He who knows how to forgive prepares for himself many graces from God.
As often as I look upon the cross, so often will I forgive
with all my heart – St. Faustina
- In the town of Wishaw there lived an earnest Christian man who became a magistrate. One morning there appeared before him in the court a friend of his youth, who had strayed from the paths of righteousness and had committed an offense against the law of the land. Those who knew the relationship between the two men, expected the magistrate to deal with the man mercifully, and they were very much surprised when they heard that the sentence was a heavy fine. But they were more surprised when the magistrate went to the officer of the court, and took from his own pocket the money to pay the fine. He did his duty as a magistrate, and upheld the law, but he also showed something of the mercy of God for his friend when he paid the penalty for his friend. There is little wonder that the law-breaker was broken-hearted in his repentance.
Jesus gave Himself for you. Have you given yourself to Him?
- A boy was dressing to go out for the evening. He asked his mother, “Mother, is this shirt dirty?”
Without so much as looking, she replied: “Yes, it’s dirty; put on a clean one.”
When he had dressed, he entered his mother’s room and asked how she knew the shirt was not clean when she had not even looked at it.
“If it had been clean,” she replied, “you would have known it and not asked me. Remember, Son, if it’s doubtful, it’s dirty.”—Selected
- 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;
· lightning flashing,
· a bush beginning to burn,
· a stone rolling away from the entrance to a tomb,
· a tidal wave rushing over Hagar,
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.”
- 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 was 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.”
- Diane, a young Christian university student, was home for the summer. She had gone to visit some friends one evening and the time passed quickly as each shared their various experiences of the past year.
She ended up staying longer than she had planned and had to walk home alone. But she wasn’t afraid because it was a small town and she lived only a few blocks away. As she walked along under the tall elm trees, Diane asked “God” to keep her safe from harm and danger. When she reached the alley, which was a short cut to her house, she decided to take it. However, halfway down the alley she noticed a man standing at the end as though he were waiting for her. She became uneasy and began to pray, asking for God’s protection. Instantly a comforting feeling of quietness and security wrapped around her, she felt as though someone was walking with her. When she reached the end of the alley, she walked right past the man and arrived home safety.
The following day, she read in the paper that a young girl had been raped in the same alley, just twenty minutes after she had been there. Feeling overwhelmed by this tragedy and the fact that it could have been her, she began to weep. Thanking the Lord for her safety and to help this young woman, she decided to go to the police station. She felt she could recognize the man, so she told them her story. The police asked her if she would be willing to look at a lineup to see if she could identify him. She agreed and immediately pointed out the man she had seen in the alley the night before.
When the man was told he had been identified, he immediately broke down and confessed. The officer thanked Diane for her bravery and asked if their was anything they could do for her, she asked if they would ask the man one question. Diane was curious as to why he had not attacked her. When the policeman asked him, he answered, “Because she wasn’t alone. She had two tall men walking on either side of her.”
Faith can save your life.
- Doubt sees the obstacles. Faith sees the way.
Doubt sees the darkest night. Faith sees the day.
Doubt dreads to take a step. Faith soars high.
Doubt questions “Who believes?” Faith answers “I”
The First Reading of today from the Acts of the Apostles tells us about the life in the early church immediately after the Resurrection of Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit. It was centered round the teaching of the apostles, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayer. The believers lived in a community and had possessions in common. Everybody had loving concern for one another and forgave one another. This simple sincerity won the admiration of others and day by day and members were added to the community of the believers by the merciful Lord.
In the Second Reading of today from the 1st Letter of Peter, St. Peter gives praise to God the Father who in His great love and mercy has given them a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He speaks of future inheritance (eternal life) that is guaranteed for those reborn as Christians. Now they are filled with a joy that is indescribable and glorious. But he reminds them that they may have to suffer through various trials. It suggests the durability of faith even in the midst of suffering. In this sense the experience of faith is worth more than fire-tested gold. This is certainly the testimony of the first Christian martyrs who were sustained by the experience of a rock-solid faith.
Several of our Lord’s disciples are well known. Books could be, and have been, written about Peter, John, and Judas. But, of some of the rest, we seem to know very little. I want to look at what the Bible has to say about one of the lesser known of the Master’s Men. I want to look at the life of the disciple named Thomas.
We know next to nothing of this man’s early life or of his call to follow Jesus. From the fact that he went fishing with Peter and the others in John 21, it might be that he was a fisherman before he became a disciple. The name Thomas is Aramaic for “Twin”. The other name he has in the Bible is “Didymus”. This word means “twin” in Greek. Apparently, Thomas had either a twin brother or sister, but that person is not identified in the Bible. Some people think that Thomas and Matthew were twin brothers, because they are always mentioned together in the lists of the disciples, but we simply do not know for sure.
Thomas only appears in twelve verses in the Gospel record. In Matthew, Mark and Luke, Thomas is only mentioned three times. Each time he is mentioned, his name appears when he is listed with the other disciples of Jesus, Matt. 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15. He is also mentioned in Acts 1:3 as one of the disciples present in the upper room on the day of Pentecost.
Eight of the verses that mention Thomas are here in the Gospel of John. He is mentioned in John 11:16 and John 14:5. In both of those verses, the words of Thomas are quoted by John. We will look at these verses in a moment. In John 21:2, Thomas is listed as one of the seven disciples that went fishing after the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The other five verses that mention Thomas are in the passage we have read today.
For nearly 2,000 years, Thomas has received a lot of bad press. He was given the name of “Doubting Thomas”. He has been portrayed as a man filled with doubt and fear. I would like to attempt to set the record straight today. I think that the Bible reveals another side of Thomas. His primary problem was not his doubting; Thomas was a pessimist! He was a “glass half-empty” kind of person. He seemed to look for the negative side of every situation first. He was the kind of person who was always on the lookout for the “dark side” of things.
As we look at what the Bible has to say about Thomas, I want you to see that he possessed some admirable qualities. Among them are these: He was loyal to the Lord. He loved Jesus. He possessed an inquiring spirit. He was skeptical, but his skepticism was the right kind. It was a skepticism that was open to belief. Let’s look at Thomas as he is revealed in the Bible. I want to preach on The Transformation Of Thomas. I want you to see how the Lord worked in this man’s life to move him from doubt to a shout. Notice the ways Thomas is revealed in these verses.
THOMAS THE POUTER
A. Ill. The Context – Why the disciples were where they were, v. 19, and what they were doing there.
B. We are told that Thomas is not with them, v. 24. We do not know where he was that day, but a look at what we do know about him may hold the answers. There are two examples given in the Bible that reveal the heart of Thomas.
1. John 11:16 – Ill. The Context. Jesus is going to raise Lazarus and Thomas knows that Jesus’ enemies are after Him and that Jesus might just die. He is willing to go with Jesus and die with him if necessary. Thomas challenged the rest to go along with Jesus.
2. John 14:5 – Ill. The Context – Jesus has told His disciples that He is going away. He also tells the disciples that they know where He is going and they know how to get there themselves. Thomas responds by saying that he needs more information. He wasn’t afraid to ask questions. His questions were not motivated by doubt, but by a desire to know more!
C. These two passages reveal a man who is not fearful at all. Thomas seems to me to be exceedingly brave. He is loyal to Jesus even unto death. He loves his Lord more than his own life. He would rather die than have to live without his Lord.
When Jesus died on the cross, Thomas’ world was shattered! Surely he thought the worst! He no doubt became despondent, depressed and discouraged. He was not with the other disciples by choice. He was not there because he was broken-hearted and felt that their dream had reached an end. Surely a flood of competing emotions battled for control of the heart and life of Thomas. Thomas was somewhere else pouting that first Resurrection Sunday.
D. But, whatever his reasons were for missing that assembly that day, 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.
Thomas missed a lot when he missed that assembly. Regardless of his excuse for not being there, he missed some things that could never be duplicated. Others told him about it, v. 25, but Thomas learned the hard way that there are some things you just have to see for yourself.
E. Thomas is a good picture of why being faithful to church is so vitally important. You never know what you will miss when you fail to come to church.
People have all kinds of reasons and excuses for the services they miss. We live in days when people are busy, their lives are hectic, their children are busy with sports and other activities, and sometimes God fails to get first place in our priorities. Sometimes God doesn’t even rate second, third or fourth place. He might not even be in the top ten. His worship must come first! Others are just mad about something, or they are mad at someone. Some don’t like the preacher or some decision that has been made. People have all kinds of things excuses that they offer as to why they missed church.
(The Pastor’s three reasons for wanting to miss church – A husband and his wife arose one Sunday morning and the wife dressed for church. It was just about time for the service when she noticed her husband hadn’t moved a finger toward getting dressed. Perplexed, she asked, “Why aren’t you getting dressed for church?” He said, “Cause I don’t want to go.” She asked, “Do you have any reason?” He said, “Yes, I have three good reasons. First, the congregation is cold. Second, no one likes me. And third, I just don’t want to go.” The wife replied, wisely, “Well, honey, I have three reasons why you should go. First, the congregation is warm. Second, there are a few people there who like you. And third, you’re the pastor! So get dressed!”)
We all have our excuses, but none of them are worth the effort it takes to say them. An excuse is nothing more than the skin of a reason stuffed with a lie anyway.
Why not just tell the truth? You don’t come because you don’t want to. You don’t come because Jesus isn’t first in your life. You don’t come because you don’t like church. You don’t come because your heart isn’t where it ought to be.)
Let me just touch on this matter for a moment.
1. Church attendance is not an optional matter; it is a command from the Lord, Heb. 10:25-26. (Ill. An absence from church is a vote to close the doors! It is a testimony to the world that your life is more important then His worship.)
2. When you miss a service, you miss an opportunity that will never present itself again. (Ill. Ever notice the good service is the one you miss?) That problem you have; that need in your life; that question that has been plaguing you; might just be dealt with in one of the services you choose to miss. You never know what you will miss when you don’t come to church.
3. God has something special for each of us when we meet here. If we will come with a clean, open heart, we will receive a blessing from Him, Matt. 18:20.
(Ill. The missing Lamps – In a certain mountain village in Europe several centuries ago, a nobleman wondered what legacy he should leave to his townspeople. At last he decided to build them a church. No one saw the complete plans for the church until it was finished. When the people gathered, they marveled at its beauty and completeness. Then someone asked, “But where are the lamps? How will it be lighted?” The nobleman pointed to some brackets in the walls. Then he gave to each family a lamp which they were to bring with them each time they came to worship. “Each time you are here the area where you are seated will be lighted,” the nobleman said. “Each time you are not here, that area will be dark. This is to remind you that whenever you fail to come to church, some part of God’s house will be dark. Something is missing in the fellowship when you are not here.)
4. You need the church and what it offers – When you go to church to worship, you are proclaiming your faith in the risen Lord. You are teaching your children the importance of God’s house. You are building a wall of protection around your heart and life. You are strengthening your faith and growing in the Lord.
v. 25 THOMAS THE DOUBTER
A. Ill. The Context – Thomas was not there when Jesus appeared. The other disciples were and they tell him about all that they had seen when Jesus appeared to them. The little verb “said” is in the “active voice”. In other words, they kept on telling him about seeing Jesus and trying to convince him that the Lord was really risen from the dead.
Despite their assurances and testimonies, Thomas cannot bring himself to believe. He goes so far as to say, “I will not believe!” This is a powerful statement. It is a “double negative”. Thomas is saying, “I positively will not believe!”
Now, before we come down too hard on Thomas, we need to think about the other disciples. When they first heard the news that Jesus was alive, they didn’t believe either, Luke 24:11; Mark 16:11. The whole group was so overcome with grief and disappointment that they could not bring themselves to believe. The only reason the ten believed was because they had seen Jesus for themselves. Thomas was only asking for the same proof they had already received.
Here was Thomas’ problem: he was a negative person. He was always looking for the cloud behind the silver lining. He had hoped against hope that Jesus was the Messiah and the Savior. Now, his last memory of Jesus is of a dead man hanging on a cross. His world has fallen down around him and he cannot bring himself to believe anymore. So, he rejects the words of his friends and spends a whole week in self-imposed loneliness and discouragement.
B. There are people in this world who can identify with Thomas. You have a hard time believing what you cannot see with your eyes. For that reason you have put off trusting in Jesus. His claims are amazing! What the Bible says about Him is hard for the human mind to grasp. Still, let me encourage you to delay no longer! Look to Jesus and believe the testimony of His Word and of those who have seen Him for themselves. Look to Him and be saved; He is the only hope you have, John 14:6; Acts 4:12; John 8:24.
C. Others here have lived lives shaken by one disappointment after another. You are disillusioned and think the claims of Jesus are too good to be true. But, the thing that makes them so good is the fact that they are true! Jesus can do for you what He has promised He can do. He can do for you what He has done for others. He can save your soul; forgive your sins; make you a child of God; free you from spiritual death and from the bondage of your sins. He can do it for you, and He will do it for you if only you will believe in Him, Rom. 10:9, 13; Acts 16:31.
D. There was a time when we were all doubters. But, the Spirit of God convinced us of the truth. We, like the ten disciples, believed and were saved and filled with peace, joy and spiritual life. Those same blessings can be yours, if you will believe. And, you can do that today!
v. 26-29 THOMAS THE SHOUTER
A. Ill. The Context – Perhaps the disciples begged and pleaded with Thomas to the point where he decided to meet with them on the next Sunday. While they are there, Jesus again appears in their midst. This time, He focuses His attention on Thomas. He repeats the very words of Thomas (v. 25) back to him and invites him to touch Him and satisfy his need to know. Then Jesus tells him to let go of his doubts and trust what he knows to be true.
There is a difference between doubt and unbelief. Doubt is a problem of the intellect. The person wants to believe, but has questions. Unbelief is a problem of the heart. Unbelief will not believe no matter what it sees. Thomas was plagued by doubt. When his questions were answered, he did not need to touch the risen Jesus; seeing Him was enough. Thomas utters one of the greatest confessions in the Bible. He calls Jesus both “Lord and God” and he claims the Lord as his own. All of his pouts and his doubts are now settled. Thomas receives what the other disciples have been enjoying for a whole week. He gets all the things they got back in verses 19-23.
B. Apparently, Thomas never doubted again. After Pentecost, the Bible never mentions him again. History, however, tells us what happened to the disciples called “Twin”. Thomas traveled east, preaching the Gospel through Persia. He finally wound up in India where he had a very fruitful ministry. There are several churches in India today that can trace their history back to the time of Thomas. Eventually, the enemies of the Lord took Thomas and killed him with a spear. He died for the Lord he once doubted.
C. Oh that those who doubt could do what Thomas did. Oh that you could just get past your doubts, your fears, your pride, your sins and the other things that hinder you from coming to Jesus. If you would come to Him and “be not faithless, but believing”, you would find that Jesus can fill your life with peace, joy, praise, and blessing. He can take you just like you are and transform you like he did Thomas. He will use you, bless you, keep you, thrill you and amaze you. All you have to do is believe!
No matter who you are; what you have done; or where you have been, you need to know that Jesus Christ can and will save you if you will come to Him, John 6:37. Come to Him and watch Jesus take your pouts and your doubts and transform them into shouts.
In verses 29, Jesus tells Thomas something you need to hear today. He tells Thomas that Thomas had believed because of what he had seen with his eyes. Jesus then says something very important. He says that those who believe without seeing are even more blessed than Thomas. That is good news today! None of us will ever see the physical Person of Jesus in this life. What we must do is believe by faith what the Bible says about Jesus. If we can get passed our doubts and believe Him, we will be saved by Him!
If you are lost, what keeps you from believing in Jesus? What would it take to convince you? What holds you back? Whatever it is, it is not worth the eternal price you will pay for not coming, Mark 8:36-37.
Maybe there are others like Thomas. You have been allowing yourself to be absent from the place where God meets with and blesses His people.
If the Lord has spoken to you and convinced you of the need to be saved, or of the need to draw closer in your walk with Him, you need to come to Him today and deal with those issues. Let Jesus take your pouts and your doubts and turn them into shouts for Him.
DIVINE MERCY SUNDAY
Today is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.
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 last day of 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?
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 TWO 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 theDivine Mercy Image. Why would Jesus want this image to be blessed and venerated on this day? Are 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. (John 6:53)”
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, is 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!
Fr. Gaspar Fernandes, OFM Cap.