HOMILY for 2nd Sunday of Easter
Acts 5:12-16; Apoc 1:9-13. 17-19; John 20:19-31
It sometimes appears that there are many reasons for one to be fearful. One only needs to read the newspapers, and one can feel the surge of fear, and perhaps, not a little anger, rising – the threat of nuclear aggression from North Korea; the fragile economy and the financial squeeze on millions of people because of welfare ‘reforms’; the terrifying attacks on Christian communities in Pakistan; the strange weather patterns we’ve been experiencing due to climate change. And on a personal level, we might fear for our own health or the well-being of someone we love; worry about unemployment and redundancy; fear for the future, our falling investments, our relationships, and what might happen. So many fears, all legitimate and genuine, can close in on us, locking us in so that we feel helpless, and our efforts futile. Like the disciples huddled together, our doors can be shut for fear of something or someone, and we’re barricaded within, fearful and confined.
But Jesus, too, carries the wounds of all our fears, of all that scourges and torments us. He has endured the terror of the Cross with us, and descended to the dark pit of death for us. And he is risen. Alleluia! And the risen Lord carries his battle scars on his glorified body for ever, as a sign that he is always united to us in our struggles and fears. And because he knows our sufferings and fears, our worries and weaknesses, he can enter through the shut doors and stand beside us. Jesus, having conquered death itself – Man’s greatest enemy and fear – can now transcend all the locked doors of our fears, and say to us – to you and me – “Peace be with you”.
However, the peace that the risen Lord Jesus gives does not secure immunity from life’s problems and pain, as such. Rather, Christ’s peace enables us to face the painful realities of our life, our fears and anxieties, with faith in his resurrection, with hope of finally conquering death and sin, and with secure confidence in God’s saving love. Christ’s peace reconciles sinful humanity to God, safely held in the embrace of God’s divine mercy, from which nothing can separate us. As St Paul says: “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord”. Nothing. So, because of Christ’s victorious resurrection, we need not fear. As we hear in our Second Reading: “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one; I died, and behold I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades” (Apoc 1:17b-18).
And yet, how is it that eight days later we find the disciples “again in the house” and again with the doors shut (cf Jn 20:26)? This time the doors are not shut for fear, but closed because of unbelief, shutting out faith. And without faith, there can be no peace. Indeed, as St Augustine says: “There is no love without hope, no hope without love, and neither hope nor love without faith”.
Hence, the risen Christ comes again, standing in the midst of our doubts and fears, entering the ‘Hades’ of our lives where God seems absent and distant, and faith is remote. Thomas, refusing to believe, is in such a situation. But, as we affirm in the Apostles Creed, Jesus “descended into hell”, into the abyss where God is absent, and he has broken the stranglehold of sin and of unbelief. He, the Living One, has the keys of Death and Hades. Thus, with great mercy, the risen Lord comes especially for Thomas, entering through the shut doors, and stands beside him. And again he says: “Peace be with you”. Christ, who is our peace, now offers his wounds to Thomas to touch. So, we see that God puts his faith in Man, entrusts himself to him, so that Man can put his faith in God and find peace. Paraphrasing St John, we could say: ‘we believe, because God has first believed in us’ (cf 1 Jn 4:19).
For this is what the interaction between the risen Lord and St Thomas shows. Christ offers him his forgiveness, his friendship, and his love by inviting him to touch his wounds. And it is this divine initiative that elicits St Thomas’ faith, so that he can say: “My Lord and my God”. Moreover, by placing his hand in Christ’s wounded side – wounds which speak so eloquently of God’s love for humanity – Thomas’ fears and doubts are cast out by this experience of, this contact with, God’s perfect love (cf 1 Jn 4:18b).
Each time we come to Mass, Jesus entrusts himself to us in the Eucharist. We’re invited to touch him, to handle him, to come into intimate contact with the Lord’s Body and Blood, and so, to have faith in him. This sacrament of the Eucharist, as such, is the sacrament of faith par excellence, inviting us to believe in Jesus Christ. And as we receive our Eucharistic Lord with faith, it is he who touches our wounds and fears so that we can be healed, loved, and find peace in God.
As Jesus entrusts himself to us in the Eucharist, he also invites us to entrust ourselves to him; to have no fear, and to go to him in the beautiful and intimate sacrament of Reconciliation. For these two sacraments – Eucharist and Confession – complement each other. It is principally there, in the sacrament of Reconciliation, that we receive God’s divine mercy; there, that Christ offers us again his forgiveness, friendship, and love; there, that the Holy Spirit is sent “among us for the forgiveness of sins” (Formula of Absolution). Through that sacrament of mercy, Christ takes on himself our fears, our sins, and our wounds, and in exchange, he gives us his peace and unites us to himself in love, through the grace of the Holy Spirit. So, as we heard in today’s Gospel, the Spirit is breathed upon the apostles; breathed upon Church so that, through the sacrament of Reconciliation, we may be healed and come to share in the peace, forgiveness, and new life of the Risen One.
So, let us open the doors of our hearts to Christ, let his perfect love transcend our fears, and let us say to him: “Jesus, my Lord and my God, I trust in you”.