SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER (DIVINE MERCY SUNDAY)
Today's first reading is from The Acts of the Apostles. This is a unique book in the New Testament. It is not a gospel account of the life of Jesus. It is not a letter written to a church or an individual. It is a history, written by Luke, of the earliest days of the Church. This is the beginning of our story, the story of the Catholic Church. Reading the book of Acts shows us two things: we see the continuity of the early Church and today's Church, in the apostolic mission, the ordaining of bishops, priests and deacons, the celebration of the breaking of the bread (the Eucharist), baptisms, and even a Church Council; it also shows us the continuity between that early Church and Jesus Christ.
In the reading today from Acts 5:12-17 we hear of gathering crowds. People are bringing their sick and lame out into the streets, hoping that they might be healed if only they might be touched by the shadow of.... not Jesus. Peter.
It reads like a scene from one of the gospels, where the crowds are pressing in on Jesus in expectation of a healing miracle. But this time it is not the Christ, but the one whom He left in His stead, the one to whom He gave the keys to His Kingdom; Simon the fisherman, now called Peter. He is the chief shepherd of the flock of Christ. And it is not because of anything special about Peter that the crowds come to him. It is because the graces of Christ flow through him.
So, you see, they still come for Jesus. They are not called "believers of Peter," but "believers of the Lord."
They come to Peter because as one of the Apostles he has the authority of Jesus Christ. It is the same authority that Christ possessed of the Father; the authority that allowed Christ to heal, that allowed Him to forgive sins, that allowed Him to teach as He did. That authority has been handed on to the Apostles.
In today's gospel reading from John we read of Christ appearing to the Apostles after the Resurrection. "Peace be with you," He says. "As the Father has sent me, so I send you." Then He does a magnificent thing. Our Lord breathes on them. We must remember that the root word of "spirit" means "breath" (as in "aspirate"). Jesus breathes on them and says, "Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained."
God alone has the authority to forgive sins, for when we sin, it is God whom we offend. Jesus possessed this authority from the Father. And now Jesus passes it on to men.
The Apostles are still with us today. Not the same men, in the flesh, as we read of in Acts. But their successors are with us. Just as Jesus sacramentally passed His divine authority to the original Apostles, so they passed that authority on to others, and they to others, down the line of Apostolic Succession to the present day bishops in our Church (and the priests and deacons ordained to aid them in their ministry).
Just as it was in the earliest days of the Church, Jesus Christ is still alive and still ministering to us through His chosen men. Our faith should be as strong as those who came to Peter and the others for healing and reconciliation. St. Thomas in today's Gospel refused to believe in the Resurrection until he could touch the wounds of the Risen Lord. Jesus said to him, "Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe."
That is you and me. We have not seen the Risen Lord. But we have seen those who carry out His ministry, with His divine authority, still today. Hold fast to the bishops. Hold fast to the Catholic Church. As St. Ignatius of Antioch (a disciple of St. John, ordained bishop by St. Peter) wrote in the year 110, "Wheresoever the bishop appears, there let the people be; just as wherever Christ is, there is the Catholic Church."
DIVINE MERCY SUNDAY
Today is also Divine Mercy Sunday. Jesus said in a vision to St. Faustina that whoever would not enter in through the door of His Mercy must pass through the door of His Judgment. To accept Christ's mercy means three things:
1. You must ask for it.
2. You must yourself be merciful to others (allowing Christ's mercy to flow through you).
3. You must trust in Jesus.
If you are unfamiliar with the devotion to Divine Mercy, take a few minutes today to familiarize yourself with it. Here is one helpful link:
St. Mary's will have a Divine Mercy Holy Hour at the parish today at 3:00pm. And this evening at 7:00 at our student center, in place of our usual rosary before Mass, we will be praying the Divine Mercy chaplet. (If you are unfamiliar with this prayer, come anyway, we will have guides).
This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it!