Meeting Christ in Christian Worship
Acts 4:32-35; 1Jn 5:1-7; John 20:19-31
Today is the Second Sunday of Easter. (Easter Sunday, itself, is counted as the 1st Sunday of Easter.) This day is often called the Doubting Thomas Sunday, because the gospel that we use every year during this Sunday narrates the episode of Thomas who doubted about the resurrection of Jesus, when his companions told him that they had seen Jesus risen from the dead. Today is also called Divine Mercy Sunday, the day Jesus instituted the sacrament of Reconciliation through which he grants mercy to sinners. We recall, in the Gospel text of today, Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit on them, saying, “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them” (Jn 19:23). This refers to the Sacrament of Reconciliation – and to the entire ministry of reconciliation. It underlines the fact that we have a MERCIFUL GOD.
- THE DOUBTING THOMAS
- a) A background Story: Once, an elderly priest looked over his large congregation on an Easter morning and startled them with this announcement: “My friends, realizing that I will not see many of you until next Easter, may I take this opportunity to wish all of you a merry Christmas and a happy New Year!” The difference in the size of the congregation on Easter Sunday and on the other Sundays of the year is very noticeable. Many of our Christians, as far as church attendance is concerned, have indeed become Holy Week Christians: you see them in church only during the Holy Week. Similarly, a man was found criticizing his Parish Priest on the following grounds: “I have attended this church for three years, and each time the homily is always on the same topic. Doesn’t our PP have something else to talk about?” Yes, this man has been attending the church for three years alright; but he only attends on Easter Sunday and he always hears a homily on the resurrection of Christ! What else did he expect?
We may ask ourselves why many well-meaning Christians are so uncommitted to attending regular, Sunday church services. The answer can be given in one word: DOUBT or CRISIS OF FAITH. People today, like people of all times, do have a hunger for God. They are in search for the meaning of life. But they doubt whether the answer to these existential questions can be found within the four walls of the church. For this reason, they are more disposed to spend time in social action, in work, and in intellectual pursuit rather than in church worship. Today’s gospel gives us an example of a man who felt exactly like that. His name is Thomas.
- b) The irregular presence of Thomas: Today’s gospel text tells us: “In the evening of the day Jesus rose from the dead, the first day of the week, … the disciples had met … Jesus came and stood among them (John 20:19).” The disciples gathered together on Sunday, the first day of the week. Since the disciples were Jews they would attend synagogue services on the Sabbath (Saturday) and on Sunday they would assemble together as believers in Christ. Gathered together in the name of Jesus, the Lord, Jesus, would appear to them as he had earlier promised them: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20). In this way Sunday became known as “the day of the Lord”, the day when Christ comes to meet and strengthen his people, the special day of Christian worship. It is, therefore, evident that today’s gospel is describing the first Christian Sunday worship following the resurrection of the Lord. The services were usually held in the evening. Thomas is nowhere to be found at that gathering!
- c) “My Lord and my God!”: We learn that all the disciples are gathered for Sunday service; and what do we notice? Thomas is not there. Where is Thomas? Thomas is like one of these modern-day Christians who do not go to church regularly, on Sundays. Such people are not there in church when Jesus comes to meet his people and to strengthen them in their faith. As a result, they remain with their doubts. Initially all the disciples had their doubts. But because of their encounter with the risen Lord during Sunday worship, their doubt was turned into faith. Thomas missed that enlightening experience.
However, being a wise man, Thomas resolved never again to miss the Sunday gathering of believers. The gospel reading continues, “A week later (i.e. the following Sunday) his disciples were again in the house, and (this time around) Thomas was with them (and as usual), Jesus came and stood among them (John 20:26). This time, Thomas has his own share of the resurrection experience. Immediately, his doubt changes into faith and he falls down and worships Jesus, saying, “My Lord and my God!” (v.28). Now, we may ask ourselves, “what if Thomas had stayed away from church saying, ‘Prove it! Prove it to me that Jesus is risen and then I will come’, would it be possible to prove it to him by arguments alone? Not at all! Sometimes, the best argument you can give to someone out there who is in doubt and does not believe, is a sentence in three words (following the response of the apostle Philip to Nathanael): “Come and see” (Jn 1:46).
- d) “Come and see” It is alarming to see the number of Catholic youth who are annually taken over by Religious Sect, cultic movements, and so-called ‘New Churches’. There may be some people sitting here who have not been taken over yet, but who have one leg in here and one leg in another congregation down the streets, where they “fellowship” in times of need. Dominant among the reasons given by those who leave the Catholic Church is the fact that they have doubts which the Catholic Church could not dispel. To them, we say, ‘COME AND SEE’, ‘COME AND HEAR’! Christ has a message for you here, not out there! Do not wallow in uncertainty and ignorance because of your unwillingness to tap from the Catholic Church’s rich spiritual resources.
- If you want moments of silent prayer, then, come for retreats and recollections.
- If your concern is to study the Bible, join the Bible Apostolate
- If you are akin to exuberant prayer, come and join the Catholic Charismatic Prayer Group (Movement).
- If you feel lost in the so-called ‘large (anonymous) crowds’ of the Catholic Church, then come and feel the warmth of your Small Christian Communities (SCC’s). Etc. etc.
- If you feel a lack in your knowledge of the Catholic faith, attend doctrine sessions. (How many people attend Christian doctrine sessions? Yet they can be so enriching!)
- How many people have ever come to their priests for counseling? A greater majority only look for a priest when all else has failed. At such moments, they are looking only for desperate solutions.
Today, we are invited to come in and let the risen Lord who is here with us in this Sunday worship; he who is always present in his Church; he who is present here and now in His Word and in the Eucharist, let him speak to us and touch our hearts; and then we will doubt no longer but believe. The answer to our religious questions and doubts is not out there. The answer is right in her! Let us not be like the proverbial person “who lives right next to a stream but washes his/her face with spittle”. Let us dive into the stream of the Church’s wealth for a clean doctrinal bath! When we are in doubt, let us think of doubting Thomas and learn from his personal experiences. Come and you will see!
- DIVINE MERCY SUNDAY
- a) The Apostle of Mercy: On the 2nd Sunday of Easter, the year 2000, Pope St. John Paul II canonized St. Faustina Kowalska, a Polish nun, who is popularly known as “the Apostle of Mercy.” The Pope then declared the 2nd Sunday of Easter every year, as the Sunday of Divine Mercy for the Universal Church. God bless his soul, Pope John Paul II died on the eve of the Sunday of Divine Mercy in 2005.
The devotion to the Divine Mercy stems from the revelations made to St. Faustina Kowalska (1905-1938) over a number of years and at several convents, including the one in Krakow where she is buried. A special request of these visions was that the first Sunday after Easter should be the feast of Divine Mercy and that on this day the Divine Mercy should be proclaimed in a special way.
- b) Some elements of the Divine Mercy Devotion: There are several elements involved in this devotion. One is the image of the merciful Jesus based on a vision of February 1931. In it Our Lord is pictured in the act of blessing, with two rays, one red and the other pallid (representing blood and water), shining from his heart. The words “Jesus, I trust in thee” are placed at his feet.
Copies of this image are today found in many churches all over the world – a sign of the rapid extension of this devotion.
Other elements are the Hour of Mercy, at 3 in the afternoon, in which the Passion is meditated upon and certain prayers recommended by the revelations are recited. As well as this, there is the chaplet of Divine Mercy with its attendant litany. It is recited using rosary beads but substituting other prayers such as “Through your sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the entire world” on the beads of the Hail Mary.
- c) Our God is a God of Mercy: Mercy is the greatest attribute of God, for no other being can have mercy in such infinite dimensions like God. When we look at the world around us and the evil that is in the world today, it is difficult to understand why God has not sent fire to destroy the world, just like he did in the days of Sodom and Gomorrah. When we look at our own personal sins and the wickedness in our hearts, it is not easy to understand why God has not sent water to wash away the earth as he did in the days of Noah. Through this spirituality, we understand better the words of the Prophet Ezekiel; “What! Am I likely to take pleasure in the death of a wicked man – it is the Lord Yahweh who speaks – and not prefer to see him renounce his wickedness and live?” (Ez.18:23). We come to know our God as the God of mercy and compassion, slow to anger, abounding in love.
It is the mystery of the Mercy of God that Sr. Faustina pondered in the Word of God and contemplated in the everyday activities of her life that forms the basis of her spirituality. As she came to know and contemplated the Divine Mercy, she developed the attitude of childlike trust in God and mercy towards neighbour. According to Sr. Faustina, what will bring us the mercy of God is TRUST. We trust that when we call God he will hear us; we trust that God will forgive us, no matter the gravity of our sins; we trust that his mercy is from age to age on those who fear him (Luke.1:50); We trust that the mercy of God never ends. This trust in God and above all in his Son Jesus Christ, who died on the Cross to concretize mercy for mankind, is what Faustina preaches to us. That is why the motto of the spirituality of the Divine Mercy is “Jesus, I trust in you.”
Thomas’ response to the risen Lord was: “My Lord and my God” (Jn 19:28). Byt these words, Thomas, the “doubter”, re-dedicated himself to the risen Lord, in TOTAL TRUST. That is what every Christian is called to do on this Sunday of Divine Mercy, the 2nd Sunday of Easter.
May the risen Lord, THE DIVINE MERCY, grant us mercy in abundance, so that through the same mercy, we may come to share in the eternal life, where Jesus is Lord for ever and ever! Amen.