A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

B. Reflection & Dialogue: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” Divine mercy Sunday

A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

First Reading (Acts 5:12-16). This is one of the idealized presentations of the early Christian community in Jerusalem beloved of the author of this work, the Acts of the Apostles. The early community was held in great respect, and the prominent role of Peter is highlighted. This was in the early days of the Christian community, shortly after the resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit. The implications of faith in Christ had not yet sunk in, as the Church spread out into the non-Jewish world, and away from the Law of Moses. This once tranquil Jerusalem community will later experience much soul searching and no small division. In this, too, it is an image of the Church of many ages.

Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 117). The Lord’s right hand has raised me up.

Second Reading (Apocalypse 1:9-3, 17-19). For the Sundays of the Easter period the second readings will be from the Book of the Apocalypse, or as it is better known today the Revelation of John. An apocalypse is a form of Jewish writing containing a divine revelation through an intermediary about matters said to be about to take place shortly. An earlier biblical one is the book of Daniel, given when the Jewish religion was in danger of total destruction. The essential message of both apocalypsesof Daniel and John is that God is in control and that his work will prevail over any persecution. The revelation to John was made when John was exiled for his Christian faith in the tiny rocky island (about ten miles by five in extent) of Patmos in the Aegean Sea during the reign of the Emperor Domitian (A.D. 81-96). Apocalypses are to be read as intended for their first readers. Their language is often symbolic and colourful. and reading of the full work is best done with the aid of a scholarly introduction. The readings chosen for these Sundays are the clearest and most easily understood of the entire book. Today’s reading introduces John’s vision. It was an ecstatic experience. Jesus, the risen saviour, appeared to him a judge, in the dress of priesthood (long robe) and royalty (golden girdle). The risen saviour is the Lord of all ages, the First and the Last (a self-designation of God himself, Isaiah 44:6; 48:1). These are words of encouragement to the exiled John and to the persecuted church in all ages.

Gospel (John 20:19-31). The first part of this reading tells of events that took place on Easter Sunday. The risen Saviour appeared to his apostles, confirmed the reality of his risen humanity by showing them his pierced hands and feet. He breathed the Holy Spirit on them, the Holy Spirit promised before his death and resurrection, and gave them (and the Church for all times) the power to forgive sin. The second half of the reading is on the Sunday following, the completion of the Easter week. It has the well-known episode of the “doubting Thomas”. Thomas is led to faith in Jesus, not merely as risen Lord, but as God. His profession of faith “My Lord and my God” brings the Gospel of John to a fitting conclusion. This gospel began with the words: “And the Word was God” (John 1:1). It ends with the same profession by Thomas. Jesus’ reply to Thomas is rich in meaning: “Jesus said to him: ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe”.

B. Reflection & Dialogue: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” Divine mercy Sunday

I once heard a playwright being asked in a televisioin interview 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. 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 presence which Jesus spoke about to Thomas. 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 (issuing from divine revelations to the Polish Sister.Faustina Kowalska). In the course of a homily for this feast in 2001 (Year C of the three-year Cycle), Pope John Paul II 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.” … 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”)

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