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Divine Mercy Sunday: The Lord's Mercy for Thomas and for Us.

Today, on the Second Sunday of Easter, the Church focuses in a particular way on Our Lord's mercy. Pope Saint John Paul II entitled this Sunday as Divine Mercy Sunday. Devotees of Saint Faustina are undoubtedly familiar with the image of Jesus' Divine Mercy with the phrase beneath, “Jesus, I trust in you!” At first glance, we might wonder how this theme fits with the Scriptures read in the Liturgy of the Word. Is “Doubting Thomas” a sign of the Lord's Divine Mercy? As peculiar as that might seem, I believe it is true!

First of all, what does “Divine Mercy” mean? What does simple “mercy” mean? In Latin, the word is misericordia, which describes a movement of the heart out of pity for another. When we pray together at the beginning of Mass, “Lord have mercy; Christ have mercy,” we are beseeching God, “Have pity on us!” This is different than asking for something owed to us. When we earn something good for ourselves and are rewarded, we don't call it mercy, but justice. Mercy, however, is born out of an excess, something not owed. When someone is moved to pity the situation of another, it is an overflowing of love and not merely justice. We call the mercy of God “divine” in respect to its source and its infinite value. We will shortly revisit how God chooses to bestow His Divine Mercy.

The Gospel of John today describes Jesus miraculously appearing to the Apostles in the locked upper room and the subsequent conversion of Thomas. The Apostle Thomas is a curious character within the Gospels. He gets less coverage than Peter, James, John, or Judas. Of the few stories in which Thomas is named specifically, today's Gospel reading is the most memorable. When the other Apostles say to him, “We have seen the Lord,” he reacts with skepticism. Though a number of his close peers have delivered the truth to him, Thomas refuses to believe them. His skepticism is so ingrained that he insists he will remain doubtful until he can physically touch Jesus' very wounds.

Caravaggio's "The Incredulity of Saint Thomas" (1601-2)

Is Thomas wrong to doubt? Yes and no. On one hand, it was reasonable for him not to understand. He knows that Jesus was crucified; and perhaps was still in shock over the death of his friend. On the other hand, Thomas has seen Jesus perform miracle upon miracle. He knows that the Lord has raised the dead to life. He has even heard Jesus foretell His own death. So when the other Apostles proclaim the resurrection, Thomas should have believed them. Skepticism, which really aims to be satisfied by truth, ironically kept Thomas from accepting the truth.

Here is where Our Lord demonstrates His mercy to Thomas. He does not allow him to persist in doubt and unbelief. When Jesus appears again, He does not rebuke Thomas, but invites him, saying, “Peace be with you... do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Jesus even offers his very wounds to satisfy Thomas' doubt. In response, Thomas not only submits himself to true belief, but he cries out the beautiful proclamation, “My Lord and my God!” Thomas is no longer a skeptic or a doubter, but a believer. Because of his belief in the risen Lord, he is saved. Therefore, the Church does not call him “Doubting Thomas”, but Saint Thomas.

The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles makes a still deeper connection between belief and mercy. It describes the ministry of the Apostles, the early Church, as they cured many sick and afflicted people in the name of the Lord. The writer of Acts makes a connection between those healed and “believers in the Lord.” The mercy of God, manifested by healing, is both a result of faith and a means of inspiring new belief. Thus, as the believers come to the Church and receive healing, non-believers see and begin to themselves believe. In the psalm, we give praise and thanks to God because His mercy and His love last forever.

Today, the Gospel invites us to join the Apostles in the upper room. We can look at ourselves and analyze our own belief in God. In our daily lives, are we believers in God's mercy? I hope so! Although, I am sure most of us have had experiences of personal doubts and questions from time to time. This should not be a cause for despair in itself. The Church does not ask us to give up our rational sense or cease to ask reasonable questions. Our belief in God is not opposed to reason; on the contrary, reason should always guide us to a deeper understanding of God.

What gives us hope is knowing that God wants us to believe! In His mercy, He gives us the Church with signs and wonders, sacraments and saints, to inspire our faith. For example, the very image of Divine Mercy came to the Church by a series of miraculous signs. The story of Saint Faustina, a poor and simple girl, demonstrates the way in which God reveals Himself even through the lowly. I would invite everyone to learn about her as a model of simple faith and belief.

Finally, the quickest way to grow in faith is to ask Our Lord to grant it to us. As we enter into the mystery of the Holy Eucharist at Mass, we may pray for an increase in faith. Our Lord wishes to give it to us. In His Divine Mercy, He wants to draw us to Himself, to heal us of our sins, and to fulfill us in every way. Perhaps we can make a simple prayer out of the words of Saint Thomas and Saint Faustina:

“Jesus, my Lord and my God, I trust in you!”


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