We Are Invited to Share Mercy

Lectio Divina: 2nd Sunday of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday, Year C

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Roman rite
Second Sunday of Easter or Sunday of Divine Mercy – Year C –  April 3, 2016
Acts 5.12 to 16; Ps 118; Rev 1,9-11.12-13.17-19; Jn 20,19-31

Ambrosian  Rite
Acts 4.8 to 24; Ps 117; Col 2.8 to 15; Jn 20,19-31

1) The reason of the doubt of the Apostles.

Contemplating the mystery of the Resurrection of Christ, St. Augustine wrote: “We had nothing from which to receive our life; He had nothing from which to receive death. Hence the amazing exchange: He made his our death and ours his life. “The liturgy of this Second Sunday of Easter turns the intuition of this Saint into prayer: “God of eternal mercy, that in the celebration of the paschal feast kindle the faith of the people consecrated to you, increase in them the grace you have given, so that everyone, with the right intelligence, may understand by which Baptism they were purified, by which Spirit they have been regenerated and by which Blood they have been redeemed “(Prayer of the Mass).
This Sunday the Liturgy of the Word offers us the beautiful gospel of the apparition of the Risen Christ to the Apostles and later to St. Thomas, the nonbeliever. If God allowed this Apostle to have doubts, it is to confirm our faith in the fundamental mystery of the Resurrection of Christ. In this regard, St Leo the Great said: “The Spirit of truth would not have allowed these hesitations in the hearts of his preachers if this distrust and these hesitations full of curiosity had not affirmed the foundations of our faith, and if these” uneasiness “had not been healed in the person of the apostles. In them we have been shielded from the slanders of the wicked and against the arguments of worldly wisdom. What they saw enlightens us, what they have heard gives us directions, what they have touched makes us more firm, more balanced. They doubted so that our doubt is no longer possible. ”
The fragile and weak faith of St. Thomas was strengthened by the mercy of the risen Christ that appeared a second time in the Cenacle mainly for him, not only showing its “glorious” wound, but asking the apostle to put his finger into them. This involved an act of immediate faith: “My Lord and my God”. In darkness and despite difficulties and obstacles, each of us is called to touch with the finger of faith the holy stigmata of Christ and to proclaim his resurrection and divinity. This can be done in a special way receiving the Eucharistic communion by which, under the veil of the sacrament, we can – so to speak – touch the substance of the Risen One.
In the first appearance to the apostles, Jesus showed his hands pierced by the nails and his side pierced by the lance to “show” that He really is the Crucified, dead and risen. Showing his hands and his side, he presents his ID card, which certifies that the Risen Lord among them is the men who they saw die on the cross. Showing this identity document, Jesus also teaches us that the hands that washed the feet are the hands that were nailed to the cross, because He is always at the service of man. The “power” of the hands of Christ the Lord is to wash our feet and to let them be nailed so that our anguish may find refuge in those hands “punctured” by love. On the cross Christ lets himself be nailed to serve and to save humanity with his love. “The pierced hands are necessary to unbind the merciful hands of the Father” (Jacques Maritain). It is there that we know the Lord and see His mercy in action. In these hands we see Jesus’ whole life and all that He has done. Let’s contemplate the sign of his extreme love in those hands nailed to the service of love. They welcome us every time the abyss of sin threatens us: they are the very high manifestation of God’s mercy. In those glorious wounds, open even in paradise, there is a deep mystery:  they are always open! “Because from there (from the sores) God comes to man and from there man enters into God. They are the place of communion between man and God. There we scrutinize the mystery of God, and from there the mystery of God, in his love, comes toward us “(Father Silvano Fausti, SI).
It will be the contemplation of these hands that will make us understand – always more and always better – who the Lord is for us: the true God and True man that allowed to be pierced to death for love. Let’s contemplate in astonishment the wounds of love of God which creates and recreates us and from which peace and joy flow.

Joy is the sign of the presence of God that shares his peace with us. Joy and peace are the signs of the presence of the Risen One. They are not only the sign of the presence of the Risen One, they are a sign that each of us participates already now to the Resurrection of Christ.

The joy of being loved and forgiven becomes a joy, which, in turn, becomes a mission in loving obedience to the Word of Jesus who says: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you. Go into the world and bring to all the forgiveness of God “(see Jn 20: 21-23). Today, the resurrected Jesus, the one sent by the Father to reveal the Father’s love toward men, sends us, children in the Son, to bring the proclamation of the Father to our brothers and sisters. Our mission is the same as Jesus’. Love is always a mission and sends us towards the others. In this paschal exodus we are sent towards each other to bring, with mercy, the love needed to start loving. In this regard, Pope Francis teaches: “We must come out of ourselves and go on the road to find out that the wounds of Jesus are still visible today on the body of all those brothers and sisters who are hungry, thirsty, naked, humiliated, slave, are in prison and in the hospitals. Just touching these plagues and stroking them, we can worship the living God among us “(July 3, 2013).

2) The doubt of St. Thomas.
The information about the absence of Saint Thomas at the first appearance of Jesus to the Apostles, introduces the second part of the passage of today’s Gospel, which completes the journey of faith required for us who are reading the account given by St. John. Each of us is invited to take the role of Thomas. We were not there when Jesus appeared to the disciples; we must base our faith on the testimony of the apostles. This is the meaning of the final sentence: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).
At this point, I think that it is important to propose an interpretation of St. Thomas, who has struggled with doubt. First of all it is worth noting that there are different kinds of doubts. There is the doubt of those who walk away from the truth, of those looking for an excuse or a diversion not to believe. They let the pending question of the mind and heart be a question to which they do not want to respond so that they do not have to change their life. This is the skeptical, relativistic doubt that is rampant in a special way nowadays, and that is characteristic of periods of decadence. It is the fruit of material and spiritual satiety and of moral weakness that barely stands or cannot stand at all the tension toward the absolute and the thrust of God’s unconditional love.
This was not the doubt of St. Thomas. He had suffered like the other apostles for the loss of their Master. He was sincerely seeking the truth, but he wanted it firm and of a consistency that could resist the attack of any doubt. In a way, Thomas wanted to “test” his faith, making it firm. For this reason he wanted to see and touch his Jesus in the “sign” of the holes left by the nails and to put his hand in the side pierced by the lance. It was a love exasperated by pain, and not skepticism that made him to say “nonsense”. If Jesus had risen uncovering the stone of the sepulcher, if he had entered through closed doors overcoming their physical barrier, why did He still had sores in his hands, his feet and his side? It is typical of love to be unreasonable and  are the “blunders” of love that hold up this sick world, consumed by the doubts of reason that want to be a measure and not an open window on reality.
After all, St. Thomas was right. In front of the disproportioned love of Christ it was necessary to have a physical and absolute evidence of the identity between the Christ dead on the cross and the Risen Christ.  A test confirming to the senses of St. Thomas the effective continuity between the holes of the nails, the wound in his side and their glorious footprints was necessary. These are the sensitive tests of death: if Jesus was resurrected, they didn’t hurt him anymore but had to shine in the evidence of the new life. Jesus satisfies St. Thomas and invites him to touch his body and to contemplate his wounds, signs of love.
What did St. Thomas contemplate? He has seen what is contrary to reason: sores that did not give blood but light and joy, a dead man back to life with a glorious body. In this sense, that would not have helped him to believe and confirms that the doubt of St. Thomas was not the result of skepticism, but of the waiting of tormented love. The immediate recognition of Christ by this Apostle shows the faith of St. Thomas. The certainty of the senses is a starting point to say: “My Lord and my God”, to recognize the true humanity of Christ by saying, “My Lord” and adhering to the divinity of the Incarnate Word, who died and rose,  by saying: “My God “. Let’s ask the Lord Jesus to confirm and also increase in us a faith that no longer needs miracles, a faith that lives on love.

A contemporary example of this faith is witnessed by the consecrated Virgins in the world. These women say to Christ: “My Lord and my God”, offering themselves completely, body and soul, to Him. These virgins also bear witness to the whole people of God that the union with Christ the Bridegroom implies a profound happiness of consecrated life. St Paul refers to this happiness when he says that anyone who is unmarried is concerned for all the things of the Lord, and he is not torn between the world and the Lord (see 1 Cor 7.39 to 35). This is a happiness that does not exclude and does not exempt from sacrifice, because consecrated chastity entails sacrifices through which it calls to improve compliance to the crucified Christ. St. Paul expressly reminds us that in his bridegroom’s love Jesus Christ offered his sacrifice for the holiness of the Church (see Eph 5:25). In the light of the cross we understand that every union with Christ the Bridegroom is a commitment of love to the Crucified and Risen One. In this way those who profess consecrated chastity bear witness that it is possible to participate in the sacrifice of Christ for the redemption of the world. This must be done with the happy and complete gift of oneself. This offer is made permanent in the consecration so that the “bread” of their lives and the “wine” of their love combined with the love of Christ make it possible to live the covenant with Christ like a spiritual and true match of love.
Patristic Reading
St John Chrysostom (ca 344/354 –407)
Jn 20,24-25
“But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said, Except I shall see in His hands –I will not believe.”
[1.] As to believe carelessly and in a random way, comes of an over-easy temper; so to be beyond measure curious and meddlesome, marks a most gross understanding. On this account Thomas is held to blame. For he believed not the Apostles when they said, “We have seen the Lord”; not so much mistrusting them, as deeming the thing to be impossible, that is to say, the resurrection from the dead. Since he saith not, “I do not believe you,” but, “Except I put my hand—I do not2 believe.” But how was it, that when all were collected together, he alone was absent? Probably after the dispersion which had lately taken place, he had not returned even then. But do thou, when thou seest the unbelief of the disciple, consider the lovingkindness of the Lord, how for the sake of a single soul He showed Himself with His wounds, and cometh in order to save even the one, though he was grosser than the rest; on which account indeed he sought proof from the grossest of the senses, and would not even trust his eyes. For he said not, “Except I see,” but, “Except I handle,” he saith, lest what he saw might somehow be an apparition. Yet the disciples who told him these things, were at the time worthy of credit, and so was He that promised; yet, since he desired more, Christ did not deprive him even of this.
And why doth He not appear to him straightway, instead of“ after eight days”?3 (Jn 20,26). In order that being in the mean time continually instructed by the disciples, and hearing the same thing, he might be inflamed to more eager desire, and be more ready to believe for the future. But whence knew he that His side had beenopened? From having heard it from the disciples. How then did he believe partly, and partly not believe? Because this thing was very strange and wonderful. But observe, I pray you, the truthfulness of the disciples, how they hide no faults, either their own or others’, but record them with great veracity.
Jesus again presenteth himself to them, and waiteth not to be requested by Thomas, nor to hear any such thing, but before he had spoken, Himself prevented him, and fulfilled his desire; showing that even when he spake those words to the disciples, He was present. For He used the same words, and in a manner conveying a sharp rebuke, and instruction for the future. For having said,
Jn 20,26. “Reach hither thy finger, and behold My hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into My side”; He added,
“And be not faithless, but believing.”
Seest thou that his doubt proceeded from unbelief? But it was before he had received the Spirit; after that, it was no longer so, but, for the future, they were perfected.
And not in this way only did Jesus rebuke him, but also by what follows; for when he, being fully satisfied, breathed again, and cried aloud,
Jn 20,28. “My Lord, and my God,” He saith,
Jn 20,29. “Because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed; blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed.”
For this is of faith, to receive things not seen; since,“ Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (He xi. 1). And here He pronounceth blessed not the disciples only, but those also who after them should believe. “Yet,” saith some one, “the disciples saw and believed.” Yes, but they sought nothing of the kind, but from the proof of the napkins, they straightway received the word concerning the Resurrection, and before they saw the body, exhibited all faith. When therefore any one in the present day say, “I would that I had lived in those times, and had seen Christ working miracles,” let them reflect, that, “Blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed.”
It is worth enquiring, how an incorruptible body showed the prints of the nails, and was tangible by a mortal hand. But be not thou disturbed; what took place was a matter of condescension. For that which was so subtle and light as to enter in when the doors were shut, was free from all density4 ; but this marvel was shown, that the Resurrection might be believed, and that men might know that it was the Crucified One Himself, and that another rose not in His stead. On this account He arose5 bearing the signs of the Cross, and on this account He eateth. At least the Apostles everywhere made this a sign of the Resurrection, saying, “We, who did eat and drink with Him.” (Ac 10,41). As therefore when we see Him walking on the waves before the Crucifixion, we do not say, that that body is of a different nature, but of our own; so after the Resurrection, when we see Him with the prints of the nails, we will no more say, that he is therefore6 corruptible. For He exhibited these appearances on account of the disciple.

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Mgr Francesco Follo

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