April 11, 2021 –
Divine Mercy Sunday
“As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
As today’s Gospel Reading begins, three things have taken place. Both Peter and John have seen the empty tomb, John has believed in the Resurrection, and Mary Magdalene, to whom Jesus had appeared, has told the apostles of His appearance. Yet despite all this, “the disciples had locked the doors of the place where they were for fear of the Jews.”
But why were the disciples afraid of the Jews? Why weren’t they out on the streets, preaching boldly the Good News of the Resurrection, shouting “Alleluia!”?
The story of St. Thomas’ unbelief in today’s Gospel Reading seems to condemn him. But this passage in fact condemns all of the apostles: either for not believing in, or not proclaiming their belief in the Risen Jesus.
The Season of Easter—which began last Sunday and lasts for seven weeks—lets us reflect on the Resurrection. At the same time, we need to ask ourselves what our lives should look like because we believe in the Risen Jesus.
A simple description of the Church in her infancy is given in the First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles: “The community of believers were of one heart and one mind”: that is, they possessed the heart and mind of Christ. “With power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great respect was paid to them all.”
Of course, today’s First Reading is set after the day of Pentecost: that is, after the Holy Spirit had descended upon the Apostles, gifting them with the graces needed for their work. The power and the presence of the Holy Spirit is the difference between the First Reading and the disciples at the start of the Gospel Reading.
A simple description of the life of the Christian is given in today’s Second Reading: “The love of God consists in this: that we keep his commandments. … It is the Spirit who testifies to this and the Spirit is truth.” This Holy Spirit is the One who makes it possible to keep the Commandments. All of the Commandments are commands to love. God commands us to love our God and our neighbor. But the events of today’s Gospel Reading give these two great commands focus by considering how God and man forgive.
The great English author G. K. Chesterton once wrote about the false forgiveness that man often offers: “it seems to me that you only pardon the sins that you don’t really think sinful. You only forgive criminals when they commit what you don’t regard as crimes, but rather as conventions. So you tolerate a conventional duel, just as you tolerate a conventional divorce. You forgive because there isn’t anything to be forgiven.” By contrast, Chesterton in another work described Christian forgiveness: “Charity means pardoning the unpardonable, or it is no virtue at all.”
The world has problems, and each of us who lives in the world has problems. There is a lot in our lives to distract us, to tempt us to think that the sin and evil around us and within us is nothing of importance. But the Holy Spirit whom we wait for during these fifty days of Easter leads us to face our own difficulties and the difficulties of the world squarely, looking them in the eye through the light of Christ.
When Christ appeared to the apostles, what did He say to convince them who He was? Did He work a miracle? No. He showed them the wounds in His side, hands, and feet: the battle scars from His fight with death.
Christ, the victor over death, shows us the evidence of His Divine Mercy. He invites us to share in the strength of His Body and Blood, and invites us to share fully in the life of His Holy Spirit. Yet these invitations serve a larger purpose. God wills that each of us might courageously proclaim the Good News about the Risen Jesus. But our proclamation must begin with our extending Jesus’ Divine Mercy to our debtors as willingly as we have accepted Divine Mercy for our own debts.