By: Zack Maher
The Gospel of John is easily my favorite Gospel because it is deeply reflective and has a message of Catholic mission. In the first part of the reading, Jesus appears to the Apostles in a time of great fear for them. They are running from the Jews, running from persecution, and locking themselves in the upper room. This is when Jesus appears to them. He is easing their fears when He says, “peace be with you” (John 20:21). How often do we find ourselves in a similar scenario? How often do we run away out of fear, whether literally or into figuratively into our own minds? This isn’t the life Jesus wants of us. He reveals his true intentions for our lives in the next part of verse 21, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Jesus doesn’t want us running from fear, He wants us to run toward it. Jesus wants us to attack the workings of the Devil with the grace and love that He bestows upon us because that is what He did, and we are called to imitate Christ. However, while we can learn much from this call, it is the Apostles that Christ is primarily talking to. What follows in verses 22 and 23 is the establishment of the Sacrament of Reconciliation: “Receive the Holy spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” Taken as a whole, verses 21-23 present Jesus’ call of the Apostles to go forth and imitate Him, living as He was called by God to live, allowing the Apostles to forgive sins through the power of the Holy spirit, in addition to all else He can do because He does so through the power of the Holy spirit. That’s a lot, so I’ll sum it up this way: in verses 21-23, Jesus Christ gives all of us the gift of the priesthood. While the priesthood is a calling of a select few, it is a gift for us all because it is how Christ’s ministry remains alive. Priests have the ability to transubstantiate bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ (through the Holy spirit) because that ability was passed onto the Apostles when Jesus breathed the Holy spirit onto them, who then have passed it on through generations of priests.
While Jesus may be speaking primarily to the Apostles in the first part of the passage, He uses Thomas as a symbol for all of us in the second part. We can’t really blame Thomas for his doubt. Let’s be honest, the entire narrative of Christ is radical. A man comes down from Heaven, claiming to be the Son of God, fulfilling thousands of years of prophecy, then allows Himself to be crucified, ascends back to Heaven, and returns to Earth a few times. We especially can’t blame Thomas for his doubt because we all have our doubts. I know I certainly have, and continue to. However, we know the narrative to be true because Christ does present Himself to us, albeit often not in sight but through other senses. We feel Him, we hear Him, we consume Him (although this requires a bit more faith to acknowledge). Therefore, Christ presents us with another beatitude in verse 29: “blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” If everybody saw Christ, everybody would believe, and everybody would love Him, but then it wouldn’t be true love because it was not chosen. True faith requires choice, and by not presenting Himself to everybody, He allows us to choose whether we believe or not. Christ obviously wants all of us to believe in Him and love Him, but He wants us to do it on our own accord so it is genuine.
What is most important about not only today’s Gospel, but the day overall is the theme and message, that of divine mercy. Today’s gospel, above all else, is about Christ’s mercy. When the Apostles are running and hiding, when Thomas is unable to believe Jesus has returned, He comes to them with love and mercy rather than wrath and justice. Just as Thomas doubted and needed to put His fingers in Christ’s wounds, Jesus gives us two ways of experiencing His love and mercy in a real way: confession and the eucharist, forming the core of His divine mercy. The message of divine mercy was first shared with St. Faustina, with Jesus appearing to her the same way He would have appeared to Thomas. Hence, every time we look at a divine mercy image, we see Jesus as He would have appeared to Thomas. In His appearance to St. Faustina, Christ gave us five ways of living a more merciful life: the feast day, the image, the novena, the chaplet, and the hour. Divine Mercy Sunday closes the octave of Easter, bookending and solidifying the story of salvation. It is on this day that there are no hinderances to Christ’s mercy. All sins and punishments are forgiven by going to confession and receiving communion on Divine Mercy Sunday. While our sins are forgiven whenever we go to confession, we still have wounds and temporal punishments that remain, but on Divine Mercy Sunday, all that goes away.
Don’t worry if you’re running from fears or if you’re going through periods of doubt, because Christ’s mercy is greater than our fears and doubts. He knows we’re going to have fears and doubts, but He loves us regardless. He is waiting for us to turn back to Him as the prodigal son did earlier in John’s gospel. So, on all days, but especially on this Divine Mercy Sunday, let us turn back to Him and say with a sincere heart, “Jesus, I trust in you.”