Acts 4:32-35; 1 John 5:1-6; John 20:19-31
The gospel according to John has been called the gospel of encounters. Each follows the same basic pattern: Jesus encounters someone, they test him, there is an exchange, and the encounter ends with those who tested Jesus finding that in reality they are the ones being tested: Will they believe or not? Of course, Jesus wants them to rise to the challenge but he never forces them; it’s their choice and a test of their faith.
Between last Sunday and this, John gives us five encounters, each posing its own challenge to faith. First, the Beloved Disciple: Will he believe in the resurrection based only on the testimony of an empty tomb? No; he has to see the tomb himself and the burial cloths neatly arranged, perhaps as proof that the body of Jesus was not stolen. Then Mary Magdalene: Will she recognize the risen Lord if she sees him? No; she must hear his voice. Next, the Apostles: Will they believe if they see and hear? Only when Jesus shows them his hands and side. Then Thomas: Will he believe his brother Apostles, now eyewitnesses? No; he needs to touch the wounds of Christ. The fifth challenge is from the evangelist to us: Will we believe without being able to see, hear, or touch Jesus?
We might be tempted to say no, for if the Beloved Disciple, Mary Magdalene, and the Apostles struggled with faith, what hope do we have? But that’s not the attitude of Christ; he calls us “blessed.” Why? Because his encounters with us are not about human failure but about the triumph of divine mercy. Jesus didn’t resent the Beloved Disciple going to the tomb; rather, he used it to inspire John to recall the words that made that trip unnecessary: Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up (John 2:19). He wasn’t disappointed that Mary Magdalene needed to hear him; he is the Good Shepherd whose sheep follow him because they recognize his voice (John 10:4). He wasn’t angry that the Apostles had to see his wounds; rather, he bid them peace and gave them authority to forgive sins, so that others may know the same peace and all might take to heart his words at the Last Supper: Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me (John 14:1). He was perhaps kindest of all to Thomas, that from he who seemed weakest in faith came the greatest affirmation of Christ’s divinity in all the gospel: My Lord and my God (John 20:28). Finally, Jesus spoke encouragingly to us, calling us blessed because we have not seen and have believed (John 20:29).
This is how God shows mercy: By encouraging rather than cajoling, inspiring rather than depressing, and building up rather than putting down (although justice sometimes demands the whip). For his goal is and always has been to raise us up to himself. God is love and as one spiritual writer has noted, “mercy is love bending over misery to relieve it, to redeem it, to raise it up to itself.” Time and again God has shown that this is what he will do, even to the giving of his only Son, that in his infinite mercy, he might draw us closer and closer to himself.
Today we have the opportunity to draw very close indeed, for on the Feast of Divine Mercy, Christ offers us a great gift: The renewal of baptismal grace; the complete forgiveness of sins and punishment. This grace is usually received only through baptism itself or a “perfect” sacramental confession – one made purely for the love for God.
Of course, like all encounters with Christ, there is a challenge. We can only obtain this extraordinary grace if we worthily receive the Eucharist on the Feast of Divine Mercy or its vigil Mass. Since we are at that Mass now we’re off to a good start, but that’s not all; worthily means that we have made a good sacramental confession in the recent past (say, Lent), that we’re still in the state of grace, and that we trust in the infinite mercy of God. Also, our Lord revealed to St. Faustina that if we are to receive mercy, we must show mercy. We don’t have to do what the Christians did in the first reading – sell our homes and give the proceeds to the poor – but we do have to practice the works of mercy listed in the Catechism: Spiritual works such as teaching the faith, advising, consoling or comforting others, forgiving and bearing all wrongs patiently, and the corporal works such as feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and respectfully burying the dead.
Fr. Michael Gaitley, who has dedicated himself to spreading the Divine Mercy devotion, advises us to remember that we do these things out of love and gratitude to God, not to try and earn his mercy. Asked what the biggest misconception is about Divine Mercy, he said that many active Catholics have somehow gotten the idea that “God’s love must be earned by following all the rules, saying all the prayers, and giving money to the right causes… that the more perfect we are, the more worthy we are to draw close to Jesus. The reality is that Jesus invites us spiritually poor, weak, broken, and overburdened people to draw as close as we dare…”
Every encounter with Christ is an invitation to dare; to “become who we are.” It requires us to face who we are – poor, weak, and broken – but also to see ourselves as God sees us – eternally willed, infinitely precious, and worth any sacrifice. In this lies the wound to our pride, the admission that there is nothing we can do to earn our own salvation but also the healing truth that there is nothing we need to do, for God has already done it. All he asks is that we accept it and, on this feast of Divine Mercy, show our gratitude for it. The only question is, will we?
1 Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalene, Divine Intimacy, #236, Section 1.
2 Catholic Digest, April/May 2020, page 16