Jesus said to Thomas: “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed!”

This line from today’s Gospel according to John catches my attention every time I hear it.  We are all familiar with the Gospel account of Thomas the Apostle who we refer to as the so-called “doubter.”  He is known as “doubting Thomas” and that expression has even found its way into our everyday conversation when we encounter those who don’t believe in something.

We find ourselves in these days of Easter reflecting upon the experience of the early Christian community right after the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus.  Our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles describes how the early Church lived and behaved.  One might say we are in the post-resurrection Church awaiting the descent of the Holy Spirit.  The Gospel stories we read at Mass are accounts of Jesus’ appearances to his apostles and followers.  Today, we are in the upper room with the apostles, trembling as they were in fear, when Jesus suddenly appears and greets them in peace.  Thomas the Apostle was not there and so when he returns and the other apostles tell him that the Risen Lord Jesus had appeared to them, he refuses to believe.  “Nope.  I have to see him for myself!”

All our scriptures today, except for the psalm, were written after Jesus’ Passion and Death, Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost.  The Gospel is a reflection upon faith --- the mature faith that the author to the Letter to the Hebrews describes as “confident assurance concerning things hoped for and conviction about things we do not see (Hebrews 11:1).”  Once again, we consider the Risen Lord Jesus’ words to Thomas: “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

If we see something, if we have the assurance of our senses, what need is there for faith?  We do not need hope or assurance or conviction because the object before us is without doubt, real accessible to the eye and other senses.  Faith --- faith is about mystery.  Mystery is the object of our faith.  We can be as sure about the object of our faith as anything visible or sensible because faith points to what is true.  What is true is true not because we believe it: truth is true whether we believe it or not.  The truth of our faith, the belief in the mysteries of our faith arises because God plants in each of us the grace of conviction --- so much so that we do not need to see something in order to believe.

There are few things in life as powerful and as transforming as faith.  Faith makes us reach for the unreachable, makes us seek out what the world says is impossible.  Religious faith is wrapped up in the mysteries of the Lord Jesus Christ and his Church.  But even on a human level, faith changes us.  When we get out of bed in the morning, we are exercising faith that something good lies ahead of us.  When we get behind the wheel of a car, heading out on route 1 or 295, we are exercising faith that our trip will be safe and complete.  When we enter into a relationship with someone, we are exercising faith in that person that they will want something good for us.  We have no proof for any of those things.  We simply believe and live with those beliefs.

The existence of God, the resurrection of Jesus, heaven, eternal life, hell, the devil, miracles --- these are all mysteries that have no concrete scientific or sensible proof, yet we Christians accept them, believe them, and fashion our lives around them.  “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

Today, we celebrate God’s mercy on Divine Mercy Sunday --- when the Lord Jesus appeared to Sr. Faustina Kowalska, a child of Poland, as the revelation of mercy inviting her and all of us to pray that prayer of faith, “Jesus I trust in you.”                

In creating this feast, Pope St. John Paul II saw this as “the fulfillment of the will of Christ.”  Pope St. John Paul II died on the eve of this feast in 2005, seventeen years ago.  His last written words were these:

As a gift to humanity, which sometimes seems bewildered and overwhelmed by the power of evil, selfishness and fear, the Risen Lord offers his love that pardons, reconciles and re-opens hearts to love … how much the world needs to understand and accept divine mercy … Jesus, I trust in you, have mercy upon us and upon the whole world.  Amen.

Pope St. John Paul II “wanted the whole Church to fix her gaze and prayer on this Divine Mercy Sunday (Lombardi, January 14, 2011).”  Visiting the tomb of St. Faustina in Poland in 1997, he proclaimed “there is nothing more that man needs than Divine Mercy, which raises man above his weakness to the infinite heights of the holiness of God.”

Love and mercy were the reasons for Jesus’ life and mission, for his death and resurrection, for his ascension and abiding presence among us.  Our world often rejects him and his divine mercy because they cannot see.  And they cannot see because they do not seek. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed,” the Risen Lord Jesus told Thomas in today’s Gospel.

Jesus never rejects us; he continues to reach out in love and mercy: to the sinner and the saint; the poor and the rich; the suffering and the healthy; the guilty and the innocent; the born and the unborn; people of every race, tongue, and nation and to all who seek him with a sincere heart.  To such as these he extends his divine mercy, all these who have not seen, yet believe.

Today, on Divine Mercy Sunday, let’s pray with St. Thomas the Apostle, “My Lord and my God.” Let’s pray with St. Faustina, “Have mercy on us.  Jesus I trust in you.” Let’s mean it.  Let’s live it.