Doubting Thomas

Post Date: April 19, 2022
Author: Ric Cross

A Reflection for the Second Sunday of Easter

Reading I: Acts 5:12-16
Responsorial Psalm: 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24
Reading II: Revelation 1:9-11a, 12-13, 17-19
Gospel: John 20:19-31

We are now firmly in the Liturgical Season of Easter, and this week we celebrate the Second Sunday of Easter, also known as Divine Mercy Sunday. You will notice that our first reading this Sunday does not come from the Old Testament as we expect on most Sundays. Consequently, we are not looking for a “Golden Thread” that connects the Old Testament with our gospel as we normally do.  

Our first reading this week comes from the Acts of the Apostles because, in the Easter season, we celebrate the birth of the church which comes about because of the Resurrection of Christ but also, and most importantly, because of the gift of the Holy Spirit that we read about in our gospel this week. The Acts of the Apostles, along with the letters of St. Paul, is essentially the story of the development of the church in the first century. What is most important for us to grasp is the role of the Holy Spirit in that development.   

Recall the Day of Pentecost as described in chapter 2 of the Acts of the Apostles. We are told the apostles were a group of frightened and confused men gathered in the upper room, praying and trying to make sense out of the death of Christ, whom they thought to be the Messiah, and trying to make sense out of what they had been told about his Resurrection. Then, according to our gospel passage today (and the account varies from the Acts of the Apostles and from gospel to gospel), Jesus suddenly appeared to them and breathed the Holy Spirit upon them, and, just as suddenly, they were transformed from being poor bewildered fishermen into great theologians who now understood everything that Jesus taught them and they were unafraid to go out and proclaim that truth to the world. They were no longer bewildered disciples (meaning learners or students); they were now apostles (meaning those who are sent to proclaim what they had learned), filled with the Holy Spirit, and were commissioned as the first bishops of the church with the power from God to forgive or retain sins. That is the birth of the church and that is what we see in our readings this week.

Our first reading describes the Jerusalem community sometime after the day of Pentecost and earlier chapters of Acts describe that community as living a communal life where members sold their goods and property and gave the proceeds to the apostles for distribution throughout the community according to each individual’s need. That is a description of our first-century church, the church that we have inherited 2000 years later. This early Christian community believed that Christ would return soon, marking the end of the world as they knew it, so accumulating personal wealth was to no avail. Wealth was to be used for the benefit of all. Today, we are not called upon to sell everything and give it to the church, but, just like our first-century ancestors, we are called upon to support the church and those in need.  

Our reading tells us that, because of the power of the Holy Spirit, “many signs and wonders were done among the people at the hands of the apostles,” including curing the sick, and that great numbers of believers, men and women, were continually added to the community.   This community developed in the midst of a city ruled over by Roman authorities who were responsible for Jesus’ death! Why was that community not afraid to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah? They were unafraid because they were filled with the Holy Spirit and, therefore, had nothing to fear. Is there a lesson here for us?  

Our second reading from the Book of Revelation continues the power of the Holy Spirit with the first of the visions that John describes while exiled to the island of Patmos, a Roman penal colony in the Aegean Sea, for proclaiming God’s word and giving testimony to Jesus. John is commanded to: “Write on a scroll what you see.” That which John was commanded to write becomes the Book of Revelation. If we read the following chapters, we will see that part of what he was commanded to write were messages to the seven churches, described as seven lampstands, and they are not all complimentary messages. The church suffered dissension even in the first century as it does today. Not only do the messages point out the faults of the early churches but also what will happen if reforms are not made; their lampstands will be removed!  

John is commanded to: “Write down, therefore, what you have seen, and what is happening, and what will happen afterward.” What he has seen are the visions he experienced; what is happening is the situation in the seven churches; what will happen afterward is the events that are described in the remainder of the Book of Revelation; the conquest of good over evil.

Our gospel this week is St. John’s version of the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles; in this case, the Spirit was breathed upon them by Christ. This is also John’s version of the commissioning of the apostles as our first bishops. “As the father has sent me, so I send you.” “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”  

The “doubting Thomas” came to believe because he encountered the risen Lord. But: “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” That is you and me and the entire Christian church, which is, once again, a testament to the power of the Spirit that pervades the church and the hearts of those who are willing to receive that Spirit. It is the power of that Holy Spirit that we believe in so fervently, that purified the seven churches in Revelation, and will do the same for our church that is suffering so greatly today.  

Notice the last line of our gospel today, which is repeated in Jn 21:25 at the very end of John’s gospel. It tells us that there were many other signs and wonders of Jesus that were not written in this gospel because if everything was written down, there would not be enough books in the whole world to contain it all. That tells us that not everything we believe as Catholic Christians is to be found in the bible. Protestant fundamentalists don’t want to hear that as for many of them, the bible is the be-all and end-all of faith. “If it’s not in the bible, I don’t have to believe it.” We, as Catholics, believe that our faith is based on scripture and TRADITION. The tradition that has been passed down through 2000 years of preaching and teaching by the church, was inspired and confirmed by the Holy Spirit. Tradition as to how the Mass and sacraments are celebrated; the tradition of the church as the “Sacrament of Salvation;” the tradition of the church as “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic;” the tradition of “Apostolic Succession,” which says that every bishop is ordained to the “Episcopal Office” by another bishop, so all bishops could theoretically trace their ordination back to one of the apostles; the tradition of the “Immaculate Conception” of the Blessed Mother and her “Assumption” into heaven. Our church is rich with tradition, much of which is not found in scripture but is part of the fabric of our Catholic faith. And all of that comes to us through the teaching of the church, inspired and confirmed by the Holy Spirit, through 2000 years of history

Author: Ric Cross

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