Sunday, April 19th, 2020

Unbelief and Sacramental Realism: a Homily for Divine Mercy Sunday

Then he said to Thomas: Put in thy finger hither and see my hands. And bring hither the hand and put it into my side. And be not faithless, but believing (John 20, 27).

The text just now quoted is the Communion antiphon for today’s Mass. Communion antiphons are of special importance to us, because they are the words that Holy Mother Church would like us to have in mind as we approach to receive Holy Communion. For that reason, it is equally fitting that we have these same words in mind during any time we might spend in Adoration. Thus, if ever we are unsure about what to pray in the presence of the Most Holy Eucharist—either in the context of Holy Mass or Adoration—we do well to look no farther than the Communion antiphon.

One of the first things we ought to notice about today’s Gospel, however, is the fact that locked doors were no obstacle for our Blessed Lord. And they are no obstacle for him now.

But what is an obstacle to Christ, so to speak, is unbelief. Incredulity, the Catechism tells us, ‘is the neglect of revealed truth or the willful refusal to assent to it.’[1] And that is exactly what Saint Thomas was guilty of. The other Apostles, on their authority, revealed to him that they had seen the Lord; he, on the other hand, withheld his assent. But only for a while. Our Lord comes into the midst of the college of Apostles for a second time, and he confronts Saint Thomas with all the realism of his person.

Interesting to note that it was the wounds Saint Thomas wanted to see and to touch. He did not say he wanted to see our Lord’s face or to hear him speak. Certainly we can assume he would have been quite content with this seeing and hearing—but nevertheless, for all his unbelief, he wanted to touch the wounds. And this is exactly what he Our Lord did for him.

The Apostles have a certain advantage; they did see the Master face-to-face, wounds and all. And of course Our Lord acknowledges this advantage: ‘Because thou hast seen me, Thomas, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen and have believed.’[2] However, that does not mean that Christ has left you and me at a disadvantage. Saint Thomas was confronted with the realism of Christ’s person; you and I are similarly confronted with the sacramental realism of Christ’s person.

The truth is, the Catholic does see and touch the wounds of Christ: only in a different way—a different mode—from the Apostles. But we see and touch him all the same. And if we may so speak, the Blessed Eucharist is where we encounter the wounds of Christ most obviously. So wonderful a mystery, the Holy Eucharist; so perfect a means for our spiritual good: and yet so misunderstood and neglected. And that brings us toward a conclusion and toward the theological content of today’s mystery.

Especially in the presence of the Most Holy Eucharist, again, if we may so ask the question in this way: how does Christ continue to be wounded? By incredulity. The sin of incredulity, of unbelief, is a sin against the First Commandment. But indeed, all the commandments, from first to last, ‘make explicit the response of love that man is called to give to his God.’[3] To disobey a commandment is to withhold love.

Enter Divine Mercy. This withholding of love is the very thing about which our Lord spoke so often to Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, and this so close to our time. But it was also the very thing Our Lord spoke of with Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque in the seventeenth century; it was the same thing Our Lady spoke of at Fatima little more than a hundred years ago. And all this is not without reason. The drama that drives human history—can we say especially in the modern period?—is whether or not persons and nations will obey the Commandments, that is, make a return of love to God.

And so we beseech the Divine Mercy. We beseech the Divine Mercy not to leave us to our own devices; to supply us with the grace we need to be faithful; to supply the grace that others need to be faithful. Because mercy is where the goodness of God and human misery meet. And we know for ourselves that we want to be at that meeting place. Concretely speaking, where is this meeting place par excellence? The Sacraments; especially the Most Holy Eucharist. The sacramental realism of the Church confronts our incredulity and lovelessness. Ours is merely to respond as Saint Thomas did.

One last point. If we find ourselves tempted like Saint Thomas was, we do well not to be anxious. The soul who is tempted to incredulity needs to make acts of faith.—Credo in unum Deum. Et in Jesum Christum. But one way to do this is forget one’s own temptations for a moment and pray that others might have their faith increased. The Divine Mercy Chaplet can be especially useful for this. But so is the Rosary; and the Litanies of the Sacred Heart or of the Holy Name.

It is not out of place to pray thus: ‘Surely someone at this hour is tempted more severely than I am; someone at this hour is passing through a darkness greater than my own. I pray for them. I beseech the Divine Mercy for them. Yes, lead all souls to Heaven, especially those most in need of Thy mercy.’ The divine goodness will never leave a prayer like that unanswered: ‘I will not leave you friendless.’[4] And it may indeed come with a double grace: that of stronger faith, for others, and indeed for oneself.


[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed, Libreria Editrice Vaticana (Norwalk, CT: The Easton Press, 1997), n 2089.

[2] Jn 20, 29.

[3] Catechism, n 2083.

[4] Jn 14, 18. Cf also, Mk 11, 24, &c.

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