Fr. Roger J. Landry
Espirito Santo Parish, Fall River, MA
Second Sunday of Easter, Year C
April 22, 2001
Acts 5:12-16; Ps 118; Rev 1:9-11-13,17-19;Jn20:19-31
1) Put yourself in the upper room with the apostles on the night of the resurrection. Two days earlier you saw the Lord killed, being hammered full of blood and pain to a Cross. That morning a former prostitute ran to the upper room with words that made her seem like a lunatic, that Christ had risen from the dead, bringing back hauntingly Christ’s words of prophecy that he would be killed, but three days later Rise. Then, fearful of everything, with the door tightly bolted, Jesus came through the closed doors and said his first words to his apostles. What words would you have expected? “Surprise!” “Long time no see!” “I’m back,” a la Arnold Schwarzenegger in the Terminator. No. Jesus’s first words were obviously very important. He’s just triumphed over death and he was coming to proclaim the Good News himself to those whom we would send out to proclaim it after his Ascension. His first words, therefore, are very important. Jesus came and stood before them and said, “Peace be with you!”
2) Jesus came not only to wish them peace, but to give them peace. His peace. The peace that the world cannot give and no one can take away. This peace is not the absence of war or fighting or disputes or hatred in the world, because after the Lord gave them this peace, many of his disciples would end up hunted, persecuted, whipped, beaten, scourged and killed just as their master was. Jesus was not offering them this type of domestic tranquility. The peace he came to give — as only he could give — was a right relationship with God and with ourselves.
3) When everything is alright with God, we are at peace. We are attached to the rock in the midst of the storm around us. But we can allow so many worries to rob us of our peace. What if I lose my job? What if we don’t have enough money? How will our kids turn out? What if I fail? What will I do if I have to suffer like some of the people we’ve met? What will happen when I die? Jesus came into the world to take away all of these worries. Time and again he said, “Be not afraid!” And he meant it. And by his death and particularly his resurrection, he shows that he has overcome the world. About money, he said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? … Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Jesus gives us the solution to our fears. Strive first for the kingdom of God, trust completely in God, and our fears will be taken away. And if he is saying this about the actual things that we really need in life — food, drink, clothing — then he’s saying that we should all the more not worry about all those other things in life that we worry about that we really don’t need, bigger houses, televisions, promotions, prestige, and more and more money. About kids, he loves them even more than we do. About failure, he himself was a failure in the eyes of the world, but in the eyes of His Father, the only eyes that really count, he was the greatest victor of all time. About suffering, he gave meaning to all suffering, made it holy, and told us to pick up our crosses each day and follow him. And about death, the real fear of fears, he took away it all. As he said in today’s second reading, “There is nothing to fear. I am the First and the Last and the One who lives. Once I was dead but now I live — forever and ever. And I hold the keys of death and the nether world!” When he rose from the dead, he destroyed death once and for all. St. Paul says that Jesus took the stinger right out of death. “O death, where is your victory? O Death where is your sting? Like a wasp with no stinger, it might still annoy us but it should never worry us. Death is still present, but it no longer should scare us, because Christ has overcome death.
4) And hence nothing from the world should fill us with fear, because God’s love is so strong. St. Paul say, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” But there is one thing that St. Paul left out of his list, only one possible source of fear that we have to confront: that we won’t say yes to God, and that we, through weakness or choice, may refuse his incredible gift of peace. That we, in other words, will choose sin rather than choose God. This is the only thing that could separate us from God and his love, our own free choice to refuse his love, to walk away from him. And we do every time we sin.
5) But Jesus had an answer even to this. That’s why the second thing he did when he appeared to his apostles — after he wished them the peace that the triumph over death was able to bring — was to breathe on them the Holy Spirit, say, “Just as the Father sent me, so I send you,” and then involved them into the real mission he had received from the Father, the purpose for his coming, his being sent by the Father. “Receive the Holy Spirit.… If you forgive men’s sins, they are forgiven them; if you hold them bound, they are held bound.”
6) He sent the apostles out so that the one thing that could genuinely rob us of our peace no longer had to. He sent them out to forgive people’s sins, just as he himself had forgiven sins throughout his life on earth. Hence the apostles were the most important peacemakers ever known after Christ, because through them, Christ continues to make peace between us sinners and God. Sometimes people say “How come I have to confess my sins to a priest?” The answer is found in today’s Gospel very clearly. Because Jesus set it up that way. How else would the apostles have known which sins to retain and which to forgive unless people told them their sins — because Jesus didn’t give them the power to read souls. This is the great sacrament of God’s love and mercy and the great means to overcome all fear. How edifying it was that so many of our parishioners came to confession this Lent. It was a real outpouring of God’s mercy. If you were not one of those to come, please come during these days.
7) This Sunday is Divine Mercy Sunday. On the Second Sunday of Easter last year, I was in St. Peter’s Square with the Holy Father as he canonized a young Polish nun, Sr. Faustina Kowalska. In the 1930s, St. Faustina received apparitions of Jesus in which he asked for a devotion called the Divine Mercy Devotion, to increase in the world a great love for and appreciation of his overflowing mercy, not just in his incarnation, not just in his passion and death, but in his continual mercy for us today in the sacraments. During his homily during St. Faustina’s canonization, Pope John Paul II declared the Second Sunday of Easter to be Divine Mercy Sunday, in which the whole Church would praise God for his great mercy and love. There’s a special devotion to the Divine Mercy prayed on Rosary beads, which is a very beautiful prayer that I would encourage anyone to learn — it’s even easier than praying the Rosary. God’s mercy is the same thing as his love, because his love is always forgiving. We rejoice today in that loving mercy, which as we read in the psalm from today’s Mass, is “everlasting.”
8 ) The last thing we have to focus on this weekend is the Lord’s command to the apostles at the end of the scene of his encounter with them in the upper room that they are “witnesses” of all of this. The Church will use this expression time and again, as St. Peter did to his first converts, that they are witnesses to Christ’s death and resurrection. Now many of them had never seen Jesus in his earthly life and hadn’t seen him risen from the dead. How could they be witnesses to him if they had never seen them? It’s the same question for us. How can we be witnesses to Jesus — as each one of us is called to be — if we never saw Jesus risen from the dead? We can be witnesses if we have received Jesus’s true peace. We are called to bring that fearless peace out to others who so much need it. That would be the most contagious type of proclaiming of the Gospel, because people can always tell when someone has the presence of God. St. Maximilian Kolbe singing while in prison in a Nazi concentration camp brought peace to all the others on death row.
9) We all have that mission to spread Christ’s peace, that comes through the sacraments. None of us is excepted. At the end of Mass, everyone is sent “Go in PEACE to love and serve the Lord.” We’re called to take this seriously, to leave Mass in peace and bring Christ and his peace to others. The whole Mass is meant to bring us more deeply into Christ’s peace. We’re greeted, “The grace and peace of God Our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” That is not just a Christian form of “Hey, how you doing” but a prayer. Always pray it. Likewise during the Sign of Peace at Mass. Please really wish the other real peace. One of our altar servers really wishes every one a sign of peace and it is striking, because she means what she says, she doesn’t go through the motions. When you make this gesture, mean it. Then you will be ready to come to receive the Prince of Peace in Holy Communion.
10) Christ died to give us this peace and there’s no excuse for us not to have it, unless we choose not to conform ourselves with in by preferring sin. He died to give us peace with God. He died to give us peace with ourselves and with our great calling. He died to give us peace even with our sinfulness, provided that we always run to Christ in the great sacrament of confession that can restore us to peace whenever we remove ourselves from the Lord’s presence. Together let us thank God for his everlasting love and mercy and with St. Thomas today proclaim him, each and every one of us, “My Lord and my God!”