Most of us are aware that Our Lady has appeared many times over the past 200 years in places such as Lourdes and Fatima. What we may not be aware of is that, over that same period of time, Jesus has also appeared.
One of his recent appearances took place less than one hundred years ago in Poland to a young woman named Faustina Kowalska. Between 1931 and 1938, Jesus revealed to her that she was chosen to spread the message of His Divine Mercy. He wanted her to tell the whole world how great His love was for mankind and that if we would only turn to Him we would experience forgiveness and limitless blessings. At the urging of her superiors and spiritual director, Sister Faustina kept a diary of her conversations with our Lord. They are available in a book entitled, Divine Mercy in My Soul.
In one appearance, Jesus asked that the Sunday after Easter be celebrated as “Divine Mercy Sunday.” It would be a blessed day when sinners would find relief from their transgressions and grace to live holy lives. Jesus describes this feast to Sister Faustina in these words recorded in her diary: “On the day of my feast, the feast of mercy, you will go through the world and bring fainting souls to the spring of my mercy. I shall heal and strengthen them.”
And so, on April 30, 2000, Saint John Paul II honored our Lord’s request by declaring that the first Sunday after Easter be celebrated by the whole Church as Divine Mercy Sunday. Today, we gather to honor Jesus’ request, to reflect on His fathomless love and to abandon ourselves to His Divine Mercy.
Today’s gospel - the story of Doubting Thomas - is especially fitting for this celebration.
If anyone was in need of mercy, it was Thomas. He was not present when the Risen Jesus revealed Himself to the other ten apostles. He was not able to see for himself and so he refused to believe.
The gospels do not tell us where Thomas was or what he was doing on that first Easter Sunday.
However, he was most likely walking the streets of Jerusalem. He would have heard people talking about Jesus’ crucifixion which had happened only a few days earlier. Some would have been saying how unjust it was that He was treated so cruelly. Others would be laughing at Him and His followers for believing in such nonsense. Some people may have recognized Thomas as a follower of Jesus and confronted him. Wherever he was and whatever he was doing, the trauma of Jesus’ death and the opinions of the people in the city were working on his mind and heart. His spirit was crushed. He did not want to believe anymore.
Does this not also describe the situation our modern society finds itself in? We live in a time when people’s spirits are crushed. We experience much evil, deception and cruelty in the world. Everywhere we turn we hear different opinions. We don’t know who to believe and begin to wonder what is true. We doubt, and like Thomas, we stray from the source of all truth - Jesus and His Apostles. The longer we stay away, the deeper the roots of doubt sink within us. Eventually, we begin to lose hope.
That was the situation Thomas found himself in. He just could not bring himself to believe anymore. His heart was too broken.
How does Jesus react? Does He abandon Thomas to his fear and doubt? No. In His mercy, He appears to Thomas to relieve him of his burden of doubt, to heal his broken heart and to restore his faith.
It is here at the Sunday Mass that we experience the Risen Jesus. Each of us is aware of a Thomas in our life who has stopped coming to Mass. They are kept away by doubt, fear and sin. We should not judge them but should feel sorry for them. They may seem to be doing fine, but inside their soul is starving and their heart is broken. There is nothing the world can offer that will fully satisfy them. Only Jesus can provide them with what they are ultimately looking for.
I often hear people say, “If I walked into church, the ceiling would cave in.” There is nothing sadder that a person can say. It shows a total lack of trust in Jesus and His mercy. Jesus came to save sinners. He died on the cross so that all of us could find forgiveness. There is no sin so great that God cannot forgive it. And no one is so sinful that they cannot turn to Jesus and through His grace become a great saint. Jesus said as much to us through Sister Faustina when He said: “The greater the sinner, the more right he has to my mercy.”
Our Heavenly Father, more than anything else, wants to forgive and save sinners. That means each of us here and those who have failed to join us. What is holding us back from abandoning ourselves wholeheartedly to Him? Whatever it is - whether it is doubt, fear or sin - His mercy is infinitely greater than it. He can overcome it all in us and in our loved ones who are not here to experience it for themselves. We need only to trust Him, send out the invitation to others to come and see for themselves, and let God take care of the rest.