SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER – END OF THE EASTER OCTAVE (DIVINE MERCY SUNDAY) 2021
Readings:Acts 4:32-35Psalms 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-251 John 5:1-6John 20:19-31
In the days before St. Pope John Paul II’s personal piety changed the liturgical focus of today’s “end of the Octave of Easter Sunday,” it was simply known as the Second Sunday of Easter. The ascription of “Divine Mercy Sunday,” a description mandated by John Paul II, and easily descriptive of almost any Sunday, has had the unfortunate effect of shifting our focus on this day to St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, a Polish Sister of Our Lady of Mercy order, whose mystical visions of Jesus inspired the Divine Mercy devotion. While there is nothing inherently wrong with those devotions, their origin was never meant to distract us from the continuous celebration of the Lord’s resurrection which began eight days ago. The pictures envisioned by St. Faustina of the Lord of Mercy, brought into churches across the country on this day, can divert our attention from actually focusing on the Resurrected Lord, who is, most certainly, the Lord of Mercy.
Liturgically these eight days of Easter celebration were meant to be individual parts of a whole. As a young priest you were encouraged to use the optional addition to the first Preface of Easter, saying “on this day” for all eight days, not just on Easter Sunday. It is through this eight day celebration that we come to view the Resurrection as the supreme revelation of divine mercy. During the week, gospels from all four evangelists recount appearances of Jesus to his disciples, to Mary Magdalen and the “other” women, and to two wonderfully blessed, and yet dejected, disciples on their way to Emmaus. All the while, the Acts of the Apostles, speaking of the nascent Church, gives us a view of the transformation of Pentecost, bringing the apostles out of locked and closed doors, and now preaching the name of Jesus, a name “above every other name,” and enabling them to cure a cripple, to the great dismay of the authorities. Indeed, we are given a glimpse of the tension that will soon increase and lead to the deaths of all but one of the apostles.
The joy and wonder that overwhelms those with a privileged encounter of the risen Jesus is what formed the Church, of which we continue to be a part. The Resurrection is what turned the depressing day of Christ’s crucifixion into a symbol of a faithful God, who fulfills His promises, even the unthinkable raising of His Son from the dead.
Today’s gospel from John presents us with the marvelous figure of the apostle Thomas, who sadly had something else to do on a day that Jesus appeared to the other disciples (described in Thursday’s daily gospel). That misfortune has saddled Thomas with an undeserved prefix of “doubting.” The first appearance of Jesus was not able to get the apostles out from behind closed and locked doors, which might cause us to be more sympathetic towards Thomas’s skeptical approach to what the other apostles had shared with him. With a mixture of honesty and bravado, Thomas declares he will not believe unless he can put his fingers in the nail marks and his hand in Jesus’ side. As fate would have it, who comes through the locked doors once again but Jesus. You can almost hear Thomas utter “oops,” for just seeing Jesus was enough for him to utter the profoundly simple confession of faith: “My Lord and my God!”
This special octave of Easter, and the full season of Easter to follow, gives us timely opportunity to strengthen our faith. It is a crucified Lord, ever living and ever loving, who has called us to follow Him, just as he called the disciples and the women of this week’s gospels. Like Thomas we see His wounds, in a sometimes darkened world – wounds of racism, hatred, violence, abuse, illness, injustice – and those wounds harm the Body of Christ that we long to be a part of. May our privileged moments with Jesus, especially at His Eucharist, be moments that strengthen our faith and increase our hope that His promises to us will be fulfilled. May those moments cause us to fall on our knees, and proclaim with ‘believing’ Thomas – “My Lord and my God!”