Year B readings:
1st reading: Acts: 4:32-35
2nd reading: 1 John 5:1-6
Gospel: John 20:19-31
The disciples are gathered together in a room behind shut doors. They fear the Jews and what might happen to them being followers of Jesus. Our Lord appears among them. There are similarities between this Gospel text and the description of St Luke of Jesus suddenly appearing among the disciples: Both texts have: Jesus stood among them; Peace to you; He shows His wounds; He speaks of forgiveness of sins.
Jesus stood among them. His appearance is miraculous, but He is not a pure spirit. He stands here present among us today. “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of you.” His crucified and risen body is with us now, especially in the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist.
He offers peace: Each time He appears like this, He first greets them thus: “Peace be with you”. But this is not the peace of the world: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you; not as the world gives do I give you.” The world offers a false peace because it does not know God. But the peace that Jesus offers overcomes all fears. “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
He shows them His wounds. The disciples had recognized Him in the breaking of the bread. Now they are glad when they perceive that it is truly the Lord, when they see His wounds. They are glad. They are at peace. By His wounds we are healed. When we celebrate mass, the Holy Eucharist, we make present the sacrifice of Christ on Good Friday, the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, though in an un-bloody manner. Our prayers are ordered to uniting ourselves, our sufferings, our whole being, with the sufferings of Christ. Only the priest acting “in Persona Christi Capitis” (in the Person of Christ the Head) has the power to consecrate the Holy Eucharist during the Eucharistic prayer. But the prayers of all the faithful, including those of the priest, acting in Persona Christi Corporis (in the person of Christ the Body) serve to unite us all with the sacrifice of Christ so that we become one body with the Body of Christ. “If we have died with Him we shall also live with Him”. We must die to ourselves so that we can truly live with Him.
He speaks of forgiveness of sins. Today we celebrate the Feast of Divine Mercy. Through His wounds He has poured out the fullness of His Mercy on the whole world, for the forgiveness of sins. In her writings St Gertrude, a Benedictine nun and mystic of the 13th century and one of the first exponents of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, describes how she saw emanating from the wound of Christ’s side a “ray of sunlight with a sharp point like an arrow come forth and spread itself out…” The Lord inflicted a wound in her heart saying: “May all the affections of your heart be concentrated here … May they all be fixed in my love”. Similarly too the image we now know as that of the Divine Mercy from the diary of St Faustina, a Polish nun and mystic of the last century, shows two rays emanating from the Heart of Christ representing the blood and water gushing forth as a fountain of His Mercy on the whole world. For He is the One who comes by water and blood, pre-eminently in the sacraments. We are all in great need of His Mercy. But we need to repent of our sins in order to avail of this gift of Mercy, in order that our whole lives be fixed in the Love of Christ, being united to His Wounds of Love. And when we receive His mercy, we must ourselves be merciful. We must show His mercy to the world. We have plenty of opportunities for this especially during this time of Covid-19.
Jesus breathed on the disciples saying “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you receive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” They are receiving a Divine Power to forgive or retain sins. It is a Power of the Holy Spirit effective through the wounds of Christ, a Power proceeding both from the Father and the Son. At this point it is a sign that looks forward to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. For this cannot happen until Jesus returns to the Father. And it has been and is to our advantage that Jesus returns to His Father for thus we receive the Holy Spirit to effect the presence of the Holy Trinity within us! We are made in the image and likeness of God. This image has been damaged, disfigured, through sin. It is now being remade, healed, restored, through the wounds of Christ, through His death and resurrection. We avail of His Diviner Mercy through death to ourselves, by our repentance and confessing our sins. There is no other way. But this should not disturb us. Rather it fills us with joy, with gladness and true Peace.
Jesus stood among his disciples. His presence was real. His sacrifice, His suffering and death, was real. His presence now too is real. His resurrection from death was real. On Calvary Mary stood beneath the cross of her dying son. Her faith though severely tested, was real. She never faltered. She too and all the saints live among us. Our spiritual journey lies open before us. We can choose to follow the road to our personal Calvary, our own suffering, guided by the Holy Spirit of Truth. We are not alone on our journey. He is with us. The saints are with us in the midst of all our trials. They are with us in the sufferings caused by this pandemic. But we too need to have real faith. No faith can be real unless it is tested, strengthened, purified. In His Mercy, the Grace flowing from His most sacred wounds, we are healed. He has made suffering redemptive. The saints lived their suffering, dying to self, in union with Mary united to the sufferings of Christ. In times of trial never cease to invoke their assistance, who stand now in one great communion urging us on. For the sake of His sorrowful passion, never cease to implore the Divine Mercy on our sins and those of the whole world. It is our only path road to peace.
Dom Brian Gerard Kelly