Sunday, April 19, 2009

Second Sunday of Pascha 2009: St. Thomas Sunday, Divine Mercy Sunday

Today, “the Eighth Day,” those of us who celebrated Pascha last Sunday commemorate the appearance of the Risen Lord to St. Thomas: “doubting Thomas”, as recorded in the Gospel of John 20:24-29. Thomas, having not been present when Jesus appeared to other Apostles, told them, “I will not believe unless I see and touch the nail prints in his hands, unless I touch the wound in his side.” So, the next Sunday, the Apostles are together again, and this time, Thomas is there also. Well, guess who shows up? And Thomas indeed is allowed to touch the body, the wounds, of the Risen Lord. And he makes his famous profession of faith: “My Lord and my God!” Jesus replies, “You believe because you see. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”

Since the ACCA is rooted in the Syriac Tradition of the Indian Church, St. Thomas is special to us. St. Thomas, you see, carried the good news of the risen Christ east, all the way to India, even as Peter, Paul, and other Apostles were going West, all the way to Rome. Hence, the Apostolic Church has been present in India, as in Antioch, Alexandria, and Rome, since the First Century of the Christian era; its members in India are known as “Mar Thoma,” that is, “St. Thomas,” Christians.

“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” Those of us who have not seen, why do we believe? First, we believe because we have HEARD. We have believed what we have been told about the risen Christ. And we believe what we have heard because we have experienced the positive change that Christ and His Church has made in the lives of others who came before us, whether parents, other relatives, teachers, pastors, mentors, or friends. And, in believing, or, in some cases, at least suspending disbelief, we have begun to experience for ourselves the transforming, loving power of the Risen Lord Jesus. If we were raised in the faith, perhaps we have never experienced a time when we did not know that the risen Christ was there for us. Or perhaps we have wandered off, like lost sheep, only to be returned to the fold. Wherever we have been, we wait, in hope, for that which we have not seen, but yet, have experienced, as we read in I Peter 1:3-9.

RC Deacon Greg Kandra, in his homily for today, takes as his jumping off point the media sensation caused by a British woman who has indeed got talent: Susan Boyle. He speaks of her as a sign of hope. A similar woman, St. Faustina Kowalska, became a special instrument of the Lord to bring a message of hope to a world desperately seeking it: the message of Divine Mercy. Faustina, born in 1905 of a poor Polish family, sought to pursue the religious life as a nun. She was rejected by many convents. Finally, she was admitted and given menial tasks. She died at age 33, in 1938.

However, she was privileged to both see and converse with both our Lord and his Blessed Mother, and she was given a message, “the gospel we forgot,” as one Polish prelate put it, that of Divine Mercy, a word to which the only appropriate response can be, "My Jesus, I trust in you." After her death, her writings were suppressed by the Vatican, possibly due to bad translation. However, when the future Pope, John Paul II, was Archbishop of Krakow, he was able to convince the Vatican, under Pope Paul VI, to reconsider Sister’s writings, and they were allowed to be promulgated. Finally, John Paul himself both beatified and canonized St. Faustina, and declared that St. Thomas Sunday be observed as Divine Mercy Sunday in the Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church. Deacon Kandra writes:

"I thought of Susan Boyle on Wednesday, when Archbishop Timothy Dolan climbed the pulpit at St. Patrick’s at his installation mass and declared in his first homily: “Everybody is somebody.” Susan Boyle certainly proved that. No matter what others may think, the beautiful truth is that everyone carries the spark of the divine. Every life has meaning and dignity. Everybody is somebody.

"That is why the greatest Somebody, Jesus Christ, surrendered himself on the cross – and why he rose from the dead. And when he finally appeared before his followers after the resurrection, his first message was a word of consolation to all those who feel frightened, or insecure, or alone – whether in that upper room, or in a village in Scotland, or in a walkup in Queens [or in a convent in Poland]: “Peace,” he said. Peace. It was his first gift after he had risen.

"In that same spirit, God continues to offer us another gift -- the one that gives this Sunday its name: Divine Mercy. God’s mercy says to us, very simply, 'You are loved -- no matter what. Because everybody is somebody.'

"I think we get a glimpse of that in today’s gospel. It gives us the familiar scene of Jesus appearing to a doubting Thomas, offering tangible proof that he has risen. 'Put your finger here and see my hands,' Jesus says. 'Bring your hand and put it into my side….do not be unbelieving, but believe.'

"But here, we encounter something the world had never known before: we encounter a God with scars. Wounds. A God who has endured pain, and suffered, and bled.

"That invitation to Thomas is also Christ’s invitation to us: 'See,' he says. 'I have known great pain. I understand.'

"He has walked with us, struggled with us, fallen with us, shed water and blood for us. He did it for you and me. He did it for the Susan Boyles of the world. Those who are hurt, or grieving, or dreaming. He did it for all of us, even those who have wandered away, or who doubt – all of the Thomases among us."

Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor.” St. Paul writes that the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of humanity, that the weakness of God stronger than the strength of men. He also writes:
“Not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth; but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise. God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are…” (I Cor. 1:26b-28, RSV).

This is the power of the resurrection, manifested in the lives of people like Susan Boyle, a devout Roman Catholic, and St. Faustina, and as manifested in the ministries and martyrdoms of a motley band of Gallilean fishermen, the Apostles, including St. Thomas, to whose number was later added a renegade Rabbi, St. Paul. To the incarnate, crucified, and risen Eternal Son and Word of God, to His Eternal Father, and to the all-Holy, Good, and Lifegiving Eternal Spirit, one God, be glory and honor in both worlds and unto the Aeon of aeons. Amen.

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