Breaking Open the Word
Divine Mercy Sunday
April 16, 2023
The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles is a glimpse of the very early church. These early Christians were living in the era of the Apostles and the highly infused Holy Spirit, based of the number of signs and wonders being done. They were drawn to each other in an incredible joy that permeated every moment of their lives, which revolved around 4 things: the teaching of the Apostles, breaking of the bread, prayers, and communal living.
This is not to be confused with commune-ism, which is a godless world mandated by a government, forcing people to have to live together, with literally no sense of private property or possessions or basic privacy. This passage describes the lifestyle of a consecrated vowed religious community, which still exist today. These early Christians wanted to live together and share with each other because they were filled with the joy of the faith.
They were not attempting to live away from the world in isolation, because every day the Lord was increasing their numbers; the world was aware of them. This is a blessing from the Lord for their great faith. This communal living is meant to show us the great faith of the early church and the influence of Holy Spirit to help us understand how the early church grew so quickly. At this early time they lived in peace, but in the not too distance future they would be severely persecuted.
The responsorial is from Psalm 118. As you read these words, think of Jesus carrying His cross and recall the Stations of the Cross from last week. Except for His Mother once and a few women, there was no one to comfort Him. There were many people mocking and shouting at Him. Feeling very alone, if you got close enough to Him you might hear Him repeating these verses, especially our response for today, “Give thanks to the LORD for He is good, His love is everlasting”, repeated over and over again. When you are suffering, join your pain with His and repeat this line again and again, it’s very comforting.
In the second reading, St. Peter writes about God’s mercy, which is particularly relevant to today’s Divine Mercy Sunday. In contrast to the very peaceful time in the first reading, Peter is aware at the time of the writings of the persecutions that are occurring, but encourages us to put our faith in God to get through any struggles. There is even a reference back to the gospel story of St. Thomas, “even though you do not see Him now yet believe in Him.”
There are many thoughts to meditate on in this Gospel reading, but the story of “Doubting Thomas” gets a lot of the focus. St. Thomas is very interesting. In 3 different passages in the gospels, he seems to be portrayed as a skeptic, seeing the darker side of things. When Jesus heard Lazarus was dying and He said He was going to go to Bethany, Thomas cynically commented “they just tried to stone you there, but yeah, let’s all go there and die too.” At the Last Supper when Jesus said He was going to the Father and prepare a place for His apostles, Thomas objected that he didn’t know where Jesus was going nor did he himself know the way.
Now in today’s reading, why was he not with the other 10 apostles in the upper room? Did he not believe the earlier reports of those seeing Jesus? The stories we have of him show Thomas wanting, seeking, requiring real evidence. Though he had been witness to so many miracles and healings done by Jesus, to rise from the dead was too much to imagine. His evidence was that Jesus had been killed. Recall he said if they go to Jerusalem they will all die there, and just a few weeks later as predicted Jesus was killed by the Jews. So it’s not surprising that Thomas was very saddened and scared at what happened, and perhaps he didn’t even want to be anywhere near the other 10 who he thought would all be killed too.
After the appearance of Jesus in the locked room, the apostles told Thomas that Jesus had appeared and He actually showed them the wound marks of His hands and side. In spite of their testimony Thomas was unable to believe; he protested he will not believe and he even set the conditions for his belief: to put his finger into the marks of the nails and to put his hand into the side of Jesus, which might have been something Jesus had invited the apostles to do.
Jesus had told His apostles that He would go away (crucifixion) and then come back (Resurrection), and then never leave them. As proof he would never leave, Jesus knew explicitly of their discussion with Thomas wherever it took place and of Thomas’s conditions for belief. So the next Sunday notice Thomas did join them, he was a skeptic but he also sought the truth. When Jesus reappeared He greeted all of them and then immediately addressed Thomas with the details of last week’s discussion.
Jesus told Thomas to put his finger into the nail marks and his hand into His side (which implies nails and the spear wounds were quite large). He may not have needed the touching, just the sight of the wounds, because he exclaimed the response remembered throughout all of time, “My Lord and my God!” He had touched Christ as a man, but believed in Him as God. Church tradition has it that Thomas went to India (the ends of the world) to proclaim Jesus, where he was martyred, fulfilling that prediction he made at Lazarus’ death story.
The theme for this Sunday’s readings is peace and mercy.
Imagine going through what the apostles went through in the last week. Only one week before, they saw Jesus welcomed into Jerusalem with the crowds proclaiming Him king, laying palms at His feet. Four days later at the Last Supper they heard Jesus say He was about to suffer and die and in 3 days to rise again. Then Jesus was betrayed by one of them and arrested and they abandoned Him. His main man denied Him, even swearing he didn’t know Jesus. They never imagined Jesus would be crucified.
Now today there are stories of Jesus appearing alive. For a good sense of how the disciples were feeling read Luke 24:13-24 about the two from Emmaus. By evening, in fear of the Jews who might kill them too they are in a locked room. If you put yourself into that room, so many feelings would be circling around; who could process all of them? Guilt, fear, despair, confusion, disbelief. Who could handle all those thoughts and emotions of those last three days? And then right there in that locked room Jesus just appears! What do you say? Well the first words are from Jesus, who wishes them peace. He shows them the signs of His death, yet He is standing before them! The tension is broken, and they rejoice! After what terrible things they had done, He is forgiving them. Divine mercy. He again wishes them peace, in an act of forgiveness, and then He breathes the Holy Spirit on them. The Catechism states (CCC 727): “The entire mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit, in the fullness of time, is contained in this: that the Son is the one anointed by the Father’s Spirit since His Incarnation - Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah... Christ’s whole work is in fact a joint mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
Theme in our Life Today
When Thomas had questioned Jesus of where He was going and what was the way, Jesus answered “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” When Thomas had his proof of the Resurrection he suddenly realized the truth and he became the first person to proclaim Jesus’ divinity. Jesus mildly rebuked Thomas for his lack of faith, and then Jesus referred to and blessed us and the billions of followers of Jesus in the last 2 millennium since the apostolic era that would not get to see Jesus but would believe from the testimony of those who shared the story of Jesus.
Everyone experiences moments and times of doubt in our faith like Thomas when we perceive our prayers as going unanswered: pain and suffering in the world, illnesses and diseases not healed or even ending in death, troubles and sin and evil in the world that seems to go on unrelenting. Thomas had to learn that Jesus was always with him, and he got to experience the sensory proof with the eyes and ears and touch. We do not get to do that. Yet we know that Jesus is always with us, He knows our thoughts and actions more than anyone else ever will. When you go to confession you know that He really knows all of the sins and wants to heal us if only we would acknowledge them.
We just have to remember that Jesus explicitly blessed us for believing in Him without the physical, touching, seeing proof Thomas experienced. Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist, and in those brief seconds that you hold and eat the Blessed Sacrament the best words to say in that presence, like St. Thomas, is “My Lord and my God.” Of all of our senses, only our ears tell us that Jesus is present in the Eucharist, to the other senses it still appears as bread. We hear the word of God, we listen to those who teach us about the faith and Jesus; we believe by what we hear. That is how the church grew from 12 apostles to 1.2 billion people. All by hearing and believing that Jesus rose from the dead.
Prepare for Sunday
This is Divine Mercy Sunday. The first Sunday after Easter was designated Divine Mercy Sunday on Easter, 2000 by St. Pope John Paul II. Several local parishes have Divine Mercy services in the area, check www.MassTimes.org.
1. Pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. It only takes 6 minutes.
2. Read more about Divine mercy from the National Shrine: https://www.thedivinemercy.org/
Let us pray:
Eternal Father, I offer you the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of your dearly beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world. For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world. Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us and on the whole world.