Homily for Divine Mercy Sunday 2022.
The summer after my second year in seminary, I had the opportunity to go on an eight-day silent retreat. It was exactly what I needed at the time, because the past two years had been extremely challenging. While the months leading up to my decision to enter seminary had been filled with joy and a sense of closeness to the Lord, the moment I entered seminary, I felt that the Lord had abandoned me. I didn’t have the spiritual tools at the time to understand what was going on, and I felt very confused and discouraged. Why would the Lord abandon me the moment I answered His call? I felt betrayed, as if the Lord had not kept His promise to me.
All of these feelings came to the surface during my silent retreat, and the priest that I met with each day encouraged me to bring them to the Lord in prayer. One of the passages that the priest had me pray with was our gospel today. He encouraged me to take the place of Thomas, imagining that I was him. Where was Thomas the first time around? Why wasn’t he there with the other apostles? What was going through his mind and his heart? Our gospel, of course, doesn’t answer these questions. Thomas is like the relative that doesn’t show up for the family gathering, but we don’t know why. He could have been there, he had no excuse not to be there, but, inexplicably, he isn’t.
Taking the place of Thomas, I imagined that he was feeling what I had been feeling those past two years: confused, discouraged, and betrayed. Jesus had given every sign that He was the Messiah, the one to save Israel. He had promised salvation in both words and deeds. But He didn’t deliver on His promise, at least it may have seemed that way to Thomas. He and the other apostles may have abandoned Jesus, but Jesus had also abandoned them. He wasn’t supposed to leave them, but He did. In his hurt and sense of betrayal, I imagined Thomas staying away from the other apostles. I imagined him ignoring reports that Jesus had risen from the dead. Thomas didn’t want to get his hopes up. He didn’t want to be betrayed again. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
One of the most common emotions we experience in life is disappointment. People and things don’t live up to our expectations; they over-promise and under-deliver. Whether it’s what we have, who we know, or what we do, we expect them to make us happy, but they never do, at least not completely. No matter how great they are, they always leave us disappointed. And we can sometimes feel that way about God. I know I did after my first two years in seminary. Perhaps Thomas felt that way in our gospel today. Perhaps you have felt that way before, or even feel that way right now.
When people do not live up to our expectations, when those who are supposed to love us leave us feeling confused, discouraged, and betrayed, it leaves a mark; it wounds us. This is especially true when it comes to God. Disappointment with God leaves a deep wound. And it causes us to doubt God’s goodness and faithfulness. It was to heal Thomas’ wound, the wound of His disappointment with God, that Jesus appeared to him today, on Divine Mercy Sunday, a week after His resurrection from the dead. About this encounter, St. Augustine said this: “The Lord who could have risen again without any vestige of a wound, kept the scars, that they might be touched by the doubting apostle, and the wounds of his heart be healed.”
And it is to heal our wounds, especially the wounds that may have arisen because of our disappointment with Him, that Jesus has left His resurrected presence with us in the Holy Eucharist. Each time we come to Mass, we have the opportunity to encounter the risen Christ, even as Thomas did. Each time we come to Mass, Jesus says to us, as He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” The Eucharist is Jesus’ reminder that He never over-promises or underdelivers, that He is always faithful, that He will never abandon or forsake us, that He is with us always. This is what Jesus wants to remind us of on this Divine Mercy Sunday: that He always keeps His promises. In a few moments, when we see the risen Christ is lifted up in the Eucharist, may we say with St. Thomas, “My Lord and my God.” Amen.