such people, the Lord assures us that He has conquered death by His resurrection. St John shares with us his encounter with God’s mercy when he was praying. The Lord said, “Do not be afraid; it is I, the First and the Last; I am the Living One. I was dead and now I am to live for ever and ever.” Indeed, Christ, by His death and resurrection, has overcome all fear of death and the injustices of the world. We know that nothing can overcome us or destroy us. Even in death, we will triumph with the Lord.
Thirdly, God also shows His mercy to the sick. The Church, like the apostles, continues to be the channels of God’s mercy through miraculous healings as a consequence of prayer and intercession. We too can continue to come to Him for healing both directly through prayer and also through the help of medical care workers.
Fourthly, God shows His mercy even to the skeptics and atheists. In the person of St Thomas who doubted the resurrection of the Lord, the Risen Christ made a special appearance to Him. And not only did He show Himself but most of all revealed to St Thomas that the Risen Lord is the Crucified Christ of mercy. By showing all the marks in His body, Jesus demonstrated with total clarity His mercy and forgiveness even to unbelievers and atheists like Thomas. He invites them, “Put your finger here; look, here are my hands. Give me your hand; put it into my side. Doubt no longer but believe.” So the Lord can identify even with believers in their emptiness.
Finally, Christ comes to show His mercy to those who live without meaning and hope. With Christ’s death and resurrection, everything is now made clear. We know that suffering will not end in tragedy or meaninglessness. Just as God used the redemptive suffering of the innocent Christ, He will use our sufferings and sacrifices for the conversion of the world and for the salvation of all. We know that the Lord is in control and all things will work out for our good.
Indeed, without fear of suffering and death, we can now live fully for God and for others. This explains the change in the attitude of the apostles. They were then hiding in the Upper Room in fear for their lives. But in just a while, they were out in the open proclaiming the mercy of God, singing His praises. “Let the sons of Israel say: ‘His love has no end.’ The stone which the builders rejected has become the corner stone. This is the work of the Lord, a marvel in our eyes.” With Jesus our cornerstone, our foundation is firm and strong.
As we celebrate the Year of Mercy, we are called to be apostles of divine mercy to the world by being mediators and reconcilers. After showing His mercy to the apostles, He sent them to do likewise: “’As the Father sent me, so am I sending you.’ After saying this he breathed on them and said: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained.’” The power to forgive sins includes both the sacrament of baptism and reconciliation. By extension, it refers to the invitation to reconcile all men and women with each other and with Christ. Hence, the Church as the Sacrament of Jesus must now extend His Divine mercy to the world, those who are lost in life, those who are suffering in guilt, unable to let go and forgive, those who are sick and in all sorts of difficulties. We are called to heal them and show them mercy through spiritual and corporal works of mercy. We are to pray for them and pray over those who are sick and unwell.
For spiritual works of mercy, we are called to lead them to Jesus through catechesis, sacraments and prayers. We are called to lead them to Jesus the Divine Mercy through catechesis and the proclamation of the Word of God. What greater gift of mercy can we give to our people than giving them Jesus in the Eucharist and reconciling them in the Sacrament of reconciliation? This is the direct proclamation of Divine Mercy, through preaching and the sacraments. We can extend Divine Mercy to the sick, especially when they receive the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. Indeed, through counselling and spiritual direction, through preaching and sharing of the Word of God, we can give hope to the world, especially those who have given up on life. We are to pray for them and pray over those who are sick and unwell.
The concrete way of being a channel of God’s mercy is shown through the corporal works of mercy as we attend to those who are suffering physically, emotionally and mentally. Thus, the Church must never lack in her works of mercy to the poor, the suffering and the marginalized. We are call to serve the poor in Christ and to relieve them of their suffering and pain. Catholics must be involved directly or indirectly in serving and helping the poor, either through involvement in charitable organizations, helping financially or just providing resources. Those without resources can visit the poor and give them hope and encouragement.
If we reveal the mercy of God and Christ to the world, we can be sure that having encountered the mercy of God through us, just like what Blessed Mother Teresa did, we will bring about conversion of hearts. This is what we read in the Acts of the Apostles. Many were converted because of the miraculous works of mercy of healing and the proclamation of the Word of God. Only when people see that God is mercy and love, will they believe in Him. People are not converted simply by preaching and doctrines but by the concrete experience of God’s mercy and compassion.
But before we do that, let us be exposed to God’s mercy in our own lives through the love we receive from the faith community. We need the support of the Church, like St Thomas, if we are to encounter the mercy of God. When St Thomas was not with them, he could not find the faith to see the Risen Lord. We too can be merciful if we experience the divine mercy through the love and faith of the Christian community, especially in, worship and fellowship. We need the encouragement and forgiveness of our brothers and sisters in the community who could accept us even in our weaknesses. We cannot work alone, for joy comes from working together for the love and service of God and our neighbours. In this way, those who receive divine mercy will become effective and gracious channels of God’s mercy.