Second Sunday after Easter
DIVINE MERCY SUNDAY
I do not know if John Paul II chose the Second Sunday after Easter to be also Divine Mercy Sunday because of the Gospel reading for this Sunday or for some other reason, but certainly the celebration of God’s Divine Mercy goes well with today’s Gospel.
In today’s Gospel reading we are told that Jesus made a visit to the disciples on the very evening that He rose. When he appeared, there was no scolding of the Apostles. After all, all of them in a sense betrayed Him (except maybe for John) because Peter, after his triple denial of knowing Jesus. and all the other apostles ran away. They still were very frightened that night that they might be arrested and so they kept the door locked. But when Jesus appeared, His first words were: Peace be with you. There was no “where were you when I needed you?” -- no lecturing – just unconditional love and forgiveness. He even gave these men the power that evening to forgive others just as they were forgiven.
It is hard for many Christians to accept this unconditional love of God. I met one lovely woman in AA who had been sold into prostitution by her parents when she was six years old because they needed the money for their drugs. She grew up surrounded by drug users and alcoholics and became one herself. In her early 20s she joined Alcoholics Anonymous. When I met her she had been clean and sober for 19 years. After one meeting she said to me: Fr. Larry – there is still something missing in my life; I don’t have a “God of my own understanding. Can you recommend something I might read?” I told her to get the bible and read the 15th chapter of Luke’s Gospel – the story of the Prodigal Son. The father in that story welcomes back the son without any scolding or recriminations. Two weeks later at a meeting she asked me: is God really like that? I said: yes; God is really like that. Today’s gospel story confirms that.
There is also a special forgiveness given a week later to Thomas who doubted His resurrection. He would not trust the witness of the other apostles when they told him that Jesus was indeed risen. He not only wanted to see Jesus – he wanted to touch his wounds to make sure this was the same person who had been crucified and not some figment of their imagination. Again, Jesus does not scold. He even invited Jesus to touch His wounds. The Gospel does not tell us whether or not he actually touched the wounds, but he did become a believer – “My Lord and my God”. What forgiveness on the part of Jesus! And Jesus goes on to say: Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe. That is all of us; we are indeed blessed by God because without His grace we would not be able to believe in such a remarkable happening.
We are reminded also by today’s gospel that it is because of God’s Divine Mercy that we are called to share eternal life with God. Every time we attend a funeral Mass we hear the words in the preface “life is changed, not ended”. I can still remember when this truth struck me for the first time. I was studying French in Grenoble and in my class were two Swedish Jewish girls. They spoke English very well and we would during our break go to a patisserie for some delicious French cake and coffee. They did not know much about their Jewish faith and I found myself instructing them in their faith. At one point the one girl, Lilian, asked: “what is different about you Christians?” I told her that we believed that Jesus was more than a prophet – that He was the Son of God – that He was raised from the dead – and for that reason we believe that we too have eternal life. “You see, Lilian,” I continued, “I believe that I, Larry, had a beginning in life, but I, Larry, will never stop living.” She asked if she as a Jew could believe that. I told her some Jews did. Then she shook her head and said: “No, that is too beautiful to be true.” When I returned to the presbytery after my class I said to the parish priest: “Robert, do you realize that I will live forever?” He looked at me like I had gone a bit crazy, but then he smiled and said: “Yes, that is what we believe.” I guess I had never before put my name to it.
Life will be changed, but in a most marvellous manner – that is the hope that we are given by the Resurrection of Jesus.