John 20:19-31
So Much to Celebrate
by Rev. Jack Peterson YA
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"

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John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, "Peace be with you."  When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.  The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.  (Jesus) said to them again.  "Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, so I send you."  And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the holy Spirit.  Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained."

Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.  So the other disciples said to him, "We have seen the Lord."  But he said to them, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe." 

Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them.  Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and he said, "Peace be with you."  Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe."  Thomas answered and said to him, "My Lord and my God!"  Jesus said to him, "Have you come to believe because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed."

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of (his) disciples that are not written in this book.  But these are written that you may (come to) believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.

This Sunday is a most special day for the Catholic Church. Principally, we celebrate the second Sunday of Easter, also designated as Divine Mercy Sunday. On this day, we conclude the octave of Easter in which for eight days the church extends her joyful and grateful celebration of Easter Sunday. The significance of the empty tomb on the third day following His horrendous death on a tree cannot be captured in one day; so the church gives us eight days to ponder, celebrate and enter into the mystery of Easter morning. Additionally, today we join with the church in Rome as two of her beloved sons, Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII, officially are declared saints by Pope Francis.

If you have ever questioned or doubted your faith in Jesus’ resurrection, today is your day. Our Gospel reading from St. John recounts Thomas the Apostle’s personal doubt about the Resurrection, which ironically becomes a rich blessing for us. Thomas’ doubt, Jesus’ patient and earthy response (“put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side”), and Thomas’ subsequent act of faith serve to strengthen our belief in the reality and power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Thomas’ doubt reminds us that the disciples were human and weak, like all of us, and that faith in Jesus is a gift of the Holy Spirit that does not come easily. It is a gift that must be embraced with deep gratitude and a leap of trust in God the Father’s amazing love.

Jesus grasps the fact that faith in Him does not come easily to His disciples in any age and praises us when we make this leap of trust: “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

Pope John Paul II designated this Sunday as Divine Mercy Sunday in 2001 in part as a response to Jesus’ appearances to St. Faustina Kowalska. Today is a most fitting day for this celebration because the church proclaims the Gospel in which Jesus institutes the sacrament of penance and confers on the apostles, the first bishops of the early church, the power to forgive sins in His name: “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

Jesus appeared to St. Faustina, a humble Polish nun, during the 1930s in a series of private revelations. She was inspired by Christ to encourage the universal church to proclaim ever more loudly and boldly the message of God’s mercy, which flows from His wounded side. Every human being is invited by the Father to find comfort and seek refuge in the heart of Christ, pierced for our offenses.

Our Lord’s message to St. Faustina is enormously encouraging. She reminds the world that the greater the sinner, the greater the right he has to Christ’s mercy. Souls that appeal to Christ and His mercy bring delight to the Lord. To such souls, Christ grants even more graces than they ask.

This humble, unpretentious nun issued a challenge to the world: Trust in Jesus who opened His heart as a living fountain of mercy. Every human being should draw life from His heart and approach the sea of mercy with loving trust and confidence. Our Lord encouraged three devotions to help spread the good news about His gracious mercy: the well-known image of Divine Mercy (painted by the saint herself), the feast of Divine Mercy and the chaplet of Divine Mercy.

Finally, let us turn to our two new saints. The church will continue to reap the benefits of the holiness and pastoral zeal of these two amazing popes for many, many years. Pope John XXIII had a true shepherd’s heart for the needs and concerns of the flock. In addition, he had the courage to call the universal church to engage in the Second Vatican Council. This council helped the church look long and hard at the need to find new and effective ways to understand, celebrate and apply our faith to the modern era.

Admittedly, it is hard to encapsulate the long papacy of Pope John Paul II. He brought the papacy to the whole world with his extensive travels. He gave young people a sense that they are very important to the Lord by focusing a healthy portion of his ministry on them and establishing World Youth Day. He wrote and preached comprehensively on how to properly apply the spirit and teachings of the Second Vatican Council to the present day. This commitment included the promulgation of a universal catechism. He shared with us a deep love for Mary and added the luminous mysteries to the rosary. He helped the world prepare for and enter prayerfully into the third Christian millennium. Pope John Paul II initiated the church’s growing focus on the new evangelization.

This Sunday is a day to celebrate with abandon God’s many blessings upon the church.

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