April 19, 2020
The Second Sunday of Easter is Divine Mercy Sunday, a feast day established by Pope John Paul II on May 5, 2000. It is appropriate that one consider the earth’s profound need for mercy these days of the coronavirus, where there is no country or culture that has not been affected and our brothers and sisters of color more so than others.
When I ponder the story of Thomas, often nicknamed “doubting Thomas,” it is clear that Jesus does not reject Thomas, but welcomes Thomas to embrace his wounds, so that he might believe that Jesus has truly risen. Twice before Thomas comes into the room where the other ten disciples are gathered, Jesus clearly says, “Peace be with you” (John 20:19, 21). What a gift of mercy to those, who had denied him and run away during the crucifixion and had not believed the women, who told them that Jesus had been raised from the dead. Then Jesus adds another gift of mercy: He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (20:22). Only after this does Thomas enter the room and the other ten tell him that they had seen the Lord, which testimony Thomas does not believe. He needs to “see” for himself.
A week later, Thomas and the ten are together, when Jesus comes and stands in their midst. There is the familiar greeting, “Peace be with you.” Then Jesus turns to Thomas and invites him to put his finger in the nail prints and his hand into Jesus’ side. Jesus takes Thomas at his word spoken the week before: “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” (20:25). The evangelist does not tell us if Thomas actually put his finger in the nailmarks or his hand into Jesus’ side. Jesus has heard Thomas at a very deep level and with exquisite gentleness is willing to offer his wounds as evidence of his risen nature. It is that kind of listening that is transformative, for Thomas recognizes the Lord with the proclamation, “My Lord and my God!” (20:28). Thomas has been invited to touch the wounds (vulneres) of Jesus, in a sense Jesus’ own vulnerability as evidence of his love for him and all of us. Thomas’ vulnerability consists in an honest admission of his unbelief until he can touch those wounds. The merciful act on Jesus’ part allows for a profound shift such that Thomas is able to believe. It must have been difficult for Thomas to move from his last sight of Jesus as a crucified man hanging on a cross to a Risen Lord standing in his presence.
How difficult for us in this time of unprecedented suffering to believe that Christ is in our midst, asking us to touch the very wounds we hardly imagine can be a source of healing and to experience “peace that the world cannot give” (John 14:27) that Jesus has promised with the coming of the Holy Spirit. As we wait in whatever upper room, that is, sheltered in place in our apartments, houses and tents, let us trust that Jesus is standing in our midst, offering us peace in these days. As we watch the news and learn of the many, who are mourning their loved ones and cannot hold them or kiss them good-bye in their last moments, let us believe Jesus is beside each bedside, holding each person with tenderness and mercy, with arms ready to take them home and willing to send consolation to their families.
And when my unbelief has been turned into believing again by the grace of God, may I echo the psalmist: “Give thanks to God; the Lord is good. God’s mercy endures forever. Let the house of Israel say: God’s mercy endures forever. Let the house of Aaron say, God’s mercy endure forever. Let those who fear the Lord say, God’s mercy endures forever.” (Ps 118:1-4). The word for mercy in Hebrew is hesed, which is a word rich in meanings. Hesed is deeply connected to faith, in the sense that God is always solid, steadfast, loyal, and dependable. A person can exhibit this God-like quality of hesed by doing an act of generous kindness, by not expecting anything in return. Hesed also carries the sense of acting justly, by doing what is the right thing to do in a situation or for another. Most frequently hesed is translated as love, the kind that wills the best, desires the best and acts toward the greatest good of another.
So, on this Divine Mercy Sunday, we could add to the psalmist’s prayer:
Let the house of St. Gertrude’s say, God’s mercy endures forever.
Let the Diocese of Boise say, God’s mercy endures forever.
Let the Senate and House of Congress say, God’s mercy endures forever.
Let [insert your own house/family/relationship] say, God’s mercy endures forever.
Let the peoples of the whole earth say, God’s mercy endures forever.
Blessings, Sr. Mary Forman, OSB, Prioress