A Reflection on the Readings for the Second Sunday in the Second Sunday of Easter, April 16, 2023
This week, we celebrate the second Sunday of Easter, also known as “Divine Mercy Sunday.” Divine Mercy Sunday was established by Pope John Paul II on April 30, 2000, in recognition of visions received by Sr. Faustina Kowalska of Poland in the 1930’s in which Jesus promised an overflow of Divine Mercy on the Sunday after Easter. “On that day … The soul that will go to confession and receive Holy Communion shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment” (The Diary of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, 690). Complete forgiveness of sins and punishment!!! That’s like a second baptism!
The first thing you will notice about our readings for this Sunday is that our first reading does not come from the Old Testament as we expect on most Sundays. So, this Sunday, we are not looking for a “golden thread” that connects the Old and New Testaments in our readings as we usually do. Our first reading comes from the Acts of the Apostles because we are now celebrating 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 St. Paul’s letters) is essentially the story of the development of the church in the first century, and I would suggest that the most important thing for us to grasp in this development is the power of the Holy Spirit. If you remember, the disciples were a group of frightened and confused men (and women) gathered in the upper room trying to make sense out of the death of Christ, whom they thought to be the Messiah; and then trying to understand what they had been told about His Resurrection. Then suddenly, according to our gospel passage today (and the account varies from gospel to gospel), Jesus 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; they were now apostles, 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 today.
An interesting thing to note in our first reading is that the early church was truly a community of faith. The early Christians sold their possessions and laid the proceeds at the feet of the apostles, and everyone shared equally, according to their needs. That community must have been very happy and inspirational, as we are told: “Awe came upon everyone, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.” In addition, that community: “enjoyed favor with all the people,” and every day, more and more were added to their number.
In our second reading, St. Peter reiterates this growth of the church through the power of the Holy Spirit because those who were added to the community were those who had not seen Christ but had come to love and believe in him because of the witness of the apostles and the power of the words they spoke through the Holy Spirit.
Our gospel this week is St. John’s version of the descent of the Spirit upon the apostles; in this case, it was breathed upon them by Christ. It 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.” The “doubting Thomas” came to believe because he encountered the risen Lord. But: “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” That’s you and me and the entire Christian church, which is a testament to the power of the Spirit that pervades the church and the hearts of those who are willing to receive that Spirit.
Now, notice the last line in our gospel verse, 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, inspired and confirmed by the Holy Spirit. Traditions such as how the Mass and sacraments are celebrated; the Tradition of the church as the sacrament of salvation; the Tradition that the church is One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic; the Tradition of Apostolic Succession which says that every bishop is ordained by another bishop, so all bishops could theoretically trace their Episcopal 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 in 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.
Our church is rich in Tradition, history, and divine mercy, particularly this Sunday!
Reference: Image: Copyright LPI
Author: Ric Cross