SUNDAY WITHIN THE OCTAVE OF EASTER – DIVINE MERCY SUNDAY (2023)
Psalms 118:2-4, 13-5, 22-24
1 Peter 1:3-9
If we wish to retain the intention of Holy Mother Church, we need to focus more this Sunday on the closing of this Octave of Easter. Devoid of the pious accoutrements that accompany calling this Sunday “Divine Mercy Sunday,” we can understand the enormity of what we celebrate in this eight day celebration. It is not that there is anything bad at any time to focus on and celebrate God’s mercy, for as Christians we wallow in and are aware of God’s mercy each and every day. Sadly St. John Paul II received poor liturgical advice when he compromised this octave day of Easter with the label of Divine Mercy Sunday. It has created a tension that did not need to exist, for many are confused into thinking that this is a day to honor St. Maria Faustina Kowalska who promoted the Divine Mercy Novena, and the admirable devotion to God’s endless mercy. St. Faustina is the first saint canonized in the new millennium by St. Pope John Paul II, who had a strong devotion to St. Faustina. It was on the day of her canonization that October 5, the day of her death, was designated as her appropriate feast day. Divine Mercy Sunday could have been celebrated on any Sunday, and it should not have interfered with our unique eight day celebration of the Lord’s resurrection. I expect St. Faustina might have agreed.
With that said, this Sunday should also not be called doubting Thomas Sunday, for while he is a primary figure in today’s gospel, today’s gospel is all about the confirmation of Jesus’ resurrected state, and the Johanine story illustrates what mercy is all about. (It’s worth noting that nowhere does John’s gospel use the word mercy – yet another reason why Divine Mercy Sunday should have been highlighted on another Sunday, perhaps when the gospel of Luke is read who uses the word ‘mercy’ some twenty times).
Imagine if we had the misfortune of being nicknamed after one mistake! Many of us would be going around with handles that really did not tell the whole story – ‘Candy Stealing’ Susan, ‘Face Punching’ Tom, ‘Pet Torturing’ Peter. Thomas was in a room full of people who had a lot to answer for, and besides, resurrection from the dead was preposterous. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in His hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” A bit extreme (if not macabre) but Thomas just wanted to be sure that the others were not ‘wishing’ what they wanted into existence.
John’s gospel tells us that Jesus appeared to most of the disciples on the night of the resurrection. They were all locked in a room “for fear of the Jews.” Jesus penetrated not just the locked door, but also the locked hearts and souls that were convinced this just couldn’t be happening. They had much to be ashamed of – one of their number betrayed Jesus, another denied even knowing Jesus, and all of them ran away to a secure place where their personal safety was of the utmost importance. They need not have worried. The risen Savior wishes them all peace, and imparts on them the Holy Spirit. There is not recitation of anyone’s short-comings, there is no confrontation over things that might have disappointed Jesus.
Good news for Thomas, a week later Jesus once again comes to them as if He wanted to give Thomas the chance he desired. Using Thomas’ exact words, Jesus provides an opportunity to catch up with the other disciples, with no dissertation about Thomas’ lack of faith. Thomas has no need to do what he suggested he must do, but now he believes and utters the most profound five words in the Scriptures: “My Lord and my God.”
The lesson learned by Thomas is a lesson we have learned long ago, as the letter of Peter reminds us: “Although you have not seen Him you love Him; even though you do not see Him now yet believe in Him, you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, as you attain the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” What Jesus made possible through His resurrection we spend a lifetime working towards. When our time comes to meet the Lord, He will not greet us with a recitation of all that we have done wrong in our lives. He will be pleased that we have made it across the threshold of eternity, and we can proclaim with our psalm response today: “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, His love is everlasting!,” and “His mercy endures forever.”