I don’t know about you, but I’ve always wondered why Thomas was missing the first time. I think I’ve finally come up with an answer, however. Had Thomas been there the first time, there would have been more than ten people in the same room. With both Judas and Thomas gone, the disciples could practice safe social distancing. Of course, Jesus ruins that when He shows up. And He ruins it even more when He breathes on the disciples. They were probably wearing face masks and standing six feet apart, however, but still—the audacity to breath on someone. Unbelievable.
All joking aside, there are some striking similarities between the circumstances of the disciples in the gospel and our own circumstances in the world today. The disciples being locked inside out of fear is certainly relatable. They were afraid of being persecuted and killed. We are afraid of getting sick and dying. But while they locked their doors from the inside, ours seem to be locked from the outside. The restrictions we face today, unlike the disciples’, do not seem to be of our own making. They seem to be imposed on us by others. After all, we didn’t come up with the rules. We didn’t issue the stay at home orders. We didn’t close the churches, schools, restaurants, and beauty salons. We didn’t do any of this.
And yet, the severest restrictions we face today are not the ones imposed on us from the outside by civil authorities. They are the ones which we impose on ourselves from the inside by our fear, our doubt and especially our distrust. St. Paul once told the Corinthians, “You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own hearts” (2 Cor. 6:12). The severest restrictions we face today are not the ones we find on government websites, but the ones we find in our own hearts. These restrictions are at the heart, quite literally, of our sense of paralysis, isolation, and confinement. If we trusted more, and feared and doubted less, new dimensions of freedom would open up for us and we’d feel less restricted. Trust in Jesus unlocks our hearts to true freedom.
And it was to unlock the doors of their hearts, not the doors of their house, that Jesus appeared to the disciples. He wasn’t concerned with the physical locks. Those were merely superficial restrictions and easily overcome. But He was concerned with the spiritual locks. He was concerned with the far deeper and more difficult restrictions that bound the disciples’ hearts: fear, doubt, and especially distrust.
It is distrust which hurts Jesus the most. This is what He told St. Faustina, the saint who brought us this feast of Divine Mercy which we are celebrating today. Jesus said: “Distrust on the part of souls is tearing at My insides. The distrust of a chosen soul causes Me even greater pain; despite My inexhaustible love for them they do not trust Me. Even My death is not enough for them” (Diary n. 50). Distrust of Jesus—of His goodness, of His love, of His mercy, of His plan for our lives—this is what hurts Him the most. And it is what hurts us the most. It is the severest restriction which we face today and one which we impose on ourselves. A distrustful heart is a bound heart, a locked heart. A trustful heart, on the other hand, is open to receiving all that Jesus desires to give. Jesus told St. Faustina, “The more a soul trusts, the more it will receive. Souls that trust boundlessly are a great comfort to Me, because I pour all the treasures of My graces into them. I rejoice that they ask for much, because it is My desire to give much, very much. On the other hand, I am sad when souls ask for little, when they narrow their hearts” (Diary n. 1578).
It was to open the disciples’ hearts, and dispel the fear, doubt, and especially distrust that bound them, that Jesus appeared to them. And when He came and stood in their midst He said, “Peace be with you.” The last time He spoke these words to the disciples was at the Last Supper. He said to them then, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid” (Jn. 14:27). Jesus does not give peace as the world gives it, because He gives it by means of the Holy Spirit.
By means of the Holy Spirit, imparted by His breath, Jesus gave the disciples not only the power to forgive sins but also the gift of peace. And as the warmth of Jesus’ breath touched their hearts, the Holy Spirit unlocked them, dispelling the fear, doubt, and distrust that bound them. Like the stone statues in the castle of the White Witch being returned to life by the breath of Aslan (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe), or like Han Solo being released from his carbonite sleep (Return of the Jedi), so Jesus freed the hearts of his disciples. He loosened their self-imposed restrictions.
And this, my friends, is mercy: It is the Holy Spirit loosening the restrictions of our hearts. And this is the mercy we so desperately need right now. For the severest restrictions we face today are the ones which we find in our own hearts: our fear, our doubt, and especially our distrust. On this Divine Mercy Sunday, let us ask Jesus to loosen these restrictions. Let us ask Him to unlock the doors of our hearts. Let us ask Him to breathe on us, fill us with the Holy Spirit, and leave us with His peace.
As a final note, if you’re looking for a good book to read during this time, one that may help you overcome these self-imposed restrictions, I’d like to recommend Interior Freedom by Fr. Jacques Philippe. It’s short, very readable, and filled with profoundly helpful insights. It’s one of the most influential books I’ve ever read.
May the peace of the Risen Lord be with you: on this Divine Mercy Sunday and always.