April 7, 2024 –
Divine Mercy Sunday [Year B]

Fr. Drew Hoffman

            I’ve always felt for St. Thomas the Apostle. The man asks for proof from the Apostles that Jesus has risen from the dead, and he gets the dreaded nickname, “Doubting Thomas.” But we don’t refer to the first Pope as “Denying Peter”! While Peter is sufficiently rehabilitated from his denial of the Lord throughout the end of the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, we don’t hear from Thomas after he doubts the Resurrection and subsequently encounters the reality of the Risen Lord. Yet the historical record and Church tradition provide us with a harrowing tale of Thomas’ heroism and missionary work in the decades following that fateful encounter with Christ. Thomas is said to have visited the island of Socotra in the Indian Ocean on his way to bringing the Gospel to India, far away from his homeland in the Galilean hills. The culture was drastically different from his own and he was utterly alone, yet he boldly went forth, spreading the Good News, making converts, and eventually receiving the crown of Martyrdom in Indian around 72 A.D.

            When the Jesuit priest Roberto de Nobili arrived in India 1,500 years later, he found 200,000 Christians, even though Christian missionaries had been scarce over the previous millennia. When the priest asked how they had learned the Faith, they responded that “the teacher of reality” had taught them. With some further questioning, the Jesuit learned they were speaking about St. Thomas the Apostle, the one who knew better than anyone the “reality” of the risen Christ because he had so ardently doubted it. Thomas’ physical encounter with the Lord impacted him so greatly that the people he evangelized not only became Christian but passed on that Good News for centuries without the aid of priests or religious. He had touched the wounds of the Lord and everyone he encountered would sense that he knew something about what was real.

            The spiritual lessons from this beautiful tale are plentiful. We should probably start referring to him as “Courageous Thomas” instead of “Doubting Thomas.” The Lord can utilize our doubts and failures and turn them into our greatest triumphs. One brave soul, lit on fire for Christ, has the power to transform a community. But perhaps one more lesson stands out this weekend. We are not so different from Thomas. We love and trust the Lord, and we want to follow Him, but we are broken and limited creatures. Seeing, touching, and feeling is tremendously helpful for our spiritual growth. True, blessed are those who have not seen and have believed, but as a creature with a body and a soul, what I encounter physically can often transform me spiritually. The Lord, of course, knows this, which is one of the many reasons He became a human in our midst. But it also helps explain the beautiful system of Sacraments we have as Catholics. Sacraments are “holy things,” physical ways in which we truly encounter Jesus Christ and Grace. They are not merely signs or symbols, but true physical interactions with the Risen Christ. We believe in Jesus Christ, but our belief is deepened by seeing Him and touching Him in the Eucharist. At Spanish Mass, you will often hear a murmur throughout the Congregation at the moment of Consecration: “Senor Mio, y Dios Mio,” meaning, “My Lord and my God,” the response of Thomas at seeing Christ, wounded and risen. Thomas is amazed by seeing Christ in the Upper Room, and we are amazed at seeing the same Christ at Holy Mass. On this Divine Mercy Sunday, we particularly remember the Confessional, where the priest asks that God grants pardon and peace, as Christ offered peace in the Upper Room. As physical creatures, it is a blessing to hear those vital words from one standing in the person of Jesus Christ.

            Like Thomas, we desire to feel and hear our Lord! And even 2,000 years later, we have the same opportunity he did in that Upper Room. Each time we attend Mass, go to Confession, or participate in any of the Sacraments, let’s ask that our tangible encounter with Christ may transform our hearts like it transformed Thomas’, and that those who encounter us may be certain that we understand what is real because of the Sacraments we’ve received.