Second Sunday of Easter – Divine Mercy Sunday
[Acts 5:12-16; Psalm 118; Revelation 1:9-11a, 12-13, 17-19; John 20:19-31]
This past week I made a visit to the chiropractor. Crunch! Crack! Snap! That’s how I usually describe those visits. Certainly not for the faint of heart. Once, I asked the doctor what she hoped to achieve by the cruel and inhuman torture techniques. The goal, she replied, is to remove interference so that the body can function as designed. Adjustment of the spine, relief of pressure from a nerve, enabling a joint to move easily –all these have as their aim the enabling of the body to perform in accord with its nature.
I’d like to focus with you this morning upon this need to remove interference as a way of entering into the biblical texts for this mass. They help us to identify an obstruction that prevents us from functioning properly in accord with our nature as disciples of Jesus Christ.
Our lives as followers of the Lord are grounded in the act of faith. We are a people who believe in Jesus Christ as the Crucified and Risen Lord. Faith is more than notional assent, an act only of the mind. It is a surrender of our entire lives to the truth of Jesus Christ, and a decision to receive his commandments as the directive rule of our lives. This is dramatically portrayed in the reading from Revelation. In his vision, St. John encounters the Risen Lord and immediately falls at his feet “as though dead”, an act of worship, in other words, with the whole of his life.
In this light, we see clearly that what interferes with an authentic life of discipleship is the assertion of self over God, giving personal desires preference over Gospel dictates, or according human logic priority over divine revelation. We see something of this in St. Thomas, whose initial response to the news of the Lord’s resurrection was to place it within his own limited frame of reference: “unless I see the mark of the nails …” This temptation to faith on our own terms can reside within each of us. It interferes with the full and unconditional surrender of our lives into the mystery of the Risen Lord.
How is the interference removed? In brief, the answer is by God’s mercy. This is Divine Mercy Sunday, when we are invited by the Church to direct the attention of our hearts and minds to the wondrous gift of mercy that has been given to us in Jesus Christ. The text from Saint John’s Gospels unfolds this for us beautifully.
Notice, first of all, that Jesus, as Risen Lord, will allow no interference to obstruct his mission to bestow upon his Church the mercy that burst forth into the world through his Resurrection from the grave. The locked doors and sturdy walls behind which the disciples had hidden themselves in fear could not keep Jesus away. He appears in their midst, dispels thereby their fear, and gives them peace. In our own lives, too, Jesus simply will not be kept away by walls of shame, guilt, or fear that enclose us. He wants to make himself known to us, to bestow upon us his divine mercy, and set us free by his peace. Jesus did this for the first apostles in the Upper Room. He now does it for us through their successors in the sacraments of the Church.
St. John tells us that, when Jesus appeared to his apostles, he gave them the gift of the Holy Spirit and said, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Here Jesus gives to his apostles, and to those who succeed in the Church to the apostolic ministry – Bishops and priests – the authority to administer God’s mercy, divine mercy, to repentant hearts, by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is what occurs in the sacrament of Penance. We can put it this way: while a visit to the chiropractor allows freedom of bodily movement, liberty of the soul comes from a visit to the confessional. There the divine physician, Jesus, by the working of his mercy, identifies the obstacles and, by forgiveness, removes the interference that prevents us from the proper functioning of our discipleship. His mercy re-aligns our lives to the loving plan of God. No matter how painful we may find this adjustment, we cannot be faithful to our baptismal identity without it.
Now, anyone who visits a chiropractor knows that it must be followed up by faithfully doing the requisite exercises and stretches. The follow-up to the reception of divine mercy demands that we exercise mercy, that we show mercy to others through concrete acts that do, indeed, stretch us as we move from self- to Christ-centeredness. Doing physical exercises helps restore us to health. The exercise of mercy strengthens our faith.
Consider the experience of Saint Thomas. When he touched the wounds in the body of the Risen Lord, he recognized the revelation of divinity in Jesus’s glorified humanity, and was brought to faith in him as Lord and God. When we, through acts of mercy, touch the wounds of others in their moments of need, we recognize the disclosure of the divine presence in suffering humanity, and are thereby led to a strengthening of our faith in Jesus as Merciful Lord.
The same Jesus, who once appeared to his disciples in the Upper Room, now shows himself to us in the sacrament of the Eucharist. As we turn to the altar of the Lord, let us pray for a deepening and strengthening of our Easter faith in him as Lord and God. May the grace of this sacrament bring to light whatever interference blocks the full and free movement of discipleship, and prompt us to bring our repentant hearts to Divine Mercy for the healing and peace that only the Risen Lord can give.
Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
St. Joseph’s Basilica
April 24th, 2022