Sunday, April 23, 2017

To Believe Thomas - Homily for Divine Mercy Sunday (The Easter Octave) (A)

A very blessed Divine Mercy Sunday to you! This is the Octave Day of Easter—a day, just as in musical octave, where the dissonance of sin is resolved by the harmony of mercy . In ancient times, too, the octave day would be a special day after a boy’s birth. On the eighth day after his birth, the boy would be circumcised. It’s a gruesome image, but the ancient Christian Fathers saw the Resurrection as the definitive new birth—and the eighth day that followed would be the definitive cutting away of the old life and the beginning of the new.

These themes play out in any Christian’s life and, as we see today, Thomas is no stranger to this. We see that he is not there when Jesus appears on Resurrection Sunday. For some reason, he must have slept in on Easter. Or, maybe after the crucifixion, he was one of those that ran away, scandalized, afraid—maybe bitter. Whatever the reason, Thomas is isolated and not with the community on Easter.

Thankfully, Thomas rejoins the community on the eighth day, the Octave Day (Divine Mercy Sunday) and Jesus appears again. This time, Thomas sees. And not only does he see, but he also gets to touch. Thomas places his finger into the side of Christ—the side that was pierced by the lance. And Thomas exclaims: “My Lord and my God!” He believes. And not only because he touched Jesus’ side. Remember what the soldier’s lance pierced—not only the side of the Christ but also the very heart of Jesus. It was from this heart that blood and water flowed down onto the head of that soldier and, in that very moment, that soldier’s doubt was converted. He too exclaims: “Truly, this was the Son of God!”

Thomas’ finger, therefore, doesn’t simply touch the outer skin of Jesus. He brings his finger to the very heart of Jesus—the very font of mercy—and maybe Thomas realizes that it is beating and alive. And that may sound gross, but Jesus rose not simply spiritually, but in the flesh—and He is really alive. And He is alive to give us this mercy and to convert us from the old doubts to the new faith, the new life—actual, heart-pounding life.

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Here is where the great irony—or, comedy—comes in. You see, Thomas believes precisely because he has seen and touched. But, really, he was supposed to believe his brothers. Peter and Andrew and John and all the rest actually saw Jesus risen on Easter night. Thomas, therefore, was guilty not only of not-believing that Jesus was risen from the dead, but Thomas also guilty because he did not believe them. That’s pretty amazing, given all that they had been through together. There was no reason to doubt his brothers, his friends. But he did.

As a result, Thomas’ doubt not only separated him from the risen Jesus, but also from the very people that he had known and loved. The spiritual translated into the geographical: Thomas was not there on Easter.

But Jesus has mercy on him and visits him when Thomas comes back to the community on the Octave day. Here’s where the irony/comedy comes in: After Thomas touches, Jesus says. “blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” In other words: “Thomas, you were supposed to believe your brothers, but you didn’t. Nevertheless, I am granting you this mercy (to touch), because I want you to believe. When you go out into the doubting world, the only way that they will come to believe is if they believe you—that is: I am calling them to do the very thing that you wouldn’t do for your brothers, namely, to trust. And this is going to frustrate you, and you will know the frustration and hurt your brothers had when you refused to believe them, because why should the world believe you Will you have mercy on those that doubt when they say to you the same thing you said to your brothers? Will you have mercy on them? What will be your reason for them to trust you? Will you give them my heart to touch by giving them my mercy, my new life?"

Thomas—indeed all of the Apostles—are entrusted with a great task: not only to evangelize and to announce the risen Christ to all nations, but to be trusted. And in order for them to be trusted, the Apostles must prove themselves through a radical charity heretofore never seen on the face of the earth. The world will only believe these teachers if they are first witnesses. They will need to bring the very heart of Jesus for the world to touch. On this octave day, the dissonance of the world must be far from the harmony of Christ; the old way of life must be cut from our hearts so the new heart of Christ may urge us onwards.

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A final note: where does this Octave take place? In the same Upper Room as the Last Supper. There, the Lord had instituted the Holy Eucharist—the very Sacrament of Charity—and in turn ordained His Apostles to be the very priests that would confect it.

One may ask: when does Jesus give them the power to forgive sins? It happens on Easter night in the same Upper Room as the Last Supper and the Octave Day. On that Easter night, Jesus appears to them and says “Peace be with you.” Remember: they had all abandoned Him, crucified Him. And here Jesus comes, not rubbing their nose in it, but saying “Peace. It’s all over. I forgive you.”

In this moment, He breathes on them and gives them the Holy Spirit—the very power to forgive sins. You see, the Upper Room is all one Ordination Rite: Jesus waits to give them the power to forgive until the moment when they finally know mercy. Now that they know mercy, they are now ordained and commissioned to give it.

Why do I mention this? Because Thomas was not there on Easter night. So, on the Octave, Jesus comes and does the same thing—but this time for Thomas. And not only for Thomas, but to give the other Apostles the chance, too, to forgive. You see, after Thomas puts his finger into Jesus and believes, Thomas will say to Jesus: “I’m sorry I left you.” But then Thomas will have to turn to his brothers, too, and say, “Brothers, I’m sorry I doubted you.” And in that moment, they will be able to lavish upon their brother the very mercy which they themselves had received.

This is why the best confessors are the ones who have known well the mercy of God. Indeed, the best Christians are the ones who know this mercy, too. Indeed, this is the very heart of Jesus that the world longs to touch—“will not believe until.” That is, until we have received and then give.

In only this way will the world trust and come to believe.

Will they trust you, Thomas? Have you so trusted?

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