28 April 20192 Easter

Homily from Father James Gilhooley
2 Easter
Second Sunday of Easter - Cycle C John 20, 19-31

A prisoner of war, a nominal Christian, was being abused. However, one guard was regularly kind. One day he stood next to the prisoner and drew a Cross in the dirt. Then he smiled and whispered,"Believe." The pow's faith took a seismic leap. "Joy," wrote Leon Bloy, "is the most infallible sign of the presence of God." The results are in and they are not happy ones. "Weekly church attendance for US Catholics is much closer to 25% than to 50%." The researchers hail from the Sociology Department at the University of Notre Dame. These scholarly findings do confirm what many of our unscholarly eyes have been telling us on Sunday mornings. No doubt many of our fellow Catholics are staying under their electric blankets on Sunday mornings out of sheer laziness and indifference. Still there are countless others staying there because of an absence of faith. And, faith is what it is all about this Easter season. One has to wonder whether I myself, say, or you are the cause of the lack of faith in others. I was riding the New York City subways. Across from me sat a religious in full habit.

She struck me as singularly unhappy. She seemed so stern. Even when I greeted her, she did not reply. My stop arrived and I exited. A passenger, unknown to me, shared the same destination. He had witnessed her deliberate snub of me. On the platform, he said to me, "That nun was a very poor advertisement for the good news that Jesus has risen." I kept my silence, murmured a "God bless," and moved off. Yet, Monsieur Bloy's observation did come to mind. Someone had the patience to count the number of times the word joy appears in the Bible. The number is an astonishing 542. Am I a joyful person? Are you? Do people look at us and sense that we firmly believe that Jesus the Lord has conquered death? Do they sense that we subscribe to that beautiful line from the Apocalypse? "I was dead and now I am to live for ever and ever." Or do they feel as my fellow subway passenger that there is no Easter joy about us and that we appear to be prophets of both doom and gloom? It is an awesome responsibility to be a Christian. And we must act accordingly. A dour Catholic is an oxymoron.

Ours is an age where faith is an absent quality in even many ostensibly Catholic households. It is important to reflect that genuine joy is not "make believe." Nor does authentic joy call it a day when it makes us feel good and causes us to walk about with a large smile. Rather, it leads us to live lives worthy of the risen Christ we salute this sacred season. We become people filled with good works as well as cheer. James Tahaney has put the point I am trying to make well. We tell God that we do love Him, but we must prove that declaration by our actions. "Proof, says Tahaney, "comes from performance, not promises." We would all do well to check our Catholic and Christian lives critically from time to time. Are we working at the faith as well as we should? Can others looking at us tell that we are clearly the followers of Jesus? Do we possess Easter joy? Haven't we been told often enough that faith is something caught and not taught? One of the best ways to both measure ourselves and then correct a bad situation is with the Scriptures themselves.

Perhaps you may want to follow the advice offered by O.T. Gifford in the book he titled Hints to Young Christians . And no matter what one's age is, one should by definition be a young Christian. Isn't that what the Easter Gospels are all about? Writes Gifford, "If you're getting lazy, read James. If your faith is below par, read Paul. If you're impatient, consider the book of Job. If you're a little strong-headed, go and see Moses. If you're weak-kneed, have a look at Elijah. If there is no song in your heart, listen to David. If you feel spiritually chilly, get the beloved disciple John to put his arms around you. And if you're losing sight of the future, climb to Revelation and get a glimpse of heaven."

Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
2 Easter
Second Sunday of Easter,
Divine Mercy Sunday: Mercy for Doubters

"Bless me Father for I have sinned. Father, I have horrible doubts. Sometimes, I wonder if God exists. Sometimes, I think that He's not concerned about me. Sometimes, I wonder if He cares about the people in the world. If He exists, and if He cares, then why do horrendous things happen?" These and similar questions confront all priests. In fact, all priests, as well as bishops and even popes, are often attacked by doubts. Doubting is one of the weights of the human condition. There is a part of us that wants to posit the physical world as the only life that exists. There is a part of us that questions the spiritual. "I do believe, Lord, help those parts of me that don't believe," the frantic father said to the Lord in Mark 9:24. The man had brought his son to Jesus' disciples to be healed. The poor boy was having seizures, throwing himself into the fire, down a well, etc. The people of the time thought the child was possessed. We would have other explanations, but the fact remained that the child had a serious problem. Jesus came upon the scene of the man and the disciples and a crowd of other people, perhaps all yelling at each other.

"What is happening here?" Jesus asked. The man told him about his son, and then added, "I brought him to your disciples, but they couldn't do anything. If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us." "If I can?" Jesus retorted, all things are possible to him who believes." And then the man cried out, "I do believe, help my unbelief." And the man's plea for faith added to his prayer for his son resulted in Jesus healing the boy. "Help those parts of me that don't believe." That's a prayer that we have to say whenever doubts assail us. Whether we question God's concern, we question the Church's teaching, or even if we question God's existence, every one of us throughout our lives need to call out, "I do believe. Help those parts of me that don't believe. Thomas, the world class doubter of today's Gospel, had experienced Jesus words and his miracles. More than that, Thomas himself, as well as the other disciples who would become apostles, had actually witnessed the Power of God working through them. Matthew 10:1 tells us: Jesus summoned His twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. Thomas could heal people.

On another time, Jesus sent out an additional seventy disciples. We read about their return in Luke 10:17-19: The seventy returned with joy, saying, "Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name." And He said to them, "I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you." Thomas had been a part of all that; he had been given those powers, and, yet, he still doubted. Maybe Thomas, like Peter and the other ten disciples in the Upper Room on Holy Thursday, was so shocked by the Crucifixion, by Good Friday, that he lost hope in the Resurrection. He lost hope that there would be an Easter Sunday. Maybe Thomas, like Judas Iscariot, was so heavily planted in the physical, that he relegated his spiritual experiences as insignificant. Certainly that would explain Judas' selling out Jesus, betraying him.

Was Thomas like Judas in this way? Perhaps Thomas wondered if there were some sort of physical explanation to the wonders he had experienced. Or maybe Thomas was so sick and tired of the antics of the other disciples, that he just wasn't going to believe anything they said, even if they told him the Lord had risen from the dead. In the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man in Luke Jesus had prophesied that those who were not just, not united to God, those who did not believe in Moses and the Prophets, would not believe even if someone were to rise from the dead. Perhaps, Thomas was not as committed to God as he thought he was. What a scene in that Upper Room the Sunday after Easter! Thomas had heard that Jesus had appeared to the other disciples the third day after he died, Easter Sunday. But Thomas was not there at that time. Thomas had said that he wouldn't believe unless he touched Jesus's wounded hands and put his hands in Jesus' pierced side. And then Jesus appeared. He told Thomas to do what he said he needed to do to believe.

Actually, Thomas didn't touch Jesus' hands and side as many paintings show. Instead, he just said to Jesus, "My Lord and My God." It is at that point that Jesus looked at Thomas and said, "You believe because you have seen," and then Jesus looked at us, people through the ages, you and me, and said, "Blessed are those who have not seen but who believe." We who were not there were in Jesus' eyes simply because we are here. He continues to look at us. He sees our fears. He hears our questions. He knows how we often struggle with doubts, and he has mercy on us, just as he had mercy on Thomas. If he did not hold Thomas' doubts against him, Thomas who had experienced so much of the Lord's presence, so many wonders, if he did not hold Thomas' doubts against him, he will not hold our doubts against us.

And for those who in confession admit their doubts, well, the very fact that they, and you, and me, hate the times that we doubt the Lord, then our struggle to fight doubts, our prayer for help with those parts of us that don't believe, all this draws God's Mercy Upon Us. This Sunday is Divine Mercy Sunday. Look at the picture of the Divine Mercy. Look at the Lord risen, with the tomb behind him and white and red beams flowing from his side, and then read carefully what is under the picture: Jesus, I trust in you. We trust in his care and concern for us and all the people of the world. And when we hear about horrendous things happening, as we do every day, we trust that the Lord will care for the victims.

St. Peter says that in the war against evil our ancient enemy, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. He tells us to be strong in faith and stand up to him. We cannot let Satan's temporary victories turn the tide in the war for God's Kingdom. There is a wonderful group of contemplative sisters from Watertown, New York, the Sister Adorers of the Precious Blood, who have promoted this short prayer from a hymn written by Lucy Bennet: Trust Him Trust Him when dark doubts assail thee, Trust Him, when thy strength is small; Trust Him, when to simply trust Him, Seems the hardest thing of all. Trust Him. He is ever faithful, Trust Him! for His will is best; Trust Him! for the Heart of Jesus, Is the only place of rest. "Jesus help those parts of us that don't trust, that don't believe." On Divine Mercy Sunday we pray: "Jesus we trust in you."

Homily from Father Phil Bloom
* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies
2 Easter
Two-Step Program

Bottom line: Jesus invites us to not be unbelieving, but to believe and to touch his wounds - the wounds of his mystical body, our hurting Church. On Easter Sunday we heard the challenge to rebuild our lives, to rebuild the Church. I mentioned Jesus has a two-step program for doing exactly that. We see the two steps in our Gospel. The first step is what Jesus says to Thomas, "Do not be unbelieving, but believe". You might say: Well, I would believe if Jesus appeared to me and showed me his wounds. OK, but has God not given you reason to believe? For sure, there are always reasons to doubt, but Jesus' words indicate that belief involves an element of decision.

Jesus tell Thomas, "Do not be unbelieving, but believe". Even after dramatic evidence, Thomas still has to make a choice.* Anthony DeStephano wrote a book, Ten Prayers God Always Says Yes To. The first is simple and direct: "God, show me you exist." I tried it a few years ago. Like every human being I have emotions of doubt, but I don't want to be ruled by emotions. So I said that prayer, "God, show me you exist." Within a week I received a lovely confirmation. If a person takes seriously God's existence, the implications are staggering. We don't naturally welcome those implications. To be honest I'd rather be the center of the universe, just follow my impulses. That way seems comfortable and comforting, but it does not lead to peace. Faith, while it makes demands, leads to flourishing. "Do not be unbelieving, but believe". Belief is the first step in Jesus' two-step plan. The second is more nitty gritty: to touch Jesus' Body. That's what Jesus invites Thomas to do - to touch his wounds. Many people shrink from this. It's one thing to believe - especially intellectually. It's something else to touch his body. The importance of touching Jesus' Body was brought home to me by an unlikely book: Alienated America.

After the 2016 election Timothy Carney began investigating what's happening in our country. Why do so many of our fellow Americans feel depressed, like the American dream is dead for them? Carney visited parts of our nation where industries folded or relocated leaving people unemployed or without a decent paying job. He began to observe that while some of those communities collapsed, others bounced back and even thrived. What was the difference? The thriving communities had functioning networks of families and church. They had other civic organizations, but church congregations were crucial. Carney realized that the American dream involves a lot more than a well paying job. Even more important is having a network where a person feels needed and loved. Those communities where families were breaking apart and churches were shrinking or closing - those communities tended to sink, often into alcohol, drugs, isolation and even suicide. A lot of the isolated people are actually believers who read their Bible. Yet they don't connect with a church community.

Carney's book, Alienated America, made me do a lot of thinking and soul searching. Whatever time God gives me I want to call people not only to faith in Jesus, but also to connect with other believers. It's interesting that Jesus insists on physical sacraments. Unless you be born again by water and the Holy Spirit you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. If you do not eat my flesh and drink my blood you will not have life within you. You cannot receive the sacraments in isolation. The sacraments bring us into a physical relation not only with the Risen Jesus but also with other believers. People tell me they don't like organized religion. I tell them, St. Mary of the Valley is the place for you!

No one has accused us of being organized but we do have the sacraments and we do want you to connect with other parishioners. In his book, Tim Carney tells the benefits he experiences from involvement in his own parish. Now, I am not saying to get involved for what you can get out of it. Still, it's true what Jesus says, Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added unto you. So that's it. Jesus two-step program: believe and touch his body. It can involve times of frustration. Next Sunday we'll hear about a group of disciples working together all night and not catching a single fish. Then Jesus turns things around. Today Jesus invites us to not be unbelieving, but to believe and to touch his wounds - the wounds of his mystical body, our hurting Church. And to experience what he says, "Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed". Amen.

Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pa
Saint Vincent Archabbey
2 Easter

Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
2 Easter
Second Sunday of Easter

There are two resurrection appearances by Jesus recorded in today's Gospel. The first occurs on the very day of the resurrection itself. Jesus has already appeared in the morning to Mary Magdalene who mistook him for a gardener and then in the evening of that same day he appears to the Apostles who are hiding in a room somewhere. We are not sure if this is the same room in which they celebrated the Last Supper although it is popularly thought to be one and the same room. However, John does not actually specify which room he is talking about. The narrative centres around Thomas who is not present when Jesus appears to his fellow Apostles. When they tell him how Jesus appeared to them in the room, he quite flatly doesn't believe them. Now in the text there is a little phrase that gives us a clue as to why he was so disbelieving. The little phrase is this: 'Thomas, called the twin, was not with them when Jesus came.'

We need to ask why Thomas was called 'the twin'. If he was an actual twin then the text would simply read: 'Thomas the twin.' But it says that he was 'called the twin.' Now the name Thomas literally means twin. But if a couple actually had twins they would be very unlikely to call one of them 'twin' as their given name. So, it is very likely that this is a nickname. There is an old theory that Thomas looked very like Jesus and was often mistaken for him. If this theory is right it might explain Thomas' doubt. He would most likely have thought that the other Apostles had mistaken someone else for Jesus because the very same thing was happening to him all the time. This gives us a plausible explanation for Thomas' doubt. Actually, when Jesus appears again eight days later Thomas makes one of the most profound statements of belief to be found in the New Testament when he says 'My Lord and my God.' He is the first person to attest to Jesus' divinity and he does so long before anyone else.

St Thomas is often regarded as the patron saint of doubters. Doubt is something that afflicts a lot of people. I'm not talking here about uncertainty which is the common or garden type of doubt. What I am talking about is doubt as a spiritual affliction. Many people go on for years very firm in their faith and then out of the blue start to experience serious doubts about their faith. They start to question the existence of God and worry whether religion is perhaps a gigantic deception put about by priests and other people with vested interests. Doubt as a spiritual affliction is not easy to deal with because those who suffer from them start to worry that their doubts might be held against them when they face divine judgement.

It is hard for them to untangle their doubts and come to the realisation that they are actually experiencing what is known as a spiritual attack. The fact they are sure that they will face judgement is confirmation that their actual faith is still strong. What needs to be realised is that these spiritual doubts come in fact from the Evil One who loves to disturb and undermine faith wherever he finds it. When a person experiences such doubts the best thing that they can do is to talk to a priest about them. He may be able to give then the perspective that they are lacking at that moment. Another good thing to do is to turn to St Thomas and to ask him to ease these doubts that trouble them so much. We know that Thomas travelled widely and that he brought Christianity to the people of India. In Kerala they are known as St Thomas Christians. He was martyred in Madras, or Chennai as it is now called. So, we are dealing with a vigorous Apostle; one who was strong in his faith, one with the ability to convert many others to Christianity. We should not overlook the first appearance of the Risen Jesus to the Apostles.

He says to them: 'As the Father sent me, so am I sending you. Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained.' These words imply two things firstly that the Apostles are now Christ's representatives. They are to act just as he would in the world. As he was sent by the Father so now the Apostles are sent by Jesus to fulfil his mission in the world. And in order to be effective in this task he then gives them a most extraordinary weapon; he gives them the power to forgive sins. The forgiveness of sins, salvation in other words, is the reason why Jesus came into our world and he now bestows this power on the Apostles so that they can pursue their ministry of making people aware of the salvation that Christ won for them. Their task is to be one of teaching and healing.

They are to tell people about the Good News of Jesus Christ and to heal people from their afflictions which are primarily their sins. Theirs then is a very powerful ministry and it continues today in the ministry of Bishops and priests to the People of God. It is not just knowledge of salvation that the Apostles are to give to the people but also the experience of salvation. And this is best expressed in the Sacrament of Reconciliation where we experience the forgiveness of our sins. It is hard to underestimate the importance of this most wonderful sacrament. The main role of the Apostles is to bring people to faith. The way to do this is not to convince others by force of argument but simply to tell the story of Jesus and let people draw their own conclusions. Tricky arguments won't win anyone over.

What people want is exactly the same as what Thomas wanted that is an encounter with the Risen Lord. We cannot do this directly since Jesus has ascended to the Father but we can do it indirectly by hearing the stories of Jesus and the people he associated with. Learning how Thomas came to express such a profound act of faith is exactly the sort of thing that inspires faith others. Seeing how Thomas moved from total disbelief in the resurrection to a high level of faith help us to realise that we can do the same. We too can join with Thomas and say those same words, 'My Lord and my God.'

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