Reflection & Dialogue: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe”
I once heard a playwright being asked what extra experience he would like to have had in life. His reply was: “I would like to have met Jesus”. One can only surmise what encounter, if any, a playwright, a politician or any other would have had with Jesus, and what, if any, Jesus’ reply would have been to their questions. Matters are different with regard to faith. Jesus is not a person of yesterday, or of another era. He is ever present as a person and influence.
Let’s go back for a moment to that scene in the upper room, with doors closed. Jesus accepts Thomas’s profession of faith. Thomas has seen the risen Saviour and believed. But, as if casting a glance forward to believers of all ages, in all places, into this twenty-first century, and this particular year, Jesus declares blessed all those who will believe in him down through all the ages. They will not have seen with their physical eyes, but will have done so through the eyes of faith. In his parting discourse at the Last Supper Jesus looked forward in prayer to the same course of faith history, and prays to the Father for all believers (John 17:20): “I ask not only on behalf of these (my disciples now present), but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one”. For the earlier Church, and for later ages, Jesus is near in his empowering, consoling and inspiring presence. As we have seen in the first reading, Peter is made to address early Christians suffering for their faith in Jesus as follows: “Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy” (1 Peter 1:8).
The imitation of Christ is central to the New Testament and to Christianity. Imitation in this sense also implies a personal acquaintance with Christ. It s nicely put in a poem transmitted in Irish folk tradition, as part of an instruction to young people how to prepare for life: “Young person, at the beginning of your life, pay good attention to my teaching. Before you get too old come to a personal acquaintance (aithne) with Christ” – not just knowledge of Christ (eolas), but a personal acquaintance with (aithne), through faith, an awareness of that the presence and prayer which Jesus spoke about to Thomas makes possible. Blessed are they who have not seen and yet have come to believe.
Divine mercy Sunday
This is also Divine Mercy Sunday, established by Pope John Paul II in 2000, a Pope who was duly declared a saint, together with Pope John XXIII, on this same Sunday some years ago. On this Sunday in 2001 (Year C of the Yearly Cycle, with the Revelation of John as Second reading) Pope John Paul II in the course of his homily to pilgrims in Poland to commemorate the canonization of Sr Faustina Kowalska the Pope said: “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one; I died, and behold I am alive for evermore” (Rev 1:17-18). We heard these comforting words in the Second Reading taken from the Book of Revelation. They invite us to turn our gaze to Christ, to experience His reassuring presence. To each person, whatever his condition, even if it were the most complicated and dramatic, the Risen One repeats: “Fear not!; I died on the Cross but now I am alive for evermore”; “I am the first and the last, and the living one.” With these sentiments, we are celebrating the Second Sunday of Easter, which since last year, the year of the Great jubilee, is also called “Divine Mercy Sunday. … It is a great joy for me to be able to join all of you, dear pilgrims and faithful who have come from various nations to commemorate, after one year, the canonization of Sr. Faustina Kowalska, witness and messenger of the Lord’s merciful love. Jesus said to Sr. Faustina one day: “Mankind will not have peace until it turns with trust to My mercy” (Diary, 300). Divine Mercy! This is the Easter gift that the Church receives from the risen Christ and offers to humanity at the dawn of the third millennium”.
(The entire homily can be accessed on the internet, Google, at “Pope John Paul II’s Divine Mercy Sunday Homily”)