Apr 13, 2012

2nd Easter Sunday: Divine Mercy in the flesh


Carravagio
 "My Lord and my God . . ."
Acts 4: 32- 35
1 Jn 5: 1-6
Jn 20: 19-31

“Seeing is believing” may indeed be the motto of our day.  In this age of hyper-technology, scientific advancement, and 24 hour news, all of which have contributed to a better more efficient way of life for most of us, has also created a generation of skeptics. In other words, unless I can see it, touch it, taste it, prove it through verifiable evidence, it cannot be true.  Science of course is built on concrete evidence as it must be but faith goes beyond the material to another state of reality – that of the spirit.

How can we, for example, prove that Christ Jesus is present Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the small wafer- like piece of “bread” that we partake in at the Eucharist?  We can prove it is a sort of bread, flour and water, but I cannot prove through measurable evidence that it is the living presence of Jesus the risen Lord. Does that mean that it isn’t?

Yet, Faith tells me that in some mysterious yet real manner when we gather for the Mass and all the proper elements are present and the priest has the right intention to do as Christ and the Church intends, the Lord of Life comes to us hidden under the signs of bread and wine.  Science falls short but Faith tells me it is true.  That leap from the material to the spiritual is the challenge of our day and our increasingly secular culture.

So, on this Divine Mercy Sunday we always hear the story of Thomas taken from the Gospel of John. Thomas, who I believe so wanted to believe the unbelievable but demanded verifiable proof that what his brothers were telling him was indeed true, may indeed be a symbol of “every man” in this age of skeptics.

Jesus appears to the Apostles who are hiding somewhere in Jerusalem, “for fear of the Jews” (Jewish authorities), and he appears to them through locked doors.  The genius of this story is what it tells us about the risen Christ, which all the Gospel writers struggle to describe.

That he was indeed risen, alive again after truly being dead. That his appearance was not just resuscitation but rather some combination of both spirit and matter. He could walk through or become visible in their midst despite the locked doors (no one let him in).

Jesus “came” and “stood in their midst.” This vision spoke to them in a language they could understand: Shalom - “Peace be with you,” he said. Then, his physical presence was experienced – “he showed them his hands and his side . . .” The Apostles could see, feel, and touch the material presence of the wounds which remained on his body as a sign of his Passion.

So, this risen Jesus walks, stands, talks, reaches out, and speaks.  To add more, later we hear that he eats with them (Jn 21: 1-14). Who would make up such an unbelievable story and expect others to believe it if it were not true?

So, the curtain now rises on part two – that of Thomas who was not with them at this moment.  His earlier doubt turned cynicism – “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe . . .” was about to change profoundly.  Thomas’ near offensive challenge to his brother Apostles’ story must have been unnerving. Thomas disparagingly was calling their bluff.

One week later, Jesus visits again in the same place and invites Thomas – “touch me.” One can imagine Thomas overwhelmed with embarrassment but even more overcome by joy and wonder – “My Lord and My God.”  Thomas’ proclamation of faith is the absolute truth about Jesus for every Christian - He is our “Lord and God.” But, look how long it took him to come to that point and the personal price he paid for it. 

If we understand our Catholic faith fully, it seems to me that we indeed touch God and he in turn touches us.  Isn't that the greatest need we have - to know the truth?  Science searches diligently for the truth and we in our faith can find it through the eyes of faith in which we touch God. 

Our Catholic faith is so fully incarnational.  We use the "stuff" of creation - oil, water, bread, wine, incense, fire. In gesture of open hands, imposed hands, in kneeling and standing, in Word and Sacrament we touch God. Our Catholic faith is indeed very physical. Through these tangible signs we touch God and he touches us. We hear him, see him, smell him, taste him and come to know his presence and his Divine Mercy.   
Where am I in this journey towards faith? Many people are uncomfortable at the first mention of religious language.  They would rather talk about anything else besides God and Religion – and among them are many who were raised in the Catholic Church! No doubt, there has been much bad press for good reasons on the Church in the last ten years but a number of folks have become outright hostile.  Much healing is called for.

Just as it did for the Apostles and the earliest of Christians who knew them, these Easter stories of the risen Lord should reinforce our confidence in the person of Jesus Christ and the Church he established.

Unfortunately, all of us have a little of Thomas, or maybe a lot of Thomas, within us. No one, from Pope to Bishop to Priest to Faithful in the pews each week has not had moments of doubt to one degree or another. We have all fallen short at times.  

But, if we can confidently, in the midst of our doubt, still say with conviction that Jesus is “Lord and God” we can smile in the face of this skeptical age.

As we look towards Sunday, let’s remember the overwhelming mercy of the God in Jesus who came to his Apostles and to the confused Thomas in that room and offered them not judgment or condemnation or disappointment in their failed behavior during his suffering but who gave them Shalom – “Peace.”

Jesus sent his Apostles on mission as ambassadors of peace and reconciliation (mercy). Where can I do the same?