Second Sunday of Easter – C (Divine Mercy Sunday)

Readings: Acts 5:12-16; Ps 118:2-4,13-15, 22-24; Rev 1:9-13,17-19; Jn 20:19-31

“Lord Increase my Faith”

Do you have doubts about the Christian faith? If so, you’re not alone. These are stories of others who have struggled, or are struggling, with tough questions and troublesome doubts. Doubt is not an abandonment of faith. It is an expected part of faith. Alister McGrath, a professor of Science and Religion at Oxford University, says, “doubt arises partly because we feel frustrated at not being able to understand everything” (The Sunnier Side of Doubt, 40). Nobody understands everything.

It’s OK to have questions and doubts about faith, whether you consider yourself a Christian believer or not. If you have times of doubt, we want to think with you—even doubt with you.

The Spinach Myth: The cartoon character Popeye is famous for eating spinach. Whenever he breaks open a can of spinach and eats it he gains enormous strength. Popeye was employed by the US Government during World War 2 to promote the idea of eating spinach. Meat was a rarity during war, but spinach appeared to be a great substitute. In the 1890’s German scientists had shown that spinach contains the same amount of iron as meat. And iron of course is one of the essential vitamins in building strength.

But the facts are wrong. The German researchers did prove that spinach contains iron, but when they wrote down their results they put the decimal point in the wrong place. They overestimated the amount of iron in spinach by a factor of 10! Unfortunately, the correction didn’t get across the ocean until after World War II.

This episode shows how easily false ideas can quickly become accepted truth. It’s not uncommon in the area of Christian belief for Christians to quickly give unquestionable status to beliefs that may in fact have questionable origins. We should never be afraid to go back and ask why it is that we hold a particular belief or a particular interpretation of the bible. Our investigation may prove we got it right, or it may show we didn’t. Either way our understanding and application of God’s word will only be improved. (Source: Information about spinach obtained from Karl Kruszelnicki’s Great Moments in Science website (abc.net.au/science) May 24, 2001)

Hagar’s Search for God: One of the world’s most loved comic strips is Hagar the Horrible. In one strip we find Hagar kneeling in prayer. “It’s not easy to believe in you, God. We never see you. How come you never show yourself? How do we know you even exist…” Next we see

· a flower springing into life beside Hagar,

· a volcano erupting in the distance,

· an eclipse of sun turning the sky black,

· a star shooting across the stratosphere;

· a tidal wave rushing over Hagar,

· lightning flashing,

· a bush beginning to burn,

· a stone rolling away from the entrance to a tomb.

Hagar pulls himself from the mud, dripping wet, surrounded by darkness. “OK, OK. I give up! Every time I bring up this subject, all we get is interruptions.”

God’s Gone Fishing: Bishop Roger Herft, former Anglican bishop of Newcastle, NSW, Australia, tells of a Croatian refugee he met in mid 2001. This man had fled his war-torn country and arrived in Australia some years before. Since then his marriage had broken up and he lost custody of his children. To add to his agony 24 members of his family, including his 84 year old grandfather and four month old niece, had been killed during the most recent conflict in Croatia.

He said to Bishop Herft, “Where is God when it really matters? I’ll tell you where. God has got fed up with us. He has put up a board saying, ‘Gone Fishing’, and has left us to live in this filthy mess.” (Source: reported in Lake Macquarie News, 19/12/01)

Even When He’s Silent: The Holocaust is one of the terribly traumatic episodes of modern history, yet it has also yielded some astounding stories of bravery and faith. In France a Jewish family were hidden by some concerned French nationals in the basement of their house. The Jewish family waited and waited for their deliverance. At the end of the war these words were found scribbled on the wall of that basement:

“I believe in the sun even when it does not shine.
I believe in love even when it is not given.
I believe in God even when he is silent.”

(Source: reported in Hans, God on the Witness Stand (Baker, 1987))

Doubt can be one of the most terrifying experiences that a Christian can ever go through. It can challenge and test you at the most fundamental level. It can cause your entire world to fall apart and enter you into a spiritual nightmare—no, night-terror—that does not seem as if it is ever going to stop. There are many different types of and reasons for doubt. Christians can doubt God’s love, goodness, presence, and even his very existence.

Some things to keep in mind:

—-        Don’t suppress your doubts and put them in a closet in the back of your mind. It is only through learning to deal with our doubts properly that our faith can grow properly.

—–         While I don’t think it is good to suppress your doubts, I do think that you should take a “break” from them now and then. Doubt can be thought of as a spiritual stress or spiritual depression. Therefore, as best you can, take a break from them every once in a while and enjoy and practice the faith that you do have.

—- Recognize that you are not alone in your doubts and struggles. Everyone will experience some sort of doubt from time to time. Sometimes this doubt will be severe, challenging the very foundations of your life and even your sanity. But you are not alone.

—-    All doubt will be done away with one day.

—-      Don’t be afraid to talk to others about your doubt. This will be very comforting. It is only when you think you are alone in your doubts that you will be quickly overwhelmed though a sort of “spiritual panic.”

—-         Doubt can be thought of as the bridge that makes up your faith. None of us has perfect faith. Doubt does not mean you don’t believe.

—-         There were many biblical spiritual giants that doubted. Think of what a conflict John must have been going through. He knew for certain at one point that Christ was the one. But after a time of God’s absence in his life (he was in prison getting ready to be executed), he began to doubt. No one will ever know the conflict that John went though at this time, but we cannot fail to recognize how significant this is.

FIRST READING: Acts 5 addresses the question of growth. How did the early community in Jerusalem gain strength? Through the ministry of healing.

PSALM: Psalm 118 praises God for his activity in the life of the nation. He saves his people from defeat and destruction. He deserves glory for his guidance.

SECOND READING: In the book of Revelation, John the Elder was commissioned through a special ceremony. It was not the voice of the One commissioning, but his presence that made this ceremony unique.

GOSPEL: In John’s Gospel, Jesus appeared to his followers on Easter night with a revelation and a mission. He rose, so his followers were to carry that message to others. They could carry that message because they had the power of the Spirit with them.

“Doubting Thomas” is a term often used to describe someone who refuses to believe something without direct, personal evidence; a skeptic.

It refers of course to Thomas, one of the Twelve Apostles, whose name occurs in all the Gospel lists of the apostles. Thomas is called “Didymus,” the Greek form of an Aramaic name meaning “twin.”

When Jesus announced his intention of returning to Judea to visit Lazarus, Thomas said to his fellow disciples: “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:16). It was Thomas who, during the great discourse after the Last Supper, raised an objection: “Lord, we do not know where you are going; and how can we know the way?” (John 14:5).

Little else is recorded of Thomas the Apostle in the New Testament, nevertheless, thanks to John’s Gospel text for today (John 20:19-31), his personality is clearer to us than that of some others of the Twelve.

Thomas would have listened to Jesus’ words, and he certainly experienced dismay at Jesus’ death. That Easter evening when the Lord appeared to the disciples, Thomas was not present. When he was told that Jesus was alive and had shown himself, Thomas stated: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25).

Thomas missed much because he was not there. Notice what he missed that day:

1. v. 19 – He missed the Presence of the Lord.

2. v. 19 – He missed the Power of the Lord.

3. v. 19 – He missed the Peace of the Lord.

4. v. 20 – He missed the Praises of the Lord.

5. v. 21 – He missed the Promotions of the Lord.

6. v. 22-23 – He missed the Provisions of the Lord.

Eight days later, Thomas made his act of faith, drawing down the rebuke of Jesus — “Because you have seen me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.”

The Real Thomas: Thomas the Apostle is one of the greatest and most honest of the lovers of Jesus, not the eternal skeptic, nor the bullish, stubborn personality that Christian tradition has often painted. This young apostle stood before the cross, not comprehending the horrors of what had happened. All his dreams and hopes were hanging on that cross.

Thomas rediscovered his faith amidst the believing community of apostles and disciples. This point must never be forgotten, especially in an age when so many claim that faith and spirituality are attainable without the experience of the ecclesial community. We do not believe as isolated individuals, but rather, through our baptism, we become members of this great family of the Church. It is precisely the faith professed by the ecclesial community we call Church that reinforces our personal faith.

Each Sunday at Mass, we profess our faith either in the Nicene Creed or the Apostles’ Creed. In doing so, we are saved from the danger of believing in a God other than the one revealed by Christ.

Let us not forget the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Faith is a personal act — the free response of the human person to the initiative of God who reveals himself. But faith is not an isolated act. No one can believe alone, just as no one can live alone. You have not given yourself faith as you have not given yourself life. The believer has received faith from others and should hand it on to others.

“Our love for Jesus and for our neighbor impels us to speak to others about our faith. Each believer is thus a link in the great chain of believers. I cannot believe without being carried by the faith of others, and by my faith I help support others in the faith” (No. 166).

Thomas can’t be said to come to true “faith” in the resurrection through all this. Because faith is about believing what you can’t see. Walking by faith means NOT walking by sight. In heaven, we’ll see God face to face, so “faith” will be no more. Blessed, says Jesus, are those who have not seen, and yet believe.

But Thomas does come to faith in something else that he can’t quite see. He saw Lazarus, the son of the widow of Nain plus the daughter of Jairus, all raised from the dead.

Thomas now looks at yet another risen human being before him and says what he did not say to the prior three: “My Lord and My God.” Thomas here professes what can only be seen by the eye of faith. The resurrection of Jesus is not just a marvel for Ripley’s Believe it or Not. Jesus is not just some first century Houdini. No, his resurrection is a sign that he is the Messiah, the King, even the Eternal God, come in the flesh.

So this man, humbled by Christ’s mercy, is content to be known for all generations as “Doubting Thomas.” Thomas the Doubter and the other apostles spread a story in which they look real bad. And for it they receive not privilege but persecution and death.

So why do they spread the story?

Because it’s the truth. And because it’s a proclamation of the Divine Mercy of God who does not reject the thick-headed, the weak, and the doubting but instead gives them the power to become strong, loving, and wise. “Behold,” says Jesus, “I make all things new.” (Rev 21:5)

DOUBT SEES THE OBSTACLES
FAITH SEES THE WAY

DOUBT SEES THE DARKEST NIGHT
FAITH SEES THE WAY

DOUBT DREADS TO TAKE A STEP
FAITH SOARS HIGH

DOUBT SAYS “WHO BELIEVES”
FAITH SAYS ” I BELIEVE”

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DIVINE MERCY SUNDAY
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“Be Merciful as your Heavenly Father is Merciful”

Today is Divine Mercy Sunday, the 8th day of the Feast of Easter in which Blessed Pope John Paul II said that we receive the Easter Gift. And what is this very special Easter Gift? It is the special gift of the total forgiveness of all sins and punishment that the Catholic Church offers in the form of a plenary indulgence today.

But, why today? What sets this day apart from any other day? Today is the Octave Day of Easter; the world’s greatest feast. And shouldn’t the world’s greatest feast offer the world’s greatest gift; the total forgiveness of all sins and punishment, or in other words, “a straight ticket to Heaven” if we should die today in this perfect state of sanctifying grace? And what is Divine Mercy?

The word “Divine” means “given by God” or “like God”. The word “Mercy” means “the refraining from harming or punishing offenders”. So simply put, Divine Mercy is “God refraining from harming or punishing offenders”. How did this feast come to be established in the Catholic Church?

In the Jubilee Year 2000, Blessed Pope John Paul II established this new feast indicating that he had fulfilled the will of Christ. He must have said this because he believed that our Church needed to re-emphasize the tremendous gift of Divine Mercy that the Lord wants to pour out on each and every one of us. In the Old Testament, God told Moses to celebrate their most important feast called the Day of Atonement, once a year, and to prepare for that feast, they were to afflict themselves and offer up animal blood sacrifices. On the last day, God would forgive their sins. It was for them, an annual preparation for the Judgment. The Jews of today still celebrate this feast, which they call “Yom Kippur”. This is the Jews’ biggest feast and it lasts for a full ten days. In fact, most of the important feasts in the Old Testament lasted for 7 or more days. Even weddings would last for a whole week or more. So why shouldn’t we celebrate Easter for at least a full 8 days? So this Feast of Divine Mercy (Divine Mercy Sunday) is like our modern day fulfillment of the “Day of Atonement”.

An annual preparation for the Judgment, an annual feast to get perfectly right with God. Are we now starting to understand how important this feast is for us, today? Ok, let’s take it a little further. What is the last instruction that Jesus gave His Church before He died and what is the first instruction He gave His Church after He came to life again? The very last instruction was the Sacrament of Holy Communion, the Eucharist, at the Last Supper. The very first instruction, after His Resurrection from the dead, was the institution of the Sacrament of Confession. These 2 sacraments comprise the Fount of Divine Mercy. The 2 sacraments needed to receive the total forgiveness of sins and punishment on this feastday. Recall what Jesus said to His Apostles in the Gospel today: “Receive the Holy Spirit, whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained”. This happened on the very night of the Resurrection when the Apostles were hiding from fear of the Jews. Also, recall that St. Thomas wasn’t there on that Sunday, but was actually there on the following Sunday. Could this be God’s Providence to set up this feast associated with trust in Jesus? Now let’s look at the Divine Mercy Image.

Why would Jesus want this image to be blessed and venerated on this day? Aren’t the Sacraments of Holy Communion and Confession displayed in this image? By Jesus’ own words, the rays indicate the Blood and Water that gushed from His heart when it was pierced on the Cross. The Catholic Church teaches that the Blood and Water that gushed out from Jesus on the Cross are the Sacraments of the Church. Jesus said that the Water is what makes souls righteous and the Blood is the life of souls. So we can see that the Water washes away our sins, just like in Baptism or Confession and that the Blood gives us life, just like in Holy Communion. Remember when Jesus said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood remains in Me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent Me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on Me will have life because of Me.” In the Divine Mercy image, Jesus is moving towards us and asking us to trust in Him. He is asking us not to be afraid to approach him and to ask him for his mercy in the Sacrament of Confession. He is calling us to wash away our sins and to receive Holy Communion without stain of sin, because he wants to give us the absolute greatest gift possible today. For Holy Communion to be miraculous, we have to be completely clean from any sin or desire to sin.

Don’t ever be afraid to approach Jesus, waiting for you in the Confessional. Jesus told Saint Faustina that every time we approach the Confessional, that he himself is waiting there for us. That he is only hidden by the priest and that the priest is, for him, only a screen. So, if you haven’t had a chance to make your yearly Confession in preparation for your Easter Communion, don’t miss out on this incredible opportunity today to have all of your sins and punishment forgiven. The Catholic Church allows about 20 days for Confession, before or after Divine Mercy Sunday, to gain the special plenary indulgence that is being offered today. If you think that you are in the state of serious or mortal sin, the Church teaches that you must go to Confession before receiving Holy Communion.

If you have gone to Confession but have fallen back into venial sin, you should make a perfect Act of Contrition before receiving Holy Communion. The Church teaches that missing Sunday Mass, without good reason, may be a serious sin. So if you have been missing Sunday Mass, why not get a brand new start in life? Don’t miss out on this excellent opportunity to be prepared for the Second Coming of Christ. We never know when he will call on us. We always have to be ready to stand before him. Today is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!

Thomas Sees the Resurrected Christ ……. Christ approaches Thomas after Thomas declares that he will not believe unless he sees.

Fr. Gaspar Fernandes, OFM Cap.

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