Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 117; 1Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31
There are two homily notes here for our reflection.
Fr. Thomas Oyode
“God’s Gift of Mercy”
The gospel reading of today is always constant for this Sunday of Easter which is also known as Divine Mercy Sunday. As a matter of fact, it is exactly twenty years this year, when Pope St. John Paul II instituted this feast day on which he also canonised St. Maria Faustina, the Apostle of Divine Mercy on April 30, 2000. Indeed, it is impossible to separate God’s love from his gift of peace and mercy to us in Christ.
The gospel reading tells us that it was the eighth day after the resurrection and the disciples were locked inside due to fear. Now, they had previously seen the empty tomb, Mary Magdalene had testified to seeing the Lord yet they still lived unbelief expressed by their fear. Jesus steps into their midst while the doors were shut, and greets them with greetings of peace. A question to be pondered on here is, who talks of peace when a group is depressed and locked inside their homes for fear of what threatens their existence outside? Like all of us all in our day, how can we imagine peace let alone experience it when we are all forced to lock ourselves indoors for fear of a terribly ravaging monster of a virus which has taken away the joy and peace we shared with our dear ones? Where is peace when our friends and family members die alone in some kind of isolation centres and hospitals without an opportunity of saying the last good bye to their loved ones?
But the words of peace that Jesus gives is not some kind of peace devoid of trials and tribulations, it is not some superficial irenicism. The Greek word used is eirenewhich is the same Greek word that St. Paul uses in Galatians 5:22 in his outline of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. It is the equivalent of the Hebrew shalom which means not just peace as an absence of war but awholeness, a completeness that comes from an interior assurance of the presence of God, the presence of his Holy Spirit (cf. Ps. 46). Peace then is understood as the life-giving presence of God in man and in the world. It is precisely for this reason also that we understand, in this greeting, the divinity of Jesus who breaths on the disciples, gives them the gift of the Holy Spirit as a sign of the new creation, a renewal of the original plan of God who breathed on Adam and who also commanded Ezekiel to breath on dried bones that may become living beings (Gen. 2:7, Ez. 37:9). Thus where there is God’s presence, there is life and there is peace of mind. Little wonder St. Ignatius of Loyola proposes peacefulness as one of the criteria for discerning God’s will.
Also, Jesus’ gift of the Holy Spirit is accompanied by the power to forgive sins, to grant mercy to sinners. It is interesting that among the Jews, Rabbis only had authority to interpret the law, make judgments, and grant punishment or exonerate (quite similar to what the Pretoria and the Magistrates of the Roman civil law system did centuries before Christ) but they could not forgive sins. Jesus thus introduces a paradigm shift by which the disciples are empowered beyond anormal social convention.
Another question thus raised is that the disciples themselves were unbelieving. Having, seen the empty tomb, having heard Mary Magdalene testify, why were they still locked in, unwilling to go out and proclaim the message of the resurrection? This opens us further to the reality of God’s gift of mercy which St.Peter asserts in the second reading of today. Their dilly-dally attitude between belief and unbelief opens up to us the reality of human weakness and the weakness of our faith. It also reveals how the power of the resurrection which is the ultimate reflection of the power of God’s mercy, is also the basis of our faith and hope. Jesus gifts them the Holy Spirit so as to empower them to continue the works of God’s mercy even as imperfect believers. They were not to count on their powers, their merits or their holiness. As it is today, the Priest who absolves from sin at the confessional is himself a sinner like every of the faithful. He only absolves in the name of the Holy Trinity on the authority of the Church through the sacrament of orders and the priestly faculty granted to him by his Bishop.
Now two more lessons emerge for us from the above observation. The first is that mercy is a living reality, it is movement of God, the movement of the Holy Spirit in our world. The second which is a corollary, is that mercy is not simply and exclusively the forgiveness of sins, the show of compassion and kindness which was also part of the early christiancommunity. Mercy is a manifestation, a concretisation, bringing to practical and living reality the experience of God’s love. It is seeing the world as God sees it (Cf. Lk. 6:36). The God who never says never, the God who is hope and never believes that anything is dead. He is the God who has the final ssay and who sees the bigger picture.Mercy becomes a heart that seeks to promote the will of God in our relationships with men and the things he has created. Pope Francis says it aptly in MisericordiaeVultus no. 10: “Mercy is the force that reawakens us to new life and instills in us the courage to look to the future with hope.”
Let us therefore look at the future with hope, let us see God and the power of his mercy still at work in our world in spite of the evils, pain, misery and suffering that seem to drown this hope. Jesus is indeed risen and he disperses our fears, hopelessness and unbeliefs. With Thomas let us exalt his mercy: MY LORD AND MY GOD.
Mary, Mother of Mercy, pray for us.
Fr. Daniel Evbotokhai
Honest Doubt and Peace
Divine Mercy Sunday: Pope John Paul II decided to call the second day of Easter Divine Mercy Sunday. It is a special day when we give thanks to God for all that we have received from him. This is brought out in the Psalm which is a hymn of praise and thanks to God. It is something that goes far beyond a particular devotion. In his encyclical Dives in Misericordia, the Holy Father explains that Divine Mercy is the ultimate manifestation of God’s love in a history injured by sin. Even though COVID 19 is not the end of the world; it is a symptom of man’s wickedness and a lesson for repentance. The bible says all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. Mercy is the restoration of man backs to God’s glory. Divine mercy is the medicine for all Christian. This is administered by His priest through the power of the sacrament of reconciliation as he says in today’s gospel John 20:23 “If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of … Whoever’s sins you retain, they have been retained…”. The sacrament of penance is a place where validly ordained priests exercise this mandate. Just as the patient meets the doctor for medication and healing so we are to come to the priest for cleansing and salvation. The difference between a saints and a sinner is that a sinner runs away from the confessional; but the saints goes to the confessional often. The similarity is that they are both sinners, but while one has washed the other has refused to wash. Beloved we are weak humans, we cannot become saints without scars, let us therefore entrust ourselves to the mercy of God. From the readings given I shall reflect on two basic themes.
Honest doubt: Thomas honest doubt is a model for modern Christians. Thomas insisted that before he could believe in Jesus’ resurrection he must see the holes the nails made in his hands, put his finger into the holes and his hand into the great wound made by the centurion’s lance. Thomas doubt was a necessary doubt. Necessary doubt saves us from gullibility. His doubt was faith seeking understanding. Today, despite the level of awareness it has become so easy to confuse Christians than to convince them. A lot of Christians today are gullible, they believe anything, and they believed that COVID 19 will end March 27. Christians today are ready to use any oil ranging from visa oil, husband oil, back to sender oil, promotion oil, quick money oil they use many different kind of oils and pastors are selling these oil as if the church is now a refinery all because they have become gullible. Beloved in Christ, gullibility is the tendency to be easily persuaded that something is real or true. In gullibility a man is so open-minded that his brain falls out. There are many conspiracy theories about COVID 19 today and many Christians just believe these theories without reference to the faith and reason. A Christian who is gullible is vulnerable and this is why many Christians leave in regrets. Even the bible does not ask you to believe everything; 1John 4:1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 1Thess.5:21 But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; and so, Matt. 7:15 says beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are greedy wolves.
On the other hand, in as much as we respect necessary doubt we should be careful not to fall into the errors of rationalism. The episode with Thomas is a simple reminder to us that we don’t have to seek concrete and physical proof for the resurrection or the presence of Jesus Christ without faith. Without faith we cannot have encounter. Thomas had faith which his doubt never knew; but upon realization Thomas declared: “My Lord and my God”. Thomas became the first to ascertain the divinity and Lordship of Jesus Christ.
Thus, Thomas teaches us that we must not separate the resurrection from the cross, since we are called to be followers of Jesus. Thomas also teaches us the truth of the Church that we cannot live the life of grace, the “risen life”, authentically unless we bear in our bodies the wounds of the cross. Thomas professes the true faith of the church. We too must insist that the Jesus we follow is the true Jesus, the one whose risen body bears the wounds of Calvary.
Jesus is our spiritual guide. He is pleased to give Thomas the assurance he is looking for, and then challenges him to look forward to the day when he will believe without seeing. Faith is a journey, Thomas is seen as the patron saint of transitions and steps in faith. While traveling through these steps in faith we bring honesty into our faith. Catechism class is a period of such transition. Having acquired the right foundation we can therefore come to the point of believing even without seeing like the Apostles.
Thus, in the first reading, Acts 2:42 Christians are called to devote themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayers. Rather than yielding to the noise in the street. The first reading presents us with the basic structure of the Church. The word of God and the Holy Eucharist. By extension selflessness and community life. Christians should devote themselves to the teaching of the Apostles, listen to the rich homilies of the Early Father, the Saints and practice the tradition they have left behind for our sanctification and salvation. This teaching is strengthened in us through the sacred reception of the Holy Eucharist. We are able to spread it by means of selflessness and genuine fraternal life.
Peace: Peace be with you, these were the very words of Jesus to his disciples today when he appeared to them. Now, after Jesus’ death, the society was in disorder. Religious and political tensions about Jesus. Amidst these tensions Jesus said to them “Peace be with you”. Beloved in Christ, we need peace as a community and as individual, a community where there is no peace things are torn into pieces. Lack of peace is one of the major causes of high blood pressure. Our world today needs this fresh breath of Christ, we long to hear greet of peace.
On the family level; some families are in real crises, brothers against brothers, children against their parents and husbands against wives in fact for some families their sitting room is a battle field. Even some individual have no peace of mind; sleepless night all the time either because of envy, malice, unforgiveness, lies or cheating. To these kind of affairs Jesus says peace be with you.
Again, the Church sees the primary place of peace. During liturgical celebrations the celebrants greets “Peace be with you”! This greeting has both spiritual and physical value. Peace to our body and peace to our soul. The bible has so much to say about peace as it offloads the burdens of man. Col 3:15 says let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, in James 3:18 the bible says Peacemakers, who sow peace shall reap a harvest of righteousness, and Prov. 12:20 says those who promote peace shall have joy on the bases of this scripture and upon the words of Phil 4:7 the peace of Christ shall guard our minds and hearts.
An Act of Spiritual Communion
I believe that You are present in the Most Holy Sacrament.
I love You above all things,
and I desire to receive You into my soul.
Since I cannot at this moment receive You sacramentally,
come at least spiritually into my heart.
I embrace You as if You were already there
and unite myself wholly to You.
Never permit me to be separated from You.Amen.