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Scripture Reflections

Second Sunday of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday – April 7

Acts 4:32-35
1 John 5:1-6
John 20:19-31

This homily is offered
courtesy of a priest of the Diocese of Ogdensburg

Have you ever been called a “doubting Thomas?” Being called a doubting Thomas is not a compliment. We use that expression when a person has a hard time accepting the obvious. The doubting Thomas is hardheaded and won’t believe when everyone else believes.

Sometimes doubt is necessary. For example, most of us probably would not believe in flying saucers unless we saw one land in our front lawns. Even then, we would probably want to make sure that our Kool-Aid had not been spiked.

Jesus appears to his disciples when Thomas was absent. His appearance strengthens their faith. But Jesus does much more than that. He gives them peace, a very fragile commodity in life. Jesus shows his hands and feet, in other words, the wounds that he had upon his death – a proof that he rose from the dead.

Then, he does something very strange. He breathes on them. We don’t usually breathe on someone. It’s not considered polite. Breathing on someone could be offensive, especially if the aroma is that of alcohol. In fact, we spend lots of money on mouthwashes, gum, handheld sprays, and flavored sheets of paper to make sure that our breath is not offensive.

But the breath of Jesus is very special. Just as an EMT’s breath can bring out life in a person about to die, so, too, this special breath of Jesus gives life, gives peace because this breath forgives sins. Sin hurts life; sin restricts life; sin is the opposite of life. So, Jesus breathes this Holy Spirit on the apostles and gives them the power and authority to forgive sins.

Effectively, Jesus did two things: he proved his resurrection from the dead and bestowed the fullness of his mercy on his Church to be passed on by his disciples. We have here two truths: the truth of the Resurrection and the truth of God’s mercy.

All of this happens to the apostles, but Thomas was not with them. But why wouldn’t Thomas accept the testimony of his friends, the other apostles? After all, in our own learning we accept the testimony of others. We accept the word of others who explain the sciences to us. We often believe gossip even if it is not always true.

But Thomas can’t believe. Who knows why? In fact, he says he won’t believe until he places his hand in the wounds, the same wounds that Jesus showed to the other disciples.

What is the point of all this? We could replace Thomas in the story. We often have doubts; we question our faith; we want more proof; we want to be sure. Something shakes our faith, and we wonder where God is. Sometimes we wonder if God can truly be merciful towards us with our many sins.

Doubt and lack of faith are not the same. Honest doubt leads to honest questions. Honest questions lead to answers. This kind of doubt is healthy.

When doubt turns to stubbornness and stubbornness into a tunnel-vision lifestyle, we have manufactured a reason not to believe and a reason to reject God’s mercy.

Yes, Thomas seemed stubborn, but Jesus, in his mercy, returns and visits Thomas and invites him to see and touch. He invites Thomas to get over his doubt, and his doubt turns into faith: “My Lord and my God.”

Jesus ends his encounter with Thomas by praising those who will believe without seeing. In other words, Jesus praises us because we believe without seeing.

Remember that great action of Jesus. He breathed on them giving them the Holy Spirit, breathing out his mercy on the Church through the forgiveness of sins that we celebrate in the sacrament of reconciliation.

This is Divine Mercy Sunday. Perhaps the words of this hymn can capture for us what the apostles experienced.

O breathe on me, O breath of God,
fill me with life anew that I may love
the things You love, and do what you would do.

O breathe on me, O breath of God,
until my heart is pure;
until my will is one with Yours,
to do and to endure.

O breathe on me, O breath of God

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