Acts 4:32–35; 1 John 5:1–6; John 20:19–31
We call this second Sunday of Easter Divine Mercy Sunday to commemorate Saint Faustina Kowalska's encounter with Jesus. We gain a plenary indulgence today if we have received the sacraments of reconciliation and Eucharist and have recited some additional prayers for the intentions of the Holy Father. If you have no idea what any of this means, feel free to catch me after Mass, and I will get you caught up. In any case, it's a great celebration instituted and promoted by Pope St. John Paul II. If you are not familiar with the Divine Mercy chaplet, it is a beautiful devotion, and you can tune into Salt & Light Radio 1140 AM at 3:00 PM every day to learn and recite it. It was a favorite of my father's, to whom this mass this morning is dedicated.
Divine Mercy is the theme, and the readings explain how this mercy is manifested in the early Church. As Acts notes, the members of the Church shared what they had with each other, even to the point of selling their property and bringing it to the Church to disperse. Now, maybe some in our culture might look at what's happening here in Acts and think, "Well, those early Christians were a bunch of godless Commies," but I think that reaction is more symptomatic of our times. Our American culture of individualism occasionally blinds us to the obvious. When people in free association with each other decide to share what they have for the common good, that's simply good Christian charity on display. That is what motivated charity through the early Church and the middle ages. It didn't get a bad rapport until the government started demanding our charity based on what they thought we should give. But note in Acts that Christian charity was always voluntary. Otherwise, it's not really charity and not an act of love. Later on in Acts, a couple of land owners decided to pretend they were giving everything they owned while holding something back. So we learn from Acts that all charity should be voluntary and that we should not attempt to glean favor by giving it. Give your alms in silence, and you will have your reward in Heaven.
The first letter of John approaches the question of mercy from a very different angle. John's first letter is like his other writings in the New Testament. After reading anything from John, you either conclude that it is either utter nonsense, or it is the most divine theology. I am willing to concede my own ignorance and accept that the latter is true. My lack of understanding reflects my own need for spiritual growth. But John's words fit so well with Christ's own. They both speak with riddles and paradoxes: we have to become poor to be blessed; we have to die to really live. It sounds absurd, but we don't really come to know life and the truth until we set our lives aside and live for others—in other words, until we die to ourselves and live for others.
First John highlights and espouses what one commentary on scripture calls the three inseparable dispositions: to love the children of God, to love God, and to keep his commandments. In these dispositions, we capture what the early Christian community was about. We have to love God by loving His children and obey His commandment to care for one another. We have to set ourselves aside and offer what we have for everyone. That is really the teaching we should take from the early Church, and beware to those who chose not to accept that teaching. Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia put it very simply: if we ignore the poor, we will go to Hell. Archbishop Chaput is telling us what the Church has always taught: we are obligated to help the poor.
Our gospel account relates two events: the first is the appearance of Jesus to 10 of the apostles, and the second is His reappearance to the apostles including Thomas. We often refer to this apostle as Doubting Thomas because of his refusal to accept the testimony of the others that God had appeared to them. “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe.” The doubt of Thomas is a reflection of our own tendency to want visible verification before we will believe. However, I read a different take on this account by Russell Saltzman at First Things, an online journal, and I have to say it made me rethink St. Thomas's skepticism.
The article points out that Thomas finds the other apostles still hanging out in the upper room, despite the fact that Jesus has sent them to forgive the sins of the people and to spread the gospel. Perhaps what St. Thomas finds unbelievable is that the others would witness such an event and still hole up in the upper room, cowering in fear. Yet when Jesus does appear to St. Thomas, he responds with the most powerful and direct claim of faith! "My Lord and my God!" That is the only absolute statement of Christ's divinity and equality with God the Father in any of the gospels. And what's more, we know from Sacred Tradition that St. Thomas was the first to leave Jerusalem to spread the Gospel. And he didn't just go to Alexandria in Egypt or Antioch in Pisidia. He went all the way from Jerusalem to India. There are Christians there, the Nasranis, who to this day claim they were founded by him in his visit, and he was martyred near Chennai and buried there.
That does not exemplify doubt but commitment. If any of the apostles exemplified absolute faith in the Risen Lord, you have to admit that Thomas put his money where his mouth was.
You see, that is what demonstrates faith. It's not the words we say but whether our words match our actions—whether we act as if Christ's words actually move us to action. A Franciscan priest by the name of Brennan Manning once said this:
The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.
That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable. That is a challenge for all of us. If we walk out those doors and say "Lord, Lord" as we pass by the single mother begging so she can buy diapers or formula for her child without responding, our "Lord, Lord" is unbelievable. If we neglect the poor in our midst and indulge in lavish life styles, our faith is unbelievable.
If we come to this sacrifice here on Divine Mercy Sunday or on any other day of the year and approach this Eucharist with any other disposition but absolute gratitude and awe, if we shuffle up here and say, "Yeah, yeah. The Body of Christ or something," our actions speak for themselves. If that's how we face the source and summit of our faith, then we don't really have faith, and our Protestant brothers and sisters who see this and doubt us have good reason.
If we are going to be witnesses for our faith, our actions must match our words. We have to walk the talk. We have to be what we profess, or our faith is lifeless. Our daily walk must be an icon, an image of our faith.