Acts 4: 32- 35, I John 5: 1-6, John 20: 19-31
The Emperor Napoleon was moved by a mother's plea for pardon for her soldier son. However, the Emperor said that since it was the man’s second major offense, justice demanded death. "I do not ask for justice," implored the mother, "I plead for mercy." "But," said the Emperor, "he does not deserve mercy." "Sir," cried the mother, "it would not be mercy if he deserved it, and mercy is all I ask for." The compassion and clarity of the mother's logic prompted Napoleon to respond, "Well, then, I will have mercy." The Second Sunday of the Easter season invites us to reflect on God’s infinite love and mercy for His people, as detailed in the Bible and as lived and taught by Jesus, and to practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
Introduction: The readings for this Sunday are about God’s mercy, the necessity for trusting Faith and our need for God’s forgiveness of sins. The opening prayer addresses the Father as "God of Mercy." In the responsorial psalm we repeat several times, “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His mercy endures forever” (Ps 118). God revealed His mercy first and foremost by sending His only-begotten Son to become our Savior and Lord by his suffering, death and Resurrection. Divine Mercy is given to us also in each celebration of the Sacraments The first reading stresses the corporal acts of mercy practiced by the early Christian community before the Jews and the Romans started their persecutions. Practicing the sharing love, compassion and mercy of God as Jesus taught, this witnessing community derived its strength from community prayer, “the Breaking of the Bread” and the apostles’ teaching, read at the worship service. The second reading: After focusing on the spiritual works of mercy such as: convert the sinner, counsel the doubtful and bear wrongs patiently, John reminds us that everyone who claims to love God has to love the others whom God has begotten, especially those who believe that Jesus is the Christ. In today’s Gospel, as we recall Jesus’ appearance to the Apostles on that first Easter evening, we are vividly reminded of the Sacrament of Reconciliation – the power to forgive sins which Our Lord gave to His Apostles -- "Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained" (Jn 20-23). Today’s Gospel also emphasizes the importance of Faith in the all-pervading presence of the Risen Lord of Mercy. To believe without having seen is every later Christian’s experience. We are invited to receive liberation from doubts and hesitation by surrendering our lives to the Risen Lord of Mercy. Let us ask God our Father to open our hearts so that we may receive His Mercy in the form of His Holy Spirit.
The first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, gives us a summary of the life of the early Christian community before the Jews and the Romans began their persecutions. We get a glimpse of Divine Mercy in action in today’s selection. The early Christians were so filled with the Holy Spirit that "no one claimed any of his possessions as his own." Rather, they "distributed to each according to his need." It was a community which practiced the sharing love, compassion and mercy taught by Jesus. It was a witnessing community of “one heart and one mind,” bearing witness to the continued presence of the Risen Lord in their hearts and lives by holding everything in common and distributing to each one according to his or her needs. In a later portion of the Acts, we learn that the early Christian community derived its strength from community prayer, from “the Breaking of the Bread” and from listening to the teaching of the apostles. Owners of property were few among the early Christians, and the fact that they mixed lovingly at this level with the mass of common folk was astonishing. This passage implies that the Christian community was assuming the nature of a family and beginning to overcome distinctions based on wealth. Also, the authority accorded to the apostles is worthy of note. They were beginning to take on the authority formerly granted to Jewish priests.
The second reading (1 John 5:1-6) While the first reading from Acts, calls our attention to the corporal works of mercy, the second reading, taken from St. John's first letter, focuses on both corporal and spiritual works of mercy. John urges our obedience to the commandments given by God, especially the commandment of love as clarified by Jesus. Loving others as Jesus loves us demands that we treat others with his mercy and compassion. John reminds us that everyone who claims to love God, especially those who believe that Jesus is the Christ, has to love the others whom God has begotten. We are to conquer the world by putting our faith in Jesus and in the Sacraments of Baptism and the Holy Eucharist, two sacraments of Divine Mercy that Jesus instituted. The “water” refers to Jesus' baptism, at the beginning of his ministry. The “blood” refers to Jesus' bloody death at the end of his ministry. Both refer to the Sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist.
Exegesis: The first part of today’s Gospel (verses 19-23), describes how Jesus entrusted to his apostles his mission of preaching the “Good News” of God’s love, mercy, forgiveness and salvation. This portion of the reading teaches us that Jesus uses the Church as the earthly means of continuing His mission. It also teaches us that the Church needs Jesus as its source of power and authority, and that it becomes Christ’s true messenger only when it perfectly loves and obeys Him. The Risen Lord gives the apostles the authority to forgive sins in His Name. He gives the apostles the power of imparting God’s mercy to the sinner, the gift of forgiving sins from God’s treasury of mercy. In the liturgy, the Church has proclaimed the mercy of God for centuries through the Word of God and the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ. The Gospel text also reminds us that the clearest way of expressing our belief in the presence of the Risen Jesus among us is through our own forgiveness of others. We can’t form a lasting Christian community without such forgiveness. Unless we forgive others, our celebration of the Eucharist is just an exercise in liturgical rubrics.
The second part of the Gospel (verses 24-29), presents the fearless apostle St. Thomas in his uncompromising honesty demanding a personal vision of, and physical contact with, the risen Jesus as a condition for his belief. Thomas had not been with the Apostles when Jesus first appeared to them. As a result, he refused to believe. This should serve as a warning to us. It is difficult for us to believe when we do not strengthen ourselves with the fellowship of other believers. When the Lord appeared to Thomas later, He said: “Blessed are those who have not seen but have believed.” Thomas was able to overcome his doubts by seeing the risen Jesus. Modern Christians, who are no longer able to "see" Jesus with their eyes, must believe what they hear. That is why Paul reminds us that "Faith comes from hearing" (Rom 10:17).
The unique profession of faith: Thomas, the “doubting" apostle, makes the great profession of faith, “My Lord and my God.” Here, the most outrageous doubter of the Resurrection of Jesus utters the greatest confession of belief in the Lord Who rose from the dead. This declaration by the “doubting" Thomas in today’s Gospel is very significant for two reasons. 1) It is the foundation of our Christian faith. Our faith is based on the Divinity of Jesus as proved by His miracles, especially by the supreme miracle of His Resurrection from the dead. Thomas’ profession of faith is the strongest evidence we have of the Resurrection of Jesus. 2) Thomas’ faith culminated in his self-surrender to Jesus, his heroic missionary expedition to India in A.D. 52, his fearless preaching, and the powerful testimony given by his martyrdom in A.D. 72.
Life messages: 1) Let us accept God's invitation to celebrate and practice mercy. One way the Church celebrates God’s mercy throughout the year is through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Finding time for Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is another good way to receive Divine Mercy. The Gospel command, "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful," demands that we show mercy to our fellow human beings always and everywhere. We radiate God's mercy to others by our actions, our words, and our prayers. It is mainly through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy that we practice mercy in our daily lives and become eligible for God’s merciful judgment.
2) Let us ask God for the Faith that culminates in self-surrender to God and leads us to serve those we encounter with love. Living Faith enables us to see the Risen Lord in everyone and gives us the willingness to render to each one our loving service (“Faith without good works is dead” James 2:17). It was this Faith in the Lord and obedience to His missionary command that prompted St. Thomas to travel to India to preach the Gospel among the Hindus, to establish seven Christian communities (known later as “St. Thomas Christians”), and eventually to suffer martyrdom. The Fathers of the Church prescribe the following traditional means to grow in the living and dynamic Faith of St. Thomas the Apostle. a) We must come to know Jesus personally and intimately by our daily and meditative reading of the Bible. b) We must strengthen our Faith by the power of the Holy Spirit through our personal and community prayer. c) We must share in the Divine life of Jesus by frequenting the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Holy Eucharist. Blessed Mother Teresa presents it this way: “If we pray, we will believe; if we believe, we will love; if we love, we will serve. Only then we put our love of God into action.”
3) We need to meet the challenge for a transparent Christian life -- "I will not believe unless I see." This "seeing" is what others demand of us. They ask that we reflect Jesus, the Risen Lord, in our lives by our selfless love, unconditional forgiveness and humble service. The integrity of our lives bears a fundamental witness to others who want to see the Risen Lord alive and active, working in us. Christ’s mercy shines forth from us whenever we reach out to the poor, the needy and the marginalized, as Blessed Mother Teresa did. His mercy shines forth as we remain open to those who struggle in Faith, as did the Apostle Thomas in today’s Gospel. We should be able to appreciate the presence of Jesus, crucified and raised, in our own suffering and in our suffering brothers and sisters, thus recognizing the glorified wounds of the Risen Lord in the suffering of others.
4) Like St. Thomas, let us use our skepticism to help us grow in Faith. It is our genuine doubts about the doctrines of our religion that encourage us to study these doctrines more closely and thus to grow in our Faith. This will naturally lead us to a personal encounter with Jesus through our prayer, study of the Word of God, and frequenting of the Sacraments. However, we must never forget the fact that our Faith is not our own doing, but is a gift from God. Hence, we need to augment our Faith every day by prayer so that we may join St. Thomas in his proclamation: “My Lord and my God."
5) Let us have the courage of our Christian convictions to share our faith as St. Thomas did. We are not to keep the gift of faith locked in our hearts, but to share it with our children, our families and our neighbors, always remembering the words of Pope St. John XXIII: “Every believer in this world must become a spark of Christ’s light.”
The story is told about Albert Einstein, the brilliant physicist of Princeton University in the early 20th century. Einstein was traveling from Princeton on a train, and when the conductor came down the aisle to punch the passengers' tickets, Einstein couldn't find his. He looked in his vest pocket, he looked in his pants pocket, he looked in his briefcase, but there was no ticket. The conductor was gracious; "Not to worry, Dr. Einstein, I know who you are, we all know who you are, and I'm sure you bought a ticket." As the conductor moved down the aisle, he looked back and noticed Einstein on his hands and knees, searching under the seat for his ticket. The conductor returned to Einstein; "Dr. Einstein, Dr. Einstein, don't worry. I know who you are. You don't need a ticket, I'm sure you bought one." Einstein arose and said "Young man, I too know who I am; what I don't know is where I am going." And that is the Good News of Easter; that we know where we are going. We have been told by the Savior that his life and death has promised us life eternal. (Steven Molin, Elated....Deflated. Quoted by Fr. Kyala)
St. Faustina and the Image of the Divine Mercy: St. Faustina of Poland is the well known apostle of Divine Mercy. On the 30th of April, 2000, the Second Sunday of Easter, at 10:00 a.m., His Holiness Pope John Paul II celebrated the Eucharist in Saint Peter’s Square and proceeded to the canonization of Blessed Sister Faustina. The new Saint invites us by the witness of her life to keep our faith and hope fixed on God the Father, rich in mercy, who saved us by the precious Blood of His Son. During her short life, the Lord Jesus assigned to St. Faustina three basic tasks: 1. to pray for souls, entrusting them to God's incomprehensible Mercy; 2. to tell the world about God's Generous Mercy; 3. to start a new movement in the Church focusing on God's Mercy. At the canonization of St. Faustina, Pope John Paul II said: “The cross, even after the Resurrection of the Son of God, speaks, and never ceases to speak, of God the Father, Who is absolutely faithful to His eternal love for man. ... Believing in this love means believing in mercy." “The Lord of Divine Mercy,” a drawing of Jesus based on the vision given to St. Faustina, shows Jesus raising his right hand in a gesture of blessing, with his left hand on his heart from which gush forth two rays, one red and one white. The picture contains the message, "Jesus, I trust in You!" (Jezu ufam Tobie). The rays streaming out have symbolic meaning: red for the blood of Jesus, which is the life of souls and white for the Baptismal water which justifies souls. The whole image is symbolic of the mercy, forgiveness and love of God.
(Source: Homilies of Fr. Tony Kadavil)
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