|"The Incredulity of Saint Thomas" by Caravaggio|
Homily: 2nd Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday) – Cycle C
Over the years as I have been striving to live this Christian life well I’ve found that I’ve come to appreciate more and more those persons that I’ve met or read about who have provided a “lived example” not only of achieving holiness in their lives but also of the struggle to arrive at faith and to maintain that faith throughout one’s life. This is why I’m enjoying Pope Francis so much. He has been providing us with a different perspective on the Christian life. While Pope Benedict XVI invited us to know Christ in prayer, especially with the Scriptures, Pope Francis is inviting us to go out and find Christ in the poor, the marginalized, and the suffering. With both of their lived examples, we are getting a fuller, more rounded, perspective of how to live the Christian life.
This is why I also enjoy encountering persons like Saint Thomas in the Scriptures. I think that it is easy for us to step back and say “Oh yeah, there’s that ‘Doubting Thomas’ again” and fall into the trap made by the Pharisee elsewhere in the Gospel who said: “I’m glad that I’m not like him, doubting the Lord’s Resurrection and all.” It’s certainly easy for me to stand here and say, “Now don’t be ‘Doubting Thomases, but believe!” (and, if that’s all that I had to say, then I might as well just sit down, because you’ve heard all of that before). I have a great sympathy, for Thomas, however, because there seems to be something going on with him that is deeper than just a stubborn resistance to believing that the Lord had risen. I think that Thomas was really struggling with something deeper.
For years, Thomas had been following Jesus closely. He had gotten to know him and certainly he had bonded with him. No one can be that close to Jesus—God… love incarnate—and not feel a sense of intimacy with him. Thus, Thomas had made himself vulnerable both to him and for him: “Ok, Jesus, I believe that you are the Christ and so I am willing to proclaim this to others, even if that means that I will be ostracized and persecuted by family, friends and the people of my nation.” Thomas was convinced that Jesus was the one for whom he had been waiting and he put all of his trust in him. And so, when Jesus appeared to be defeated—when all seemed to be lost because Jesus had been put to death—that hurt Thomas deeply. He loved Jesus—which was perhaps something difficult for him to admit—and Jesus seemingly let him down. It wasn’t that he was resistant to believing, but rather that the wound was still fresh and demanded a personal encounter before it could begin to be healed.
You know, I think that this is an experience that we see both in ourselves and in one another. Not just the experience of being disappointed or let down by someone we’ve come to love and trust (though that experience is common enough), but also the experience of being disappointed and feeling let down by Jesus (or, at least, by his Church). A few years ago, I shared a table at a wedding reception with a woman who had a lot of negative opinions of the Church. I was still a seminarian at the time, and so the woman felt free to express her thoughts to me; and we had a lively, but respectful discussion. I of course gave her (as best I could) all of the reasoned arguments about why the Church teaches this and why it can’t change that, but she didn’t seem to be buying much of it. Finally, I realized that there was something else going on with her—that this wasn’t just a philosophical struggle with principles—and so I stopped and gently asked her: “You’ve been hurt by the Church, haven’t you?” “Yes”, she replied. She, like Thomas, wasn’t necessarily doubting Jesus, but she needed more than intellectual arguments and the testimony of witnesses to resolve the hurt that she was feeling inside of her. She needed, rather, an encounter with the one who had hurt her, who had let her down, so as to reconcile that hurt before she could move forward.
I would guess that many of us know somebody in a similar situation: somebody who has left the Church for reasons unbeknownst to us and who has strong feelings about why he or she refuses to return. And I would guess that most of these persons have some sort of hurt or disappointment that they have experienced with the Church and that only a personal encounter with the one that has hurt them can resolve.
In the Gospel today, Thomas receives that encounter. Notice, however, that it wasn’t immediate. Thomas had this news for a whole week before Christ would return to reveal himself to him. And what a blessing it was that Christ gave him this chance to have that personal encounter that he needed to reconcile this hurt within him. And what mercy Jesus showed him. For he could have easily chided Thomas for his unbelief, but instead he tried to remove all barriers to his believing—to his reconciling himself to him: “Peace be with you… Come, touch my hands and put your finger into my side… do not be unbelieving, but believe.”
My brothers and sisters, this is exactly the mercy that we commemorate today on Divine Mercy Sunday. This is the eighth day of the Lord’s resurrection: the day when he mercifully appeared to Thomas so as to reconcile him to himself. And so today we too are reminded that Christ offers us the same opportunity to encounter him and to reconcile our hurts with him. He comes to us, immolated for us on this altar so as to say “Come, see my hands, touch my wounds—the wounds that I received for you—and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” “Come,” in other words, “and be enfolded in my mercy. I know that you’ve been hurt and I want you to be healed. And so, whatever it is, just come. Come and see my sorrow for your pain and let my mercy wash over you to bring you healing and peace.”
And so, my brothers and sisters, how good it is that we are here to celebrate this great mercy. May our hearts be open to his heart today so that we, too, may believe and, thus, may have life in his name: the life of the Resurrection… the life of mercy.
Given at Saint Mary’s Cathedral: Lafayette, IN – April 28th, 2019