Roman Rite – Second Sunday of Easter or of Divine Mercy – Year B – April 1st 2018
Acts 4,32-35; Ps 118, 1 Jn 5.1: 6; Jn 20.19-31
Acts 4.8-24; Ps 118; Col 2.8-15; Jn 20.19-31
Second Easter Sunday and of Divine Mercy
1) Peace and forgiveness.
The liturgy of this Second Sunday of Easter celebrates the risen Christ who gives peace and forgiveness. In fact, today’s Gospel tells us that, on the evening of his Passover, Jesus enters the Upper Room, where the Apostles were locked up, and tells them: “Peace be with you”. With the offering of the gift of his peace, Christ fills the heart of the apostles with his mercy. The traditional Jewish greeting shalom, that is peace, on the mouth of the Risen Lord is not only a wish but a gift: the gift of the peace that only He can give and which is the fruit of his radical victory over evil. The “peace” that Jesus offers to his friends is the fruit of God’s merciful love for men. This immeasurable love has led Christ to die on the cross and to shed all his blood as a meek and humble Lamb “full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14).
This explains why St. John Paul II wished to name “Sunday of Divine Mercy” this Sunday after Easter, which celebrates Christ as the Lamb who has been sacrificed for our sins and who has risen by defeating death and sin. The love of God is stronger than evil and death, and in the risen Christ love and mercy have won.
On this Feast of Divine Mercy, let us fill our hearts with the mercy of God who freely loves, forgives and gives peace.
Indeed, this peace is the fruit of the victory of God’s love over evil; it is the fruit of forgiveness. True peace, profound peace, comes from experiencing God’s mercy.
Today, to us, as about two thousand years ago to the Apostles, Jesus gives, along with his peace, the Holy Spirit so that we may spread in the world his mercy that forgives and gives new and true life.
Today, it is to us that Christ gives the mandate to bring to men the remission of sins. Consequently, the Kingdom of love will grow and peace in hearts will be sown so that it may also be affirmed in our relationships in the family and in society.
2) Missionaries without fear
Today, the Spirit of the Risen Christ drives out fear from our hearts. Jesus urges us to leave the “Cenacle” that the fear has transformed into a locked place. His Spirit pushes us to be an “outgoing Church” (Pope Francis): “As the Father has sent me, I send you” (Jn 20, 21). During the last supper the Cenacle was the place where Jesus had given the bread, but, after the passion and death of the Messiah, for the Apostles, that hall had become as a sepulcher. They lived there in fear, and in fear of death.
But the fear of the Apostles and of all of us does not stop Christ. In the same way as the great stone that sealed his tomb was not an obstacle to him, so our fear is not an obstacle for him. He comes in this sepulcher, full of fear and with locked doors. The bolted doors were not an obstacle for him, as the sepulcher stone was not. Above all, it was not difficult for him to come to these people whom He had chosen and of whom one had betrayed him, the other denied him, the others fled and abandoned him. In the same way, as he then entered the place where his Apostles had taken refuge, so today he comes to meet us driving away our fears. It is there that He makes us rise.
After Christ’s encounter with Mary Magdalene in love and in desire, this meeting in the Cenacle is important because it makes us understand that the risen Christ meets us there, where we died in our fears, in our frailties, in our sins, and in our selfishness, to make us rise through joy and peace.
Today, it is to us that the Risen One says: “Peace be with you” (Jn 20, 19.21.26). It is evident that it is not just a greeting. It is a gift, the gift that the Risen Lord gives us, his friends. It is a gift to share. Therefore, this peace, purchased by Christ with his blood, is also a task. It is not just for us, it is for everyone, and we, the disciples of today, must take it everywhere in the world.
In this way, we participate in the peaceful battle begun by the Easter of Christ, helping him to affirm his victory with his own weapons: those of justice and truth, of mercy, of forgiveness and of love. These weapons do not kill but give life and peace.
3) Witnesses of joy.
In today’s Gospel Jesus says many times: “Peace be with you” and the disciples “rejoiced”. Joy and peace are the sign of the presence of the risen Christ.
Why is the experience of the risen Jesus who stands among us and shows us his hands and his side, an experience of peace and joy? Because we know who we are for Christ and who Christ is for us. He is the one who carries those nailed hands and that pierced side for us. He is infinite love who gives himself. And we, who are we for him? We are a finite, limited love that expands in his Love.
The pierced side shows the heart that loves infinitely and totally. The nailed hands show that the power of God is to wash the feet and to be nailed to the service of love for man. That is where we recognize the Lord. In these hands, we see the whole life of Jesus, all that He has done at the service of love, with a Love so extreme as to die for it to give life.
We are all called to respond to this resurrected Love. How? Witnessing Christ with joy.
Let us take as example the Consecrated Virgins to whom – on the day of consecration – it is said: “Christ, Son of the Virgin and husband of virgins, will be your joy and crown on earth until he will lead you to the eternal wedding in his kingdom, where, singing the new song, you will follow the Lamb wherever he goes “(RCV, homily project No. 38).
To respond to Christ’s love these women offer themselves totally and joyfully to him. In fact, joy does not consist in having many things, but in feeling loved by the Lord, in giving oneself to God and the neighbor, and in loving one another in God. Joy comes from the experience of being loved and becoming missionaries of this Love in a total way.
Totality is a profound requirement of consecrated virginity, which does not admit mediocrity. Consecration is by its very nature a generous and total act of love that carries the consecrated woman up, on the cross and therefore elevated and in the deep of the heart of Christ.
Thanks to her consecration, the virgin engages in four “duties”: that of praising God with more sweetness, that of hoping in God with more joy, that of loving God with more ardor, and that of being a missionary of mercy becoming a perseverant witness of the joy to be loved and to love in a pure and free way. It is as St. Augustine taught already in De sacra virginitate: “Therefore go on, Saints of God, boys and girls, males and females, unmarried men, and women; go on and persevere unto the end. Praise more sweetly the Lord, Whom ye think on more richly: hope more happily in Him, Whom ye serve more instantly: love more ardently Him, whom you please more attentively.”
Saint Augustin of Hippo (354 – 430)
Tractate CXXI.on Jn 20:10-29
1). Mary Magdalene had brought the news to His disciples, Peter and John, that the Lord was taken away from the sepulchre; and they, when they came thither, found only the linen clothes wherewith the body had been shrouded; and what else could they believe but what she had told them, and what she had herself also believed? “Then the disciples went away again unto their own” (home); that is to say, where they were dwelling, and from which they had run to the sepulchre. “But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping.” For while the men returned, the weaker sex was fastened to the place by a stronger affection. And the eyes, which had sought the Lord and had not found Him, had now nothing else to do but weep, deeper in their sorrow that He had been taken away from the sepulchre than that He had been slam on the tree; seeing that in the case even of such a Master, when His living presence was withdrawn from their eyes, His remembrance also had ceased to remain. Such grief, therefore, now kept the woman at the sepulchre. “And as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre.” Why she did so I know not. For she was not ignorant that He whom she sought was no longer there, since she had herself also carried word to the disciples that He had been taken from thence; while they, too, had come to the sepulchre, and had sought the Lord’s body, not merely by looking, but also by entering, and had not found it. What then does it mean, that, as she wept, she stooped down, and looked again into the sepulchre? Was it that her grief was So excessive that she hardly thought she could believe either their eyes or her own? Or was it rather by some divine impulse that her mind led her to look within? For look she did, “and saw two angels in white, sitting, the one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.” Why is it that one was sitting at the head, and the other at the feet? Was it, since those who in Greek are called angel” are in Latin nuntii [in English, news-bearers], that in this way they signified that the gospel of Christ was to be preached from head to foot, from the beginning even to the end? “They say to her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him.” The angels forbade her tears: for by such a position what else did they announce, but that which in some way or other was a future joy? For they put the question, “Why weepest thou?” as if they had said, Weep not. But she, supposing they had put the question from ignorance, unfolded the cause of her tears. “Because,” she said, “they have taken away my Lord:” calling her Lord’s inanimate body her Lord, meaning a part for the whole; just as all of us acknowledge that Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, our Lord, who of course is at once both the Word and soul and flesh, was nevertheless crucified and buried, while it was only His flesh that was laid in the sepulchre. “And I know not,” she added, “where they have laid Him.” This was the greater cause of sorrow, because she knew not where to go to mitigate her grief. But the hour had now come when the joy, in some measure announced by the angels, who forbade her tears, was to succeed the weeping.
2. Lastly, “when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing Him to be the gardener, saith unto Him, Sir, If thou hast borne Him hence, tell me where thou hast laid Him, and I will take Him away. Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto Him, Rabboni, which is to say, Master.” Let no one speak ill of the woman because she called the gardener, Sir (domine), and Jesus, Master. For there she was asking, here she was recognizing; there she was showing respect to a person of whom she was asking a favor, here she was recalling the Teacher of whom she was learning to discern things human and divine. She called one lord (sir), whose handmaid she was not, in order by him to get at the Lord to whom she belonged. In one sense, therefore, she used the word Lord when she said, “They have taken away my Lord; and in another, when she said, Sir (lord), if thou hast borne Him hence.” For the prophet also called those lords who were mere men, but in a different sense from Him of whom it is written, “The Lord is His name.”1 But how was it that this woman, who had already turned herself back to see Jesus, when she supposed Him to be the gardener, and was actually talking with Him, is said to have again turned herself, in order to say unto Him “Rabboni,” but just because, when she then turned herself in body, she supposed Him to be what He was not, while now, when turned in heart, site recognized Him to be what He was.
3. “Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; to my God, and your God.” There are points in these words which we must examine with brevity indeed, but with somewhat more than ordinary attention. For Jesus was giving a lesson in faith to the woman, who had recognized Him as her Master, and called Him so in her reply; and this gardener was sowing in her heart, as in His own garden, the grain of mustard seed. What then is meant by “Touch me not”? And just as if the reason of such a prohibition would be sought, He added, “for I am not yet ascended to my Father.” What does this mean? If, while standing on earth, He is not to be touched, how could He be touched by men when sitting in heaven? For certainly, before He ascended, He presented Himself to the touch of the disciples, when He said, as testified by the evangelist Luke, “Handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have;”2 or when He said to Thomas the disciple, “Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and put forth thy hand, and thrust it into my side.” And who could be so absurd as to affirm that He was willing indeed to be touched by the disciples before He ascended to the Father, but refused it in the case of women till after His ascension? But no one, even had any the will, was to be allowed to run into such folly. For we read that women also, after His resurrection and before His ascension to the Father, touched Jesus, among whom was Mary Magdalene herself; for it is related by Matthew that Jesus met them, and said, “All hail. And they approached, and held Him by the feet, and worshipped Him.”3 This was passed over by John, but declared as the truth by Matthew. It remains, therefore, that some sacred mystery must lie concealed in these words; and whether we discover it or utterly fail to do so, yet we ought to be in no doubt as to its actual existence. Accordingly, either the words, “Touch me not, for I am not yet ascended to my Father,” had this meaning, that by this woman the Church of the Gentiles was symbolized, which did not believe on Christ till He had actually ascended to the Father, or that in this way Christ wished Himself to be believed on; in other words, to be touched spiritually, that He and the Father are one. For He has in a manner ascended to the Father, to the inward perception of him who has made such progress in the knowledge of Christ that he acknowledges Him as equal with the Father: in any other way He is not rightly touched, that is to say, in any other way He is not rightly believed on. But Mary might have still so believed as to account Him unequal with the Father, and this certainly is forbidden her by the words, “Touch me not;” that is, Believe not thus on me according to thy present notions; let not your thoughts stretch outwards to what I have been made in thy behalf, without passing beyond to that whereby thou hast thyself been made. For how could it be otherwise than carnally that she still believed on Him whom she was weeping over as a man? “For I am not yet ascended,” He says, “to my Father:” there shalt thou touch me, when thou believest me to be God, in no wise unequal with the Father. “But go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father.” He saith not, Our Father: in one sense, therefore, is He mine, in another sense, yours; by nature mine, by grace yours. “And my God, and your God.” Nor did He say here, Our God: here, therefore, also is He in one sense mine, in another sense yours: my God; under whom I also am as man; your God, between whom and you I am mediator.
4. “Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples, I have seen the Lord, and He hath spoken these things unto me. Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus, and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. And when He had so said, He showed unto them His hands and His side.” For nails had pierced His hands, a spear had laid open His side: and there the marks of the wounds are preserved for healing the hearts of the doubting. But the shutting of doors presented no obstacle to the matter of His body, wherein Godhead resided. He indeed could enter without their being opened, by whose birth the virginity of His mother remained inviolate, “Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord. Then said He unto them again, Peace be unto you.” Reiteration is confirmation; for He Himself gives by the prophet a promised peace upon peace.4 “As the Father hath sent me,” He adds, “even so send I you.” We know the Son to be equal to the Father; but here we recognize the words of the Mediator. For He exhibits Himself as occupying a middle position when He says, He me, and I you. “And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost.” By breathing on them He signified that the Holy Spirit was the Spirit, not of the Father alone, but likewise His own. “Whose so-ever sins,” He continues, “ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever ye retain, they are retained.” The Church’s love, which is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, discharges the sins of all who are partakers with itself, but retains the sins of those who have no participation therein. Therefore it is, that after saying “Receive ye the Holy Ghost,” He straightway added this regarding the remission and retention of sins.
5. “But Thomas, one of the twelve, who is called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe. And after eight days, again His disciples were within, and Thomas with them. Then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you. Then saith He to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and put it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. Thomas answered and said unto Him, My Lord and my God.” He saw and touched the man, and acknowledged the God whom he neither saw nor touched; but by the means of what he saw and touched, he now put far away from him every doubt, and believed the other. “Jesus saith unto him, Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed.” He saith not, Thou hast touched me, but, “Thou hast seen me,” because sight is a kind of general sense. For sight is also habitually named in connection with the other four senses: as when we say, Listen, and see how well it sounds; smell it, and see how well it smells; taste it, and see how well it savors; touch it, and see how hot it is. Everywhere has the word, See, made itself heard, although sight, properly speaking, is allowed to belong only to the eyes. Hence here also the Lord Himself says, “Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands:” and what else does He mean but, Touch and see? And yet he had no eyes in his finger. Whether therefore it was by looking, or also by touching, “Because thou hast seen me,” He says, “thou hast believed.” Although it may be affirmed that the disciple dared not so to touch, when He offered Himself for the purpose; for it is not written, And Thomas touched Him. But whether it was by gazing only, or also by touching that he saw and believed, what follows rather proclaims and commends the faith of the Gentiles: “Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” He made use of words in the past tense, as One who, in His predestinating purpose, knew what was future, as if it had already taken place. But the present discourse must be kept from the charge of prolixity: the Lord will give us the opportunity to discourse at another time on the topics that remain.
1 Ps 68:4
2 Lc 24:39
3 Mt 28:9
4 Is 26:3