In today’s holy Gospel we see Jesus in the exactly same way sister Faustina saw and described him in her famous vision. He is in the middle of the community of disciples who believe in him. He came to give them his paschal peace! Peace of Heart and mind and assurance that he is alive. Twice in our Gospel today Jesus reminds us that the place to meet him is a gathering of his disciples on the first day of the week Sunday. He comes to us and meets us in a special way on Sunday where we are gathered in the community of believers. He comes and meets us, allows us to know him, see him and touch him every time we celebrate his word and brake the bread. Every time we celebrate the Eucharist we recognize Jesus presence among us.
From today’s Gospel we also learn that it is not good to miss the Sunday mass. Thomas one of the twelve was not with them when Jesus came. There is only one other place in the whole New Testament In the letter to the Hebrews when St. Paul writes don’t miss Christian Sunday gatherings. For the first Christians this obligation was so obvious that the reminder is unnecessary. Eucharist is a source of life, to meet Resurrected Christ in person and be able to hear him and receive him is something we should not question.
Thomas the apostle was not there when Jesus came, the Gospel calls him “Didymus” “a Twin” but we can’t find any record of his twin brother in the Gospels. Some theologians will say that the Gospel is talking here about you and I as a Twin brother of Thomas. He is a brother to those who doubt, who have questions, who need proofs.
Jesus in today’s Gospel is ready and willing to answer questions and meet our expectations. The place to meet Jesus is the Eucharist, the community of believers. Here we can meet him, see him and experience his presence.
Today is Divine Mercy Sunday, the 8th day of the Feast of Easter in which St. Pope John Paul II said that we receive the Easter Gift. And what is this very special Easter Gift? It is the special gift of the total forgiveness of all sins and punishment that the Catholic Church offers in the form of a plenary indulgence today. Why today? What sets this day apart from any other day? Today is the Octave Day of Easter; the last day of the world’s greatest feast. And shouldn’t the world’s greatest feast offer the world’s greatest gift; the total forgiveness of all sins and punishment, or in other words, “a straight ticket to Heaven” if we should die today in this perfect state of sanctifying grace?
And what is Divine Mercy? The word “Divine” means “given by God” or “like God”. The word “Mercy” means “the refraining from harming or punishing offenders”. So simply put, Divine Mercy is “God refraining from harming or punishing offenders”. How did this feast come to be established in the Catholic Church? In the Jubilee Year 2000, St. Pope John Paul II established this new feast indicating that he had fulfilled the will of Christ. He must have said this because he believed that our Church needed to re-emphasize the tremendous gift of Divine Mercy that the Lord wants to pour out on each and every one of us.
In the Old Testament, God told Moses to celebrate their most important feast called the Day of Atonement, once a year, and to prepare for that feast, they were to afflict themselves and offer up animal blood sacrifices. On the last day, God would forgive their sins. It was for them, an annual preparation for the Judgment. The Jews of today still celebrate this feast, which they call “Yom Kippur”. This is the Jews’ biggest feast and it lasts for a full ten days. In fact, most of the important feasts.
So this Feast of Divine Mercy (Divine Mercy Sunday) is like our modern day fulfillment of the “Day of Atonement”. An annual preparation for the Judgment, an annual feast to get perfectly right with God. Are we now starting to understand how important this feast is for us, today?
Ok, let’s take it a little further. What is the last instruction that Jesus gave His Church before He died and what is the first instruction He gave His Church after He came to life again?
The very last instruction was the Sacrament of Holy Communion, the Eucharist, at the Last Supper. The very first instruction, after His Resurrection from the dead, was the institution of the Sacrament of Confession. These two sacraments comprise the Fount of Divine Mercy. The Two sacraments needed to receive the total forgiveness of sins and punishment on this feast day. Recall what Jesus said to His Apostles in the Gospel today: “Receive the Holy Spirit, whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained”. This happened on the very night of the Resurrection when the Apostles were hiding from fear of the Jews. Also, recall that St. Thomas wasn’t there on that Sunday, but was actually there on the following Sunday. Could this be God’s Providence to set up this feast associated with trust in Jesus?
Now let’s look at the Divine Mercy Image. Why would Jesus want this image to be blessed and venerated on this day? Aren’t the Sacraments of Holy Communion and Confession displayed in this image? By Jesus’ own words, the rays indicate the Blood and Water that gushed from His heart when it was pierced on the Cross. The Catholic Church teaches that the Blood and Water that gushed out from Jesus on the Cross are the Sacraments of the Church. Jesus said that the Water is what makes souls righteous and the Blood is the life of souls. So we can see that the Water washes away our sins, just like in Baptism or Confession and that the Blood gives us life, just like in Holy Communion.
Remember when Jesus said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise Him on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood remains in Me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent Me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on Me will have life because of Me.”
In the Divine Mercy image, Jesus is moving towards us and asking us to trust in Him. He is asking us not to be afraid to approach Him and to ask Him for His mercy in the Sacrament of Confession. He is calling us to wash away our sins and to receive Holy Communion without sin, because He wants to give us the absolute greatest gift possible today.
Jesus told Saint Faustina that every time we approach the Confessional, that He Himself is waiting there for us. That He is only hidden by the priest and that the priest is, for Him, only a screen. So, if you haven’t had a chance to make your yearly Confession in preparation for your Easter Communion, don’t miss out on this incredible opportunity to have all of your sins and punishment forgiven. The Catholic Church allows about 20 days for Confession, before or after Divine Mercy Sunday, to gain the special plenary indulgence that is being offered today. If you think that you are in the state of serious mortal sin, the Church teaches that you must go to Confession before receiving Holy Communion. If you have gone to Confession but have fallen back into venial sin, you should make a perfect Act of Contrition before receiving Holy Communion. Don’t miss out on this excellent opportunity to be prepared for the Second Coming of Christ. We never know when He will call on us. We always have to be ready to stand before Him.
It is with Saint Thomas that you and I today approach the throne of God’s mercy. There are two major sins in every age. They are the sins of presumption and of despair. The person in despair says,” I am so bad that I don’t think even God could possibly forgive me for my sins.” Contrast that to the person who sins by presumption and says, “I am so good that I cannot believe that God would not want me to be with him in heaven!”
In many ways, on the surface, we might say that we live in an age of presumption in which people very quickly presume their own goodness and overlook any sin or frailty. However when we begin to go beneath the surface and touch the hearts of people who suffer from their sins and feelings, we understand that this age also may well be an age of deep despair. It is an age that thirsts for and yearns for the mercy of God. It is this deep desire that leads us to the throne of God‘s mercy.
So, let our hearts shout to the heavens on this Solemnity of Divine Mercy, on this eighth day of the Easter Octave. “Thanks be to God for his resurrection, thanks be to God for his love and mercy! Alleluia! Jesus, I trust in you.”