Fr. Antony Kadavil
The readings for this Sunday are about God’s mercy, the necessity for trusting Faith and our need for God’s forgiveness of our sins. The opening prayer addresses the Father as “God of Mercy.” In the Responsorial Psalm (Ps 118), we repeat several times, “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His mercy endures forever!” God revealed His mercy first and foremost by sending His only-begotten Son to become our Savior and Lord by his suffering, death and Resurrection. Divine Mercy is given to us also in each celebration of the Sacraments. The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles explains how the Risen Lord continued to show his Divine Mercy to the sick through the healing and preaching ministry of his apostles in the early Church. The apostles’ Faith enabled them to minister to the people, giving them the Lord’s healing love in “signs and wonders.” The Responsorial Psalm (Ps 118), shows the Divine Mercy that “endures forever,” in action: “I was hard-pressed and was falling, but the Lord helped me…” and concludes, “This is the Day the Lord has made! Let us be glad and rejoice in it!” The second reading, taken from the Book of Revelation, given by Jesus to the Apostle John in exile on Patmos, was intended to comfort and bolster the Faith of persecuted Christians for all time. Today’s selection encourages us to fight fear with Faith, and trepidation about the future with trust and Hope. Today’s Gospel vividly reminds us of how Jesus instituted the Sacrament of Reconciliation, a Sacrament of Divine Mercy. The Risen Lord gave the apostles and their successors the power to forgive sins with the words, “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained” (Jn 20: 19-23). Presenting the doubting Thomas’ famous profession of Faith, “My Lord and my God,” the Gospel illustrates how Jesus showed mercy to the doubting apostle and emphasizes the importance of Faith.
The first reading (Acts 5:12-16), explained: Luke, the author of Acts, describes the life-style and activities of our earliest predecessors in the Christian Faith, holding up for us, as it were, a model of what the Church is called to become. The passage explains how the Risen Lord continued to show His Divine Mercy to the sick through the healing and preaching ministry of the Apostles in the early Church. The apostles’ Faith enabled them to minister to the people, giving them the Lord’s healing love through the “signs and wonders” that Jesus had promised would accompany their work. Following the model of service set forth by Jesus, they healed the sick by wielding God’s power over disease and unclean spirits. “People even came crowding in from the towns round about Jerusalem, bringing with them their sick and those tormented by unclean spirits – and all of them were cured.” These cures illustrate how the power of the Resurrection can work miracles, even through ordinary people. We know that this power of the Resurrection still operates today because we have seen how a friendly smile, a gentle touch or a willingness to forgive can heal a broken spirit, and how the challenging words of a parent, a teacher or a friend can quicken the mind and heart.
The second reading (Revelation 1:9-11a, 12-13, 17-19) explained: In this book, John describes an extraordinary experience he had while living in banishment in the penal colony on the island of Patmos. He wrote this book at Jesus’ command, to comfort and bolster the Faith of the persecuted Christians by reassuring them of the presence of the merciful Lord in their lives. Here we read about the vision of the Risen Christ in glory and read the messages Jesus gave John for each of the major Christian communities at that time. The usefulness of the Book of Revelation to us Christians is not so much in its symbolic language as in the comfort and strength we receive from solidarity with other Christians in distress. We, who are privileged to anticipate the victory of Christ through the Sacraments and especially in the Eucharist, are also encouraged to fight fear with Faith, and trepidation about the future with trust and Hope. “He touched me with his right hand and said, ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last, the One Who lives. Once I was dead, but now I am alive forever and ever.'” The book conveys the message that we are called to live out in our lives in such a way that, through us, others may be able to exclaim, “We have seen the Lord!”
Gospel exegesis: The first part of today’s Gospel (verses 19-23), describes how Jesus entrusted to the apostles His mission of preaching the “Good News” of God’s love, mercy, forgiveness and salvation. This portion of the reading teaches us that Jesus uses the Church as the earthly means of continuing His mission. It also teaches us that the Church needs Jesus as its source of power and authority, and that it becomes Christ’s true messenger only when it perfectly loves and obeys Him. The Risen Lord gives the apostles the authority to forgive sins in His Name. He gives the apostles the power of imparting God’s mercy to the sinner, the gift of forgiving sins from God’s treasury of mercy. In the liturgy, the Church has proclaimed the mercy of God for centuries through the Word of God and the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ. The Gospel text also reminds us that the clearest way of expressing our belief in the presence of the Risen Jesus among us is through our own forgiveness of others. We can’t form a lasting Christian community without such forgiveness. Unless we forgive others, we ourselves will not be forgiven and our celebration of the Eucharist is just an exercise in liturgical rubrics.
The second part of the Gospel (verses 24-29), presents the fearless apostle St. Thomas in his uncompromising honesty demanding a personal vision of, and physical contact with, the risen Jesus as a condition for his belief. Thomas had not been with the Apostles when Jesus first appeared to them. As a result, he refused to believe. This should serve as a warning to us. It is difficult for us to believe when we do not strengthen ourselves with the fellowship of other believers. When the Lord appeared to Thomas later, He said: “Blessed are those who have not seen but have believed.” The story of Thomas highlights the importance of signs (as we have seen all along in John), but also their limitations in terms of bringing people to Faith. Interestingly, there is never a mention of Thomas touching Jesus’ wounds as he had said he needed to do; his encounter with the risen Lord is apparently sufficient to bring him to Faith. Thomas was able to overcome his doubts by seeing the risen Jesus. Modern Christians, who are no longer able to “see” Jesus with their eyes, must believe what they hear. That is why Paul reminds us that “Faith comes from hearing” (Rom 10:17). “This Gospel shows us that Faith comes in different ways to different people. The beloved disciple believes upon seeing the empty tomb (v. 8). Mary [Magdalene] believes when the Lord calls her name (v. 16). The disciples must see the risen Lord (v. 20). Thomas says that he must touch the wounds (v. 25)—although that need evaporates once he sees the risen Christ (v. 28). People find various routes to Faith.” (www.lectionary.org). Thomas uses the mind God has given him and says that he must have some proof before he can believe this incredible claim. Christian Faith is not just a mindless assent to certain beliefs without thinking—it has a solid basis in rationality, and this effort to explain and understand such claims is the basis of theological exploration, and of Christian philosophy (Dr. Murray).
The unique profession of Faith: Thomas, the “doubting” apostle, makes the great profession of Faith, “My Lord and my God.” Thomas confesses Jesus in the very words (“My Lord and my God”) used by the Psalmist for Yahweh. Raymond Brown calls this “the supreme Christological pronouncement of the Fourth Gospel”. Here, the most outrageous doubter of the Resurrection of Jesus utters the greatest confession of belief in the Lord Who rose from the dead. This declaration by the “doubting” Thomas in today’s Gospel is very significant for two reasons. 1) It is the foundation of our Christian Faith. Our Faith is based on the Divinity of Jesus as proved by His miracles, especially by the supreme miracle of His Resurrection from the dead. Thomas’ profession of Faith is the strongest evidence we have of the Resurrection of Jesus. 2) Thomas’ Faith culminated in his self-surrender to Jesus, his heroic missionary expedition to India in A.D. 52, his fearless preaching, and the powerful testimony given by his martyrdom in A.D. 72.
Life messages: 1) Let us accept God’s invitation to celebrate and practice mercy. One way the Church celebrates God’s mercy throughout the year is through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Finding time for Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is another good way to receive Divine Mercy. The Gospel command, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful,” demands that we show mercy to our fellow human beings always and everywhere. We radiate God’s mercy to others by our actions, our words, and our prayers. It is mainly through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy that we practice mercy in our daily lives and become eligible for God’s merciful judgment.
2) Let us ask God for the Faith that culminates in self-surrender to God and leads us to serve those we encounter with love. Living Faith enables us to see the Risen Lord in everyone and gives us the willingness to render to each one our loving service (“Faith without good works is dead,” James 2:17). It was this Faith in the Lord and obedience to His missionary command that prompted St. Thomas to travel to India to preach the Gospel among the Hindus, to establish seven Christian communities (known later as “St. Thomas Christians”), and eventually to suffer martyrdom. The Fathers of the Church prescribe the following traditional means to grow in the living and dynamic Faith of St. Thomas the Apostle. a) We must come to know Jesus personally and intimately by our daily and meditative reading of the Bible. b) We must strengthen our Faith by the power of the Holy Spirit through our personal and community prayer. c) We must share in the Divine life of Jesus by frequenting the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Holy Eucharist. St. Teresa of Kolkata (Mother Teresa) presents it this way: “If we pray, we will believe; if we believe, we will love; if we love, we will serve. Only then we put our love of God into action.”
3) We need to meet the challenge for a transparent Christian life — “I will not believe unless I see.” This “seeing” is what others demand of us. They ask that we reflect Jesus, the Risen Lord, in our lives by our selfless love, unconditional forgiveness and humble service. The integrity of our lives bears a fundamental witness to others who want to see the Risen Lord alive and active, working in us. Christ’s mercy shines forth from us whenever we reach out to the poor, the needy and the marginalized, as St. Teresa of Kolkata (Mother Teresa) did. His mercy shines forth when we remain open to those who struggle in Faith, as did the Apostle Thomas in today’s Gospel. We should be able to appreciate the presence of Jesus, crucified and raised, in our own suffering and in our suffering brothers and sisters, thus recognizing the glorified wounds of the Risen Lord in the suffering of others.
4) Like St. Thomas, let us use our skepticism to help us grow in Faith. It is our genuine doubts about the doctrines of our religion that encourage us to study these doctrines more closely and thus to grow in our Faith. This will naturally lead us to a personal encounter with Jesus through our prayer, study of the Word of God, and frequenting of the Sacraments. However, we must never forget the fact that our Faith is not our own doing but is a gift from God. Hence, we need to augment our Faith every day by prayer so that we may join St. Thomas in his proclamation: “My Lord and my God.”
5) Let us have the courage of our Christian convictions to share our Faith as St. Thomas did. We are not to keep the gift of Faith locked in our hearts, but to share it with our children, our families and our neighbors, always remembering the words of Pope St. John XXIII: “Every believer in this world must become a spark of Christ’s light.”