Even at the tender age of 8 years old, there was nothing Juan Jose Martinez hated more than Christians in general and the Catholic Church in particular.
His hatred was so great that he would stand out on the balcony of his house on Sunday mornings, insulting people who were on their way to Mass and even spitting on them.
He would tell them that all the Church was doing was weighing them down with rules and taking their money. To him, the Church was nothing more than an outdated institution which only existed to take advantage of the poor and ignorant.
At school, he would try to talk his classmates out of going to religion classes, making fun of them for what he saw as silly superstitions.
Everything changed, however, in January 1995 when some of his classmates invited him to attend a charismatic prayer group. At first, he resisted the invitation, but then he decided to go so that he could make fun of his friends and the other people attending the service.
Since he had never been in a church before, it all seemed very strange to him. What first struck him, however, was the tabernacle. As he told Catholic News Service: “...they were all looking at the golden box at the back of the church. I didn’t know what it was, but I thought it was where the parish priest kept the money.”
If you are familiar with the charismatic style of prayer, you know that, at that prayer service, there were people praising God as loudly as they could and other people speaking in tongues. Juan Jose thought they were crazy and could not help but make fun of them.
At the same time, something inside made him want to return the next week.
As time went on, he began to see the Church in a different light. He appreciated what faith in God and a loving community meant to the people who attended that prayer service. Also, he grew to respect and admire the priest who spoke movingly about the Bible and the love of God.
Soon, he was beginning to not only attend the prayer service but to go to Sunday Mass. Little by little, the love of God was reaching his heart. As he explains it, “My eyes were being opened and I saw that God was not a legend or a story for the weak, but that he existed and that he was supporting and guiding me. I experienced that he loved me so much that he wanted me for himself and was calling me.”
Finally, he was at the point at which he wanted to be confirmed. At that service, he committed his life totally to the Lord saying, “I am yours for whatever you need.”
From that point on, Juan Jose began experiencing a call to the priesthood. His father was furious when he found out and went so far as to beat him telling him that he would be a priest only over his dead body. The father also said he would report the parish priest to the authorities for corrupting a minor.
It took some time, but his father eventually accepted his son’s vocation to the priesthood and he was ordained in 2006.
The story of Fr Juan Jose Martinez’s journey from atheism to the priesthood is a dramatic example of God’s mercy. No matter how far gone people may seem, God never stops trying to reach them and bring them home.
The story of Thomas in today’s gospel is also a story of mercy. Though Thomas refused to believe, Jesus nonetheless appeared to him. The loving mercy of Jesus is so great that he would not allow doubt to overcome Thomas but reached out to him so that he could believe that the Lord was truly risen. And, in response, Thomas utters the most resounding and profound acts of faith in all the gospels: “My Lord and my God.”
Just so, there is no one here today and no one outside of these walls who has sinned so greatly that God cannot reach him or her. There is no one whose heart is so hard that God cannot penetrate it. There is no one whose soul is so cold that God cannot warm it. God never gives up on anyone but is constantly hounding us until we turn to Him and ask for forgiveness. That tireless pursuit of the sinner and willingness to forgive any offense is the meaning of God’s Divine Mercy.
However, there is more to the story of mercy than accepting God’s offer of forgiveness. Once we turn back to our Heavenly Father, we must also practice mercy. Just as we have been forgiven, we must forgive others. Just as God has stooped down to serve us, we must serve others. Just as God has comforted us in our sorrow, we must turn and comfort our brothers and sisters.
This is what Fr Juan Jose Martinez did. He received mercy and then, in turn, became a priest so that he could be a minister of God’s mercy to others. It is also what Saint Thomas did. Once Jesus revealed Himself to him, he joined the other apostles in spreading the good news throughout the world.
Just so, we must spread the message of God’s love and mercy to everyone we meet. Like the classmates who invited young Juan Jose to that prayer meeting that changed his life, we must invite others to experience for themselves the loving mercy of God which we have encountered in Jesus Christ. If we do so with confidence and faith, then the good news of God’s Divine Mercy will spread throughout the world. And this world which is marked by so much doubt, injustice and violence can finally know peace through the mercy of our Heavenly Father.
(story taken from Blanca Ruiz in an article published by the Catholic News Agency, March 6,2017)