Some meandering thoughts on the day.
Today is several days rolled up into one. It’s the Second Sunday of Easter, with its readings of “doubting” Thomas. Blessed Pope John Paul II proclaimed the Sunday after Easter as the Sunday of the Divine Mercy (Dominica II Paschæ seu de divina misericordia) in accord with the visions of the Divine Mercy received by Saint Faustina. Today is also the day when Pope Benedict XVI beatified Blessed Pope John Paul II.
Today’s Gospel reading has always had a strong attraction to me. When I was younger, I often put myself in Thomas’ place in the story, and I prayed for the faith that would require no proof. It was only as I grew older that I realized that the proof was all around for those with eyes to see.
Here’s the excerpt from the full reading that always gets me:
Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve,
was not with them when Jesus came.
So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.”
But he said to them,
“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.”
Now a week later his disciples were again inside
and Thomas was with them.
Jesus came, although the doors were locked,
and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.”
Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands,
and bring your hand and put it into my side,
and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”
Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”
(The Gospel According to Saint John, Chapter 20 verses 24-29)
I spent much of my life as Thomas. The passage resonates with many folks, I think. It’s so powerful that we get the same Gospel reading every year on this Sunday, regardless of the lectionary cycle. It is an integral part of the Resurrection narrative.
It is even included in one of my favourite Resurrection hymns, written by the Franciscan Jean Tisserand in about 1490, “O Filii et Filiæ” (O Sons and Daughters).
I’ve looked in vain for a good English version online. This is the Latin (with English subtitles) – but it’s only the first half of the song, so we don’t get to hear the verses about Thomas.
Here is the English of the next five verses:
When Thomas first the tidings heard,
How they had seen the risen Lord,
He doubted the disciples’ word.
“My pierced hands, O Thomas, see;
My hands, my feet, I show to thee;
Not faithless, but believing be.”
No longer Thomas then denied,
He saw the feet, the hands, the side;
“Thou art my Lord and God,” he cried.
How blest are they who have not seen,
And yet whose faith has constant been,
For they eternal life shall win.
On this most holy day of days,
To God your hearts and voices raise,
In laud, and jubilee, and praise.
Enough about my namesake!
In one sense, it’s a devotion focused on entrusting oneself to the mercy of God. It stems from Saint Faustina’s visions of Christ, and from the words of Christ according to Saint Matthew (Matt. 7:7) “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”
If you widen the view just a little, however, you can see that it is in fact the foundational idea of Christianity: God Himself who in His great mercy is born into the world, who in His great mercy suffers and dies for us, who in His great mercy pursues us even when we don’t wish to be pursued.
We are sinners and turn away from God, but God in His great mercy pours his love and His grace upon us anyway. Oh, the choice to be saved is ours – for without free will, reciprocity is meaningless, without reciprocity, love is meaningless. But… but! We are saved only through God’s superabundant grace.
The sacrifice on the Cross is God’s great gift of mercy, but just in case you don’t get it, Thomas, Christ in His mercy will even let you poke his wounds; He will give you proofs if you look for them.
The Divine Mercy is everything.
And today was the rite of beatification of the Pope who gave us the Feast of Divine Mercy. His coffin was exhumed that the faithful might venerate the relics of the Blessed who was Pope, who was a priest, who was the man Karol Wojtyła.
The last time I saw that coffin, I was in Rome.
So, let us together pray today’s collect (the new, corrected translation, please) in the spirit of the Divine Mercy:
God of everlasting mercy,
who in the very recurrence of the paschal feast
kindle the faith of the people you have made your own,
increase, we pray, the grace you have bestowed,
that all may grasp and rightly understand
in what font they have been washed,
by whose Spirit they have been reborn,
by whose Blood they have been redeemed.
Blessed Pope John Paul II, pray for us.