By Francesco Follo

Second Sunday of Easter –Sunday of the Divine Mercy[1] – Year A – April 19, 2020

Roman Rite

Acts 2:42-47; Ps 118; 1 Peter 1: 3-9; Jn 20: 19-31

Ambrosian Rite

Acts 4:8 – 24; Ps 118; Col 2:8 – 15; Jn 20:19-31

  • The mercy of God.

In these days of great concern for the pandemic that continues to sow pain and death, we struggle to welcome the joy that comes from the Easter we celebrated a week ago.

How is it possible to live the atmosphere of joy that comes from the faith in the risen Christ if around us and among us there are disease, death, and fear? Living in communion of amazement and in confident impatience in the trial.

What will the next months bring us? What will humanity’s future be like? We don’t know. Humanly speaking there are signs of hope. With difficulty, we can see at the end of the tunnel the faint light brought by the new progress in the search for the Covid-19 vaccine and the treatments for those affected by it. Unfortunately, there will be other painful experiences. But on this Sunday of Mercy, the light of divine compassion illuminates the path of men. However, it is not enough to say that Christ is the compassionate Son of God from whom we derive our feelings of mercy and brotherhood. He is also a victim of our evil. He is the innocent Lamb, immolated by our sins, who overcomes evil with the gift of himself on the Cross.

Like the Apostles about two thousand years ago, it is necessary that in the cenacle of history we today welcome the risen Christ who shows the wounds of his crucifixion and repeats: “Peace be with you”. Our poor humanity must allow itself to be reached and pervaded by the Spirit given by the risen Christ. It is the Spirit who heals the wounds of the heart and breaks down the barriers that detach us from God and divide us, restoring the joy of the love of the Father and the joy of fraternal unity.

It is important, then, that we accept in its entirety the teaching coming from the three readings of this second Easter Sunday. Today the liturgy shows the path of mercy which, while rebuilding each person’s relationship with God, also arouses new relationships of fraternal solidarity among men. Christ taught us that “man not only receives and experiences the mercy of God but is also called to ‘ use mercy’ towards others: Blessed are the merciful because they will find mercy (Mt 5: 7)” (St. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Dives in misericordia, 14).

“Mercy is, in fact, the ultimate and supreme act with which God comes to meet us and that opens our hearts to the hope of being loved forever, whatever our poverty, whatever our sin is. God’s love for us is not an abstract word. He made himself visible and tangible in Jesus Christ. For this reason, the merciful love of Christians must be oriented on the same wavelength” (Pope Francis, Audience with French realities dedicated to divine mercy, December 13, 2019).

The mercy taught and practiced by Christ not only forgives sins but also meets all the needs of men. Jesus bent over all human, material and spiritual misery. The experience of mercy continues to reach humanity through the gesture of our outstretched hands in his name towards the people who suffer.

Christ’s merciful and consoling tenderness is addressed above all to those who, afflicted by a particularly hard trial or crushed by the weight of the sins committed, have lost all trust in life and are tempted to give in to despair. The sweet face of Christ is presented to them, and to them come the rays which start from his heart and illuminate, warm up, indicate the path and instill hope.

To experience this mercy, let’s repeat often the invocation: “Jesus, I trust in you”, which Providence has suggested to us through the Polish saint, Sister Faustina Kowalska (1905 – 1938)

This simple act of abandonment to Jesus pierces the denser clouds and causes a ray of light to pass through the life of each of us.

  • The pierced side: a source of light and mercy.

This Sunday traditionally was called “Sunday in Albis,” but since the year 2000 has been proclaimed by Pope John Paul II the Feast of Mercy. This saint Pope wanted to highlight the bond that exists between the Mystery of Easter and the Feast of Mercy: “The work of redemption is connected with the work of Mercy”. (Sister Faustina)

It is true that, according to ancient tradition, this Sunday was called Sunday “in Albis ” because on this day, in the early centuries of the Church, the baptized at the Easter Vigil were still wearing their white robes, symbol of the light that the Lord had given them in Baptism. Later, they would take off the white robe[2] but they had to introduce into their everyday life the new light that had been communicated to them. The delicate flame of truth and goodness that the Lord had kindled in them had to be guarded diligently to bring into our world something of the brightness and of the goodness of God.

It is also true that baptism[3] is the sacrament of mercy with which God not only forgives us the original sin, but also incorporates us into Christ and makes us temples of the Holy Spirit. This sacrament “flows” from the pierced side of Christ, “the fountain of mercy, the fountain of forgiveness” (Symeon the New Theologian, Hymn XLV). Today’s Gospel shows us the Apostle Thomas who receives the gift of faith by putting his finger in this side, almost touching the Heart of the compassionate Christ from which the blood and the water of grace come out: the tender mercy of God.

God cannot betray his name: Love that donates himself and forgives. With the Mystery of the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ a new creation is made. In the same way as from the side of the sleeping Adam God the Father has formed Eve, from the side of Christ sleeping on the Cross God the Father drew the Church.[4]

The Church was born from the pierced heart of Christ[5] and St. Thomas, forgiven of his incredulity, had the challenging gift to put his hand in the side and get close to the Heart of the Crucified and Risen One. He touched the man and recognized God, who once again showed to him His mercy.

As He did to St. Thomas, Jesus says to us, “Put your finger here, and put your hand into my side, touch!” For Thomas that gesture was enough. For us too it can and must be sufficient to know and to experiment that our neighbor, our brother and our sister, the one who stretches out his hand towards us, the voice that does not judge us but encourages us and calls us, the body offered to the doubts of his friends, is Jesus.

Thomas could not be mistaken. There was a hole in the hands of Christ, there was the wound of the spear in His side: these are the signs of love, which Jesus does not hide but indeed almost exhibits: the hole of the nails, the gash in his side.

Let’s look often at the Crucifix that is in each church and, I hope, in each of our houses. With the eyes we will see the lesions that we would have expected to see; with the hands of the heart we too can touch and believe.

Perhaps we thought that the Resurrection would have forever healed the wounds of Good Friday. It is not so. Love wrote his story on Jesus’ body with the alphabet of the wounds. It is now an indelible alphabet, just like love. However, from the open wounds no more blood gushes out but light and mercy. In the hand of Thomas, led by Christ to His side, are all our hands.

  • From fear to joy.

“The doors were locked for fear of the Jews” (Jn 20, 19). It is an unlikely fear, almost all fears are unlikely but nevertheless they exist and are very real. These are fears that shut us away completely from others, that bring darkness in the existence and make the heart and the Cenacle a sepulcher. The room of the Last Supper is the place where Jesus gave the bread, now this room is a tomb, where the apostles live in fear of death. As the stone that closed the tomb did not keep Christ from getting out and bring the Light, the closed doors of the Cenacle don’t prevent Him to enter and to risk the place and the hearts of his disciples. The Lord is risen; there is no reason to have any fear. Even death is overcome: what do you have then fear of? “They rejoiced when they saw the Lord”: the disciples move from fear to joy. The joy, the gift of the Risen Lord, is participation to his very joy.

There are not two different joys, one for God and one for man. In both cases, it is a joy that is rooted in love. This joy is not the absence of the Cross, but it is the understanding that the Crucified is resurrected. Faith enables a true understanding of the Cross and of the tragedy of man.

Along with joy, there is another gift from the Risen Lord: peace. Let’s remember, however, that peace and joy are the “gifts” of Christ and, at the same time, “traces” through which to recognize Him. However, we need to break the attachment to ourselves. Peace and joy only flourish in freedom and self-giving.

The offering of ourselves to God, Pope Francis has explained, “concerns every Christian, because we are all consecrated to Him through Baptism. We are all called to offer ourselves to the Father with Jesus and like Jesus, making of our life a generous gif in the family, at work, in service to the Church and in the works of mercy.” However, “this consecration is lived particularly by the religious, the monks and the consecrated lay people who, through the profession of vows, belong fully and exclusively to God. This membership to the Lord allows those who live it in an authentic way to offer a special witness to the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. Totally consecrated to God, they are totally delivered to the brethren to bring the light of Christ where there are the densest darkness and spread his hope in the hearts disheartened.” (February 2, 2014) The consecrated virgins are signs of God in the different areas of life. They are leaven for the growth of a more just and fraternal society, and they are a prophecy of sharing with the poor and little ones. Understood and lived in this way, the consecrated life appears like it really is, a gift from God, a gift of God to the Church, a gift of God to his people.

  • Forgiveness as a mission.

The encounter of the mercy of Christ with Thomas was possible because Jesus was with the disciples. Not only Thomas, but also the community recognize the Lord from his injuries, which are always open to welcome everyone. From them comes the joy of those who are loved and the mission to love as we are loved. The mission of the church is the same as the one of Jesus, sent by the Father to the brethren. For this reason, we are new creatures, animated by his Spirit that is love, forgiveness and the gift to offer to everyone. If we forgive, we are like Jesus Christ and we will have His peace: “Peace be with you.”

It is a peace different from the peace of the world. It is different because it is the gift of God and because it goes to the root, there where man decides for lie or for truth. It is different because it is a peace that knows how to pay the price of justice. The peace of Jesus does not promise to eliminate the Cross – nor in the life of the Christian, nor in the history of the world – but it makes sure of His victory: “I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33).

To the gift of peace Jesus adds the one of the Spirit: “Receive the Holy Spirit.” The Spirit is the witness of Jesus in front of the hostility that the disciples will encounter. They will be exposed to doubt, scandal, and discouragement. The Spirit will defend Jesus in their hearts and will make them sure and steadfast. Even to us, the disciples of today, the Spirit gives this certainty and the strength to bring into the world the forgiveness of God.

The Church in the Cenacle was born from the contemplation of the love of the Crucified and Risen Christ and it is sent to testify and share this love that forgives.

Patristic Reading

Saint Augustine of Hippo

Homily 1 on the First Epistle of John – (In Io. Ep. tr. 1, 3)

Thomas touched the man and recognized God!

And we are witnesses, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us: i.e., manifested among us: which might be more plainly expressed, manifested to us. The things, therefore, which we have seen and heard, declare we unto you. 1 John 1:3 Those saw the Lord Himself present in the flesh, and heard words from the mouth of the Lord, and told them to us. Consequently, we also have heard, but have not seen. Are we then less happy than those who saw and heard? And how does he add, That ye also may have fellowship with us? Those saw, we have not seen, and yet we are fellows because we hold the faith in common. For there was one who did not believe even upon seeing, and would needs handle, and so believe, and said, I will not believe except I thrust my fingers into the place of the nails and touch His scars. John 20:25-29 And He did give Himself for a time to be handled by the hands of men, who always gives Himself to be seen by the sight of the angels; and that disciple did handle, and exclaimed, My Lord, and my God! Because he touched the Man, he confessed the God. And the Lord, to console us who, now that He sits in heaven, cannot touch Him with the hand, but only reach Him with faith, said to him, Because you have seen, you have believed; blessed are they that have not seen, and yet believe. We are here described, we designated. Then let the blessedness take place in us, of which the Lord predicted that it should take place; let us firmly hold that which we see not; because those tell us who have seen. That ye also, says he, may have fellowship with us. And what great matter is it to have fellowship with men? Do not despise it; see what he adds, and our fellowship may be with God the Father, and Jesus Christ His Son. And these things, says he, we write unto you, that your joy may be full. 1 John 1:4 Full joy he means in that fellowship, in that charity, in that unity. It is sent to witness and share this love that forgives.

In brief:

He saw and touched the man and acknowledged the God that he did not see and did not touch. Through what he saw and touched, now removed of all doubts, believed in what he saw. (In Io. Ev. Tr. 121, 5)

[1] In the word “mercy” St. John Paul II found the whole mystery of the Redemption summarized and reinterpreted for our time. Therefore, on April 30, 2000 this Pope, who was proclaimed Saint together with pope John XXIII, instituted the Feast of Divine Mercy and wanted it to be celebrated on this second Sunday of Easter.

[2] For this reason, the first Sunday after Easter was called in Latin: “in albis depositis ”

[3] “Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the entrance vestibule to life in the Spirit (” spiritualis ianua vitae “), and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God, we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission: “Baptismus est sacramentum regenerationis per aquam in verbo – Baptism can be defined as the sacrament of Christian regeneration through water and the word. ‘” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1213) ”

[4] See Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, 5: AAS 56 (1964) 99.

[5] See Ambrose, Expositio evangelii secundum Lucam, 2, 85-89: CCL 14, 69-72 (PL 15, 1666-1668)

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