- To be celebrated on 27–4–2014 -
SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER
Gospel text : John 20:19-31
vs.19 In the evening of the same day, the first day of the week, the doors were closed in the room where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews. Jesus came and stood among them. He said to them, “Peace be with you,”
vs.20 and showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were filled with joy when they saw the Lord,
vs.21 and he said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so am I sending you.”
vs.22 After saying this he breathed on them and said: “Receive the Holy Spirit.
vs.23 For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained.”
vs.24 Thomas, called the Twin, who was one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.
vs.25 When the disciples said, “We have seen the Lord,” he answered, “Unless I see the holes that the nails made in his hands and can put my finger into the holes they made, and unless I can put my hand into his side, I refuse to believe.”
vs.26 Eight days later the disciples were in the house again and Thomas was with them. The doors were closed, but Jesus came in and stood among them. “Peace be with you” he said.
vs.27 Then he spoke to Thomas, “Put your finger here; look, here are my hands. Give me your hand; put it into my side. Doubt no longer but believe.”
vs.28 Thomas replied, “My Lord and my God!”
vs.29 Jesus said to him: “You believe because you can see me. Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.”
vs.30 There were many other signs that Jesus worked and the disciples saw, but they are not recorded in this book.
vs.31 These are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and believing this you may have life through his name.
We have three sets of homily notes to choose from.
Please click on the one required or scroll down the page.
|1. Michel de Verteuil||Lectio Divina with the Sunday Gospels – Year A
|2. Thomas O’Loughlin||Liturgical Resources for Advent & Christmastide
|3. John Littleton||Journeying through the Year of Matthew
Michel de Verteuil
Lectio Divina with the Sunday Gospels – Year A
Today’s gospel reading, like all of St John’s gospel, is an interweaving of several themes. It is not possible to follow up all the themes together; we must focus on one at a time, going deeply into it and allowing it to reveal some deep truth about Jesus, about ourselves and about life.
In this reflection I invite you to focus on the apostle Thomas; this is in accord with the Church’s liturgical tradition for the Second Sunday of Easter. Therefore, although the reading includes two of Jesus’ resurrection appearances – both of them deeply moving – we stay with the second, the dialogue between Jesus and Thomas, and let the earlier appearance provide the context. We are free to identify either with Thomas or with Jesus, but not with both at the same time.We need to be clear on how we understand Thomas. The popular interpretation puts him in a bad light, as “doubting Thomas”. This, however, is not the movement of the text which culminates in Thomas’ admirable act of faith, the most explicit in the New Testament – “My Lord and my God”. We are more in accord with the spirit of the text, therefore, when we look at Thomas as a model of faith. He was right to insist that before he could believe in Jesus’ resurrection, he must see the holes the nails made in his hands, put his finger into the holes and his hand into the great wound made by the centurion’s lance.
Thomas then teaches us the important lesson that we must not separate the resurrection from the cross, since we are called to be followers of Jesus. He also teaches us the truth of the Church and of our individual spiritual growth. We cannot live the life of grace, the “risen life”, authentically unless we bear in our bodies the wounds of the cross. This means being conscious that we develop the capacity to love and to be loved only by dying to ourselves. Our wounds are also a constant reminder of our frailty and that it is God’s grace that raises us up to new life.
St Paul’s epistles show that the first Christians needed the corrective of Thomas’ faith. They tended to relate with the risen Jesus without reference to his crucifixion. They forgot that they were called to be “followers of Jesus crucified,” choosing to die with him so that they could rise with him (see especially 1 Corinthians 1).
We Christians fall into the same error today when our lives and our teachings proclaim an abstract “disembodied” Jesus, dispenser of graces and teacher of morality; we forget the historical person who was put to death for proclaiming the kingdom of God.
Thomas professes the true faith of the church. We too must insist that the Jesus we follow is the true Jesus, the one whose risen body bears the wounds of Calvary.
Jesus is the model leader and spiritual guide. He is pleased to give Thomas the assurance he is looking for, and then challenges him to look forward to the day when he will believe without seeing – always in the Jesus who passes through death to resurrection.
The blessedness of believing without seeing came from the experience of the early church. Jesus is not moralising but inviting Thomas (and us) to celebrate great people of faith – in our communities and worldwide – who take up their cross with confidence in the resurrection.
As always in our meditation we must not limit ourselves to personal relationships. We celebrate the resurrection faith lived by communities, nations and cultures.
“You who remain ever faithful even when we are unfaithful, forgive our sins
and grant that we may bear true witness to you before all men and women.”
Pope John Paul II, Service of Forgiveness, March 2000
Lord, we thank you for the moments of grace of this Lenten season
when, as individuals and as a church community,
we walked in the footsteps of Jesus by passing from death to new life.
We thank you in particular for the great day
when our Church publicly asked forgiveness from other religions and cultures.
We thank you for good Pope John XXIII who opened up the papacy and the Church for a new age with the Vatican II council and
Pope John Paul who, like Jesus with St Thomas,
invited us to see the holes that the nails of arrogance and self-righteousness made into the body of Christ, and to put our fingers into the holes,
to put our hands into the huge wound which the lust for power made in his side,
so that we would recognise how, just as you raised Jesus from the dead,
you do not allow his Body, the Church, to remain in the tomb,
but always raise her up to new life.
Lord, we thank you for the times when reconciliation emerged triumphantly
from the tomb of conflict:
– the spirit of dialogue between our Church and Jews, Muslims,
Hindus and African traditional religions;
– the European Union created by former enemies;
– the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland;
– the peace process in the Middle East.
Do not let us forget the terrible legacy of hatred and resentment
which had to be overcome;
invite us to put our fingers into the holes made by the nails,
our hands into the great wound made by lances,
so that we can recognise with awe and wonder
the spark of your divine life that is within us all.
Remind us too of those who worked for peace during the long years of conflict
when they seemed to be working in vain.
How blessed were they who did not see
and yet continued to believe in your power to bring new life into the world.
“Whoever sees anything of God, sees nothing of God.“ Meister Eckhart
Lord, lead us to the blessedness of not seeing and believing.
“Go for broke, always try to do too much, dispense with safety nets, aim for the stars.”
Lord, we thank you for friends, leaders and spiritual guides
who challenge us as Jesus challenged Thomas.
When we commit ourselves to a cause because we have tested its reality,
they invite us to experience the blessedness of believing without seeing.
“Beware of the seduction of leaving the poor to think about them.” Jean Vanier
Lord, forgive us that we want to help those in need without sharing their pain;
we look for their resurrection but do not want to see their wounds:
– young people have been deeply hurt and we serve them with pious exhortations;
– we become impatient with those who continue to mourn the death of a spouse or a child;
– we think we can restore a broken relationship by merely saying we are sorry;
– we propose reconciliation between warring factions without acknowledging past wrongs;
– we pray for peace in the world and do not agonize over its terrible injustices.
We thank you for people like Thomas who will not let us away with easy solutions;
they insist that we must see the holes nails have made in the hands of victims,
put our fingers into the holes and our hands into wounds lances have made in their sides,
and only then believe that they have within them the capacity to rise to new life.
“We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being,
the exact nature of our wrongs.” Step 5 of the Twelve Step Method of Alcoholics Anonymous
Lord, when we are converted from an addiction to alcohol, drugs, power, or sex
we are so anxious to make a new start
that we forget the hurt which was at the root of our problem,
– the loneliness of our childhood,
– the sense of racial inferiority,
– our disability,
– the fear of failure.
We thank you for sending us friends who insist
that we must face the reality of the past.
We pray that like Jesus welcoming Thomas,
we will invite them to put their fingers into the holes the nails have made
and their hands into our sides,
so that they can walk with us in our new life.
Liturgical Resources for the Year of Matthew
Introduction to the Celebration
Characteristic of the people who rejoice in the Lord’s victory over death is that they gather regularly for ‘the breaking of the bread’. In this action we recognise the presence of the risen Christ and are invited to see that as we share a single loaf and cup, so we share in his new life. This new life has the promise of overcoming division, sin, and death: but are we really prepared to share with those around us? And if we are willing to accept forgiveness from the risen Lord, are we also ready to offer forgiveness?
1. There is a theme running through all the readings today which captures a key sense of the whole liturgy – that we as Christians live in ‘in-between’ times. On the one hand, we cry out that ‘Christ is truly risen, Alleluia’ (the great Easter slogan) and death has been put to flight; but on the other hand, we know we must walk by faith for around us there is no shortage of greed, death and destruction. Here is the great tension of discipleship: we must believe that Christ has conquered (or else Christian faith is meaningless) and we must work to bring it about. In short, we live and act in hope. Down the centuries many have tried to resolve this tension in favour of either believing or working (this is the ‘Pelagius v Augustine’ debate that has polarised so much western theology) rather than seeing in this tension the very structure of human life: we must grow to become what we most truly are. In Easter terms, we know that Christ has conquered and so life does not end in death, but this new life must be established both in our hearts (through having a new imagination whereby we view the world in terms of what it can become through love, generosity and forgiveness), and in the world through our Christian action.
2. We see this tension of what-God-has-established:and what is yet-to-come brought out clearly in 1Pet. The Christians rejoice in their new birth as sons and daugliiers of qOd,but they cannot escape the difficulties and demands of life. The author sought to explain this tension by carrying forward the metaphor of being children of the Father. Whoever is a child of the Father is an heir to the kingdom, but as a human inheritance (i.e. that which belongs to the children) requires waiting, so this divine inheritance is not being given to us yet but being held for us in heaven. But why does God rerequire us to wait? This time of waiting through difficulties is explained as God wishing us to undergo a time of testing andnd purification.
While we may not find this explanation convincing, nor like the implications of imagining God using our lives as a trialing-ground – for that invites the impious concretisation of the metaphor in presenting God testing some of his children to destruction – we must confront the same basic question to our believing that that author faced: we believe Christ has conquered, yet we experience death and pain as all too real around us. If we do nothing else in the homily today than acknowledge this basic dilemma of faith, we will have done much.
3. It is all too easy to pretend that the dilemma does not exist or, at least, would not bother us if we were ‘proper’ believers. One of the common surrogates for Christian faith is presenting Christianity as giving some immediate reward: a happier or more contented life, material benefits, or some notion of having a ‘God on your side’ – this is the sales-pitch of the televangelists. Equally, many wonder why ‘bad things happen to good people’ – the nagging doubt about the ‘value’ of faith when it ‘seems to make no difference’ whether one is a believer or not. Both positions ignore the basic Christian dynamic: Christ promises us the kingdom, but does so while challenging his followers to build it in their lives and world. The kingdom is not a child’s wonderland were we are simply lodged by an indulgent parent, but the completion of our human work that must engage our wills, our skills, and our hearts. Thus our faith involves (1) waiting (hope) and (2) the confrontation of the selfishness that creates suffering in our world other-focused love (agape/caritas). While we may not want to see these sufferings in terms of a divine testing as does 1 Pet, we must recognise when we shout ‘Christ is risen’, we do so with the sober realisation that suffering is part of the human condition and that belief requires challenging every attitude and action that contributes to that suffering. Fortitude and courage are Christian virtues.
4. There is another matter we should note today. This liturgy takes place on ‘the octave day’ of Easter and, historically, this day was seen as completing the’ great day of resurrection’ that has lasted since the Easter Vigil. Such a notion of a ‘ great day’ is beyond the imagination of most people in our society. For almost everyone this is just another weekend and the ‘long weekend’ of Easter already seems long past. So there is a dissonance between the liturgy, and perhaps its president declaring how special today is, and the average person’s emotions. There is no simple answer to this phenomenon: the twentieth century saw the secularisation of time into just two categories of ‘work [time]‘ and ‘time-off’ where material production was the measure of human life. In the process, the religious notion of stressed (high days) and unstressed time (ordinary time) disappeared, and with it the notion that human activity fits into a greater harmonious pattern seen in such regularities as the tides and the seasons. However, this crisis of sacred time is not helped when the actual liturgy in a parish has a single tone from Sunday to Sunday and that essential of sacred time, differences between day and day, is not felt by those celebrating. Today the liturgy expects us to continue the tone of Easter Sunday in such a way that the feel of this day is notably more special than that of the Sundays that will follow. This presents each community with the need to think about how they celebrate, and how they can mark this time as special.
5. One way of marking the central quality of Easter Day and this Sunday is to pick up the theme from Acts 2 where Luke sees the weekly gathering for the Eucharist as what is characteristically Christian. The symbolism that underlies Luke’s eucharistic theology is not that of bread and wine as specific food-materials, but that the baptised participants are united in Christ through each having as their food what is a portion in a single loaf and a single cup: hence his term ‘the breaking of the loaf’. However, this aspect of eucharistic symbolism is lost in our practice where we have individual mini-loaves (a round particle indicates a whole unit and is the very opposite of something broken for sharing), and either many cups (symbolic impoverishment) or, even worse, where the cup is not shared by the president with the other participants (symbolic famine). Making this breaking and eating shares of a single loaf, and drinking from a common cup, the central practical part of the celebration, with all its difficulties,delays, and need for explanation, will mark out this day as no amount of words or banners or peripheral decorations can.
Journeying through the Year of Matthew
When we celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation, we are assured that our sins are forgiven and that we will have God’s help to avoid sin in the future.
What is a sacrament? A sacrament is an outward sign of an inward grace. There are seven such sacraments in the Catholic Church. However, the seven sacraments are not simply signs like other signs in our lives. Unlike other signs and symbols, the sacraments are signs or symbols that bring about in our lives what they signify.
For example, although we might say that a washing machine is a symbol of cleanliness, we know that it is much more than that because it actually does what it symbolises: it cleans. In the same way a sacrament signifies an actual meeting — a personal encounter — with the risen Lord Jesus. Thus the sacrament of reconciliation is not just a sign or symbol of God’s forgiveness. Through it, we are truly absolved from our sins. The sacrament does what it signifies.
In celebrating the sacrament of reconciliation, what, we may ask, is the inward grace being celebrated? It is the process of the inner change that is happening because of conversion away from the darkness of sin towards the radiant light of Christ. But this inner change is not outwardly recognisable, precisely because it is interior to the penitent’s life. Therefore, there needs to be some outward sign that, in some way, manifests the inner change that is occurring.
For the sacrament to be celebrated properly, the penitent first confesses his / her sins. The naming of the sins in the presence of the priest indicates that the penitent is accepting personal responsibility for them.
Secondly, the penitent expresses genuine sorrow for the sins by praying the act of contrition. Again, the vocalising of this prayer is a sign of the penitent’s sorrow and desire for conversion.
Thirdly, and crucially, the priest speaks the words of absolution that, because of the grace of ordination, mediate God’s forgiveness. As the penitent listens to the words of absolution and sees the priest make the sign of the cross, the penitent realises that his! her sins are forgiven.
Fourthly, and finally, the penitent performs the penance given by the priest. The penance is another outward sign of the inward grace. The penance in itself does not undo the harm caused by the sins but is simply a gesture on the penitent’s part that the process of interior conversion is progressing. Nonetheless, the penance is an important activity that demonstrates outwardly what is happening inwardly in the penitent’s life.
We all need to experience reconciliation in our lives. The sacrament of reconciliation enables us to experience God’s forgiveness for our sins. Through the outward signs of confessing sins, praying the act of contrition, receiving absolution and doing the penance, we demonstrate our interior conversion and we complete the process of sacramental reconciliation.
Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained. (Jn 20:22-23)