April 8 — Second Sunday of Easter (Sunday of Divine Mercy)
We celebrate the Second Sunday of Easter today, but we also celebrate Divine Mercy. This is relatively new on our Church calendar, as it was proclaimed by St. Pope John Paul II on April 22, 2001. The Pope announced it at the Canonization of Faustina Kowalska who included in her writings her devotion to Divine Mercy, saying “Humanity will never find peace until it turns with trust to Divine Mercy! This is the Easter gift that the Church receives from the risen Christ and offers to humanity.”
The week after we celebrate Easter is the perfect time for us to celebrate the Lord’s Mercy. Mercy is the emphasis of the readings on this Holy day.
The First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles speaks of the early Church, its sense of community, and its understanding of stewardship. When it is written that “they had everything in common,” that is really recognition on their part that God owns everything. Everything belongs to God and through Him to His people. God had touched their lives very deeply, which made it easier for them to share all things. That is part of our stewardship challenge as well — to realize that all that we have and all that we are come from and belong to God. That is what allows us to be good stewards — the trust that results from that belief.
The reading also points out “With great power the apostles bore witness.” This is an indication that they put God first, other people second, and material things were a distant third at best. In our society that promotes the gather, save, and keep attitude, that can also be a difficulty for us.
First John offers our Second Reading. John writes, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is begotten by God.” Several times in his writings John uses that term “begotten by God.” To be “begotten” we must accept the Lord as our Messiah, not just the Savior in a general sense, but our personal Savior. John provides great emphasis to the idea of love. However, he is not saying that we earn salvation by just loving others, although that is a significant part of what we need to do. We also must put our total trust in the Lord and on His saving grace in our lives.
John is not speaking of an intellectual acceptance of the Lord. He is calling us to a total trust and reliance on Jesus. To have that heartfelt acceptance, we have to not only understand that we are begotten by God, but also all others are begotten as well, our community in Christ. This appreciation is our common ground as Christians. It goes way beyond race or class or culture or language. That is the secret of salvation, and the key to being a good steward.
And then we get to St. Thomas, a story most of all about trust. Thomas is often called “Doubting Thomas,” which is a bit of a mis-statement. It was not that Thomas doubted; quite frankly he did not believe. Thomas, like perhaps most of us, wanted proof and evidence of the resurrection. That is what he states: “I will not believe.” Yet Thomas was present one week later; clearly he still wished to be in the company of those who did believe. In the long run, Thomas does not place his fingers in Jesus’ wounds although the Lord invites him to do so. What is Thomas’ reaction to the presence of the Lord? He declares, “My Lord and my God.” For a Jew, for anyone, this is a remarkable affirmation. In the original Greek the two words “Lord” and “God” are kyrios and theos. Those are titles of deity and divinity.
In a way Thomas may have believed more strongly at that moment than any of the others. Seeing Jesus may have made Thomas believe that the Lord was truly risen, but it was something far deeper and more inward that had him calling Jesus God. Thomas more openly states his belief in the Lord than the others did.
Thomas, like the others, was “called” and “sent.” We, too, are called and sent. The word missionary has at its root the Latin word meaning “to send.” We are all missionaries if we are disciples of the Lord. This Gospel Reading appears virtually at the end of John’s Gospel. One might say that it is the climax of the book. Thomas represents the final accomplishment of the Lord — the triumph over unbelief.