Sunday Sermon for April 27, 2014, the Second Sunday of Easter or Divine Mercy Sunday, Year A

Readings: Acts 2:42-47; 1Pt 3:1-9; Jn 20:19-31
In the second reading today St. Peter praises God Who, in His mercy, has given us a new birth to a living hope from the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. God sent His only begotten Son into the world as the expiation for our sins. In rising from the dead, Jesus has also given to us a share in His own divine life. This is the new birth St. Peter speaks of, a birth which is granted at the moment of our baptism, but was obtained for us in the resurrection.

This new birth is not a natural birth so that we have a second chance at our earthly life. Instead, it is a supernatural birth which provides us with a second chance at eternal life. We need to be clear that when we speak of a second chance it is not a one time do-over. Rather, it is an opportunity to grow in holiness, to strive to do God’s will in this life, and to live and die in the state of grace so that we can obtain the promised inheritance.

It is important to note the generosity of God in this offer. Even if He had given us one chance, like Adam and Eve had before they fell, it would have been an act of pure love and mercy. But in giving us His Son, He is showing us that there is not a limit on what He will do to bring us to Heaven. For this reason, the grace of repentance and the forgiveness of sin is available throughout our lifetime.

We see in the Gospel reading an example of the patience and the gentleness of our Lord. He is the One Who spoke of the Good Shepherd who did not get angry at the wayward sheep, beat it or drive it back to the flock. Instead, he picked up the sheep, placed it on his shoulders and carried the sheep back, restoring it to its place among the flock. Here we see our Lord’s pastoral charity at work as He gently calls St. Thomas to faith in His resurrection.

Jesus is willing to hold out His hands and expose the wound in His side to His doubting disciple. While we may not be able to see or touch His wounds, the healing that flows from them is still given to us with the same gentleness, patience and love with which He extended His hands to St. Thomas. In this we see both the death and the resurrection simultaneously displayed, that is, the forgiveness and the mercy which give us new life.

As mentioned, we cannot see our Lord’s wounds or touch them, but His steadfast love and His mercy are shown to us in a still greater way. In the first reading we hear about the Eucharist and how central that was to the life of the early Christians. At Mass we continue the sacrifice of Jesus as we celebrate His death. At the same time, He gives Himself to us as He is presently: both risen and glorified.

In this way, what He showed to Thomas is also shown to us, but in a way He tells us makes us more blessed than Thomas because we believe without seeing. We know that He is truly present and He extends His mercy to us as He invites us to come forward, not merely to touch His wounds, but to receive His whole person into our own selves. It was a wonderful thing for Thomas to see and touch our Lord after His resurrection, but this all external. The act of faith that Thomas made was interior, because to acknowledge that Jesus is Lord and God was something he could neither see with his eyes nor feel with his hands.

In other words, Thomas could have faith in the resurrection of Jesus because he could see and feel someone external to himself, but this could not provide the deeper act of faith that followed. So, for those of us who make the act of faith in our Lord’s presence in the Eucharist, we are acting on the same kind of grace that was given to Thomas.

This gift of faith allows us to experience our Lord’s mercy, patience, and gentleness. To think that He has been giving Himself this way for two thousand years gives us great confidence in His mercy. As the Lord told Moses, He is slow to anger and rich in mercy. Consider all of the sins and the blasphemies that people have committed against the Eucharist over the centuries, yet in His love He continues to give Himself for us. Do not be afraid because of your sins, the forgiveness and mercy of God are offered to everyone who has received new birth in Christ.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit