St. Thomas is my favorite apostle and I talk about him a lot in one-on-one conversations with people because I see him as a model for prayer. But to the best of my memory I haven’t had a chance to preach about him on a Sunday yet to all of you, so forgive me if I’m wrong about that and repeating myself. I use him as an example because I think in so many ways his reactions and his ways of thinking are very understandable and very relatable for all of us today. In today’s Gospel he isn’t there the first time when Jesus appears. The disciples had locked themselves in that upper room filled with fear that they would be the next ones put to death, and Thomas was the only one who had some courage to leave for a bit. When he left everyone was filled with fear and sadness, but he returns to the unbelievable, his friends claiming that their teacher and friend who was brutally killed is actually alive. If you ask me, for him to say that he won’t believe isn’t hardness of heart, it’s a reasonable response to something that literally changes the world.
There are many things that we are willing to accept out of trust of the person who told us or because it makes sense and matches our assumptions, but some things we simply need to see and to touch to really believe. St. Peter didn’t believe the woman who came from the empty tomb until he went there and found the burial cloths. The disciples on the road to Emmaus didn’t believe Peter until Jesus appeared to them on the road and they invited him to stay for dinner and finally recognized him in the breaking of the bread. No one really believes and experiences conversion until faith in Christ Jesus becomes a personal matter, an encounter that is real and undeniable.
Do you remember the point of my homily last week if you happened to be at the Easter Sunday masses and not the Easter Vigil? It was that Easter faith doesn’t come from knowledge of an empty tomb, it comes from the experience of Christ still living. For the apostles who knew Jesus in his ministry it was seeing him risen, hearing him give his peace, and breathing the Holy Spirit upon them For most of us it is very much the same. It is experiencing God’s mercy, because it is knowing the Christ that has conquered death and brought us salvation, a fancy way of saying “mercy”.
I’m sure there’s a reason written somewhere for why Divine Mercy Sunday is always the Sunday following Easter, but in my mind it’s because of what I just said, that to encounter the presence of Christ is to know his mercy. When Jesus appeared to the disciples he didn’t come with anger that they all abandoned him during his Passion, he instead said “peace be with you.” When he wanted to restore Peter’s confidence he didn’t ask Peter to explain why he had denied him three times, he simply asked Peter “do you love me?” three times. When Thomas said he wouldn’t believe without seeing and touching the wounds, Jesus didn’t rebuke him but basically said, “if that’s what you need then here it is. Touch and believe.”
And that merciful presence is still absolutely available to us today. Before ascending to the Father, Jesus gave that presence to his followers in this Gospel. He said, “`as the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, `Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.’” The overwhelming merciful love of Christ was entrusted to us. When we forgive one another and live in peace and communion like the early believers of our first reading, when we receive the Eucharist and unite our selves to each other in His Body and Blood, and above all when the priest speaks in the name of the community and of Christ and says, “I absolve you from your sins” in the sacrament of reconciliation… those moments are the mercy of Christ and are as real as Thomas placing his hands upon those wounds of the Cross. Because when we know that God is merciful we know that we don’t have to hide from Him. We don’t have to fear the living presence of a God who responds to our failures with love.
[Also, my blog website was giving me some difficulties again. Let’s hope the duct tape holds together until after Easter, when I’ll have time to switch to a new platform maybe. But don’t be startled if you eventually see some cosmetic changes.]
Sign up here to have newly posted homilies sent right to your email.
Homilies are meant to be heard, not read… and part of the Eucharistic liturgy, not words that stand alone. Please remember that no homily is written with this blog in mind.