30 April 2011

Divine Mercy Sunday

First Reading, Acts 2:42-47
In this Reading are the beginnings of what is now called a community of the faithful. It is also a model for belonging to a community of a Religious Order. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reads: "The disciple of Christ must not only keep the faith and live on it, but also profess it, confidently bear witness to it, and spread it. Service of and witness to the faith are necessary for salvation" (CCC 1816). Although Jesus no longer walks the earth in His physical Body preaching, teaching and working miracles, the Church, an extension of Him on earth continues on with His mission under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and our Saviour's Eucharistic Presence. What is evidenced here is simplicity because Christ is first and foremost in the lives of these early Christians. They discovered that detachment from possessions is not difficult when Christ is truly number One. The opening verse describes the Eucharistic Sacrifice. If you think about it, throughout the Church's two-thousand year history she has experienced wars, scandals, persecutions and many other obstacles which should have destroyed her very existence long ago. But Christ promised that the gates of hell shall not prevail against her (cf Mt 16, 18). If you're familiar with the history of the Church and the darkness she has faced, then you know that Jesus has remained faithful to that promise. The gates of hell have tried to scale the walls of the Church many times but our Lord has always come to the rescue. As Saint John Chrysostom put it: "Sooner shall the sun be extinguished, than the Church be obscured."

Second Reading, 1 Peter 1:3-9
God has given us through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ a new life of hope. And our hope is an inheritance that is imperishable and has already been prepared for us. As temples of the Holy Spirit, the Source of our faith dwells within us. Our love for Jesus gives us a foretaste of eternal glory. Our love's genuineness will be revealed by how we treat each other and handle the various trials that Divine Providence allows in the lives of each of us. To search for a model on how to deal with suffering in our modern day, one need only look as far as our current Holy Father's Predecessor, Pope John Paul II. The mystical body of Christ truly came through to lift up John Paul II in prayer. How many times was he thought to be down for the count only to bounce back continuing to serve the Lord and His Church, fighting for souls as the Vicar of Christ? Through his suffering he heroically evangelized his love for God and was living proof of the power that is within us as the mystical body of Christ. As Christians we love and praise our Lord and await His promised reward for our genuine faith -- the salvation of our souls. We've just celebrated our Lord's glorious Triumph over suffering, sin and death – and now here we are talking about suffering again. It's not a glutton for punishment mentality, but rather an awareness of how we are called to follow in our Saviour's Footsteps. He has invited us in a very loving way to have a role in the work of redemption. It is our human weakness which fuels our hesitant and skeptical approach to suffering, thus veiling the fullness of love behind each and every invitation to be like Jesus and enter into His divine life.

Gospel, John 20:19-31
It is only the life of prayer that can help us hear Jesus speak the words, "Peace be with you," when the turmoil of our lives has us hiding within ourselves. Only Jesus can penetrate the locked doors of our hearts but like the disciples, it requires us to have knowledge of Him which comes by means of spending time with Him. Our own wounds and scars are reminders of our Saviour's Hands and Side; but trying to have some understanding as to why it is necessary to have these emotional and physical imprints of life's struggles arrives at the doors of our hearts with the loving invitation: "As the Father has sent Me, so I send you." More precisely, the Greek text translates as: "According as the Father has commissioned Me, also I am sending you." That translation with the use of "commissioned" perhaps gives a clearer understanding of authorization, or that power has been conferred to go and do the work of the Lord. Saint Gregory tells us: "And so, He [Jesus] says 'as the Father has sent Me,' etc; that is, when I send you amid the scandals of the world, I love you with the same love with which the Father loved Me upon Whom He imposed this burden of suffering." Saint Augustine adds: "We know that the Son is equal to the Father but here we recognize the words of the Mediator. He shows Himself as standing in between by saying, 'He sends Me and so I send you.'" No matter how old in age we become or how much more we advance in maturity, we are still "children" of God; and very few passages in Scripture depict that better than this Gospel. Do you have any recollections of your own childhood when you would run and hide for fear of the repercussions of some mischievous act you had committed? Here the apostles are hiding out for fear of the Jews because of their association with Jesus Christ. Just before this Gospel story, Mary Magdalene had seen the risen Lord and went to tell the others. If you recall on Palm Sunday, when Jesus was arrested the apostles fled. Because of this, you can imagine their initial fear when Jesus, through locked doors, appears to them. Jesus says to them: "Peace be with you." They must've thought they were seeing a ghost which may be the reason why Jesus shows them His Hands and His Side. Once they realized it really was Him, before they rejoiced, one can imagine that what went through their minds was a big Aramaic, "UH-OH!" It's human nature to assume that once we've betrayed someone, they will come back with a vengeance. But Jesus returns offering His peace. This not only teaches us something about our God but also is a blueprint for us as to how we should deal with each other. We've all had experiences of being hurt as well as hurting others. But we can't hide from each other forever. When our paths cross again, the label of "Christian" should dictate that we receive one another with the peace and forgiveness of Jesus. We all have the same enemy who tries to corrupt our relationships; and is very good at it since we're more apt to blame flesh and blood. When Jesus breathes on the apostles and gives them the power to forgive or retain sins, the Council of Trent defined this as the moment that Jesus instituted the Sacrament of Penance. Most certainly it was no accident that Thomas was not present. Divine Providence was at work here because future disciples would need his doubts to combat their own skepticism. When Thomas is given the opportunity to touch Christ's Wounds, he doesn't merely say, "Okay, now I believe." Rather, Providence saw fit for Thomas to make a divine proclamation which would echo for an eternity: "My Lord and my God!" These words remove all misconceptions. This is Jesus Christ and He has risen from the dead and He is our Lord and our God. Tertullian, an early Church writer, in his work titled: "De Carni Christi" defends the Resurrection of Jesus Christ by suggesting that the apostles would not have bought into it if they had not seen our Lord with their own eyes. He wrote in Latin: "Natus est Dei Filius; non pudet, quia pudendum est. Et mortuus est Dei Filius; prorsus credibile est, quia ineptum est. Et sepultus, resurrexit; certum est, quia impossibile." This translates as: "The Son of God was born; there is no shame, because it is shameful. And the Son of God died; it is wholly credible, because it is ridiculous. And buried, He rose again, it is certain, because impossible." Tertullian defended the true faith against the heresy of Docetism which touted that Jesus was pure Spirit; and the story of the Incarnation had only a symbolic meaning, while the Crucifixion and Resurrection were illusions.