Readings: Acts 2:42-47; Ps 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24; 1 Pt 1:3-9; Jn 20:19-31
There is a lot to talk about today. It is the Second Sunday of Easter, or the Octave or Eighth Day of Easter. Easter is such an important day, the Church takes 8 days to celebrate it. It is also Divine Mercy Sunday, as designated by Pope John Paul II, to formally recognize God’s Divine Mercy. God loves us so much he sent his only Son to earth, to become human, to teach us about God, to die on a cross for us and be resurrected from the Dead in order to open the Gates of Heaven for us. It is also the day the church formally recognizes two new saints, John XXIII and John Paul II. There is so much to talk about, I could easily go on for 30, 40 or more minutes. But Nancy took away a bunch of my notes. So instead, let us focus on one question.
Why do you believe in Jesus Christ?
On Ash Wednesday, Fr. Steve challenged us to develop a plan for Lent. He provided handouts with a list of things we could do during Lent to help us on our journey, to help us experience a conversion, to lead us to an encounter with Jesus Christ.
In the Gospel, we hear about two encounters the disciples had with the Resurrected Jesus. During the first encounter, when Jesus appeared to them in a locked room, it wasn’t until he had showed them his hands and his side did they respond to his gift of Peace. When Thomas returned, he refused to believe their account of what happened. So when Jesus appeared to them again, a week later, again in a locked room, Jesus shows Thomas his hands and his side. It is then that Thomas believes and his only response is “My Lord and my God.”
Our encounters with God can take on many forms. In January, Nancy & I, along with Bob & Pam Wentz from our parish, and about 40 others, joined Bishop Gruss on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, with some of us continuing on to Rome. As we saw the place of his annunciation, his birth, the places he taught, the places he performed miracles, when we touched the rock of Calvary and celebrated Mass in his tomb, we experienced many encounters with Jesus. Each of these encounters, was unique to each individual. But the most significant encounter for me, occurred in Rome.
On the morning of Monday, January 27th, we celebrated Mass at the tomb of then Blessed John Paul II, in St. Peter’s Basilica. As I vested in the Sacristy and we headed to the chapel with John Paul II’s tomb, I noticed my hands were shaking. As Nancy, who is not a lector and did not know where the Mass that day was being said when she agreed to lector, was read the reading, Fr. Godfrey, who was sitting next to me noticed my shaking hands. He leaned over to me and whispered, there is no need to be nervous. I responded, I am not nervous, it is being in the place, participating in this Mass, being in the presence of Jesus that was just so overwhelming, it was causing me to physically shake. And I was shaking the entire Mass, though Nancy told me she did not notice it.
I can imagine, when Jesus appear to Thomas, he too, was shaking. Just like each of us probably would have been, if we would have experienced such a significant encounter with Jesus.
I know others in the parish, have had similar significant encounters with Christ. Each and everyone one of us can have such an experience, we only have to open ourselves up to the possibility. But encounters with Jesus, don’t have to happen in some far off place. They can happen right here, in this church, for example, during the Easter Tridium, during celebrations of sacraments like Baptism, First Communion and Confirmation. We can experience encounters with Jesus, when we visit those in the hospital or are homebound. We can experience an encounter with Jesus in our homes, places of work, places we shop and eat. In other words, we can experience encounters with Jesus, everywhere. These experiences can be describe similarly to Pope John XXIII explanation about Vatican II, “the idea of the council came as a spontaneous flower of an unexpected spring.”
God loves each and every one of us, so much, that he sent his only son to take on human form, to teach us about God, to die on a cross for each of us, in order to open the gates of heaven for us. And even though we are all sinners, God’s love and overwhelming Divine Mercy, overshadows our sins, because God wants each of us, to choose to spend eternity with him in Heaven.
Our lives here on earth is a temporary existence, very short when we compare it to our lives in eternity. It is like a student, whose whole life revolves around school, that it can be difficult to think about the rest of their lives, after Graduation. But we must think about our future lives, we must prepare for our lives beyond graduation, beyond our earthly existence.
So how can we prepare for eternity? How can we prepare for an encounter with Jesus which will help prepare us for eternity? What can we do the prepare ourselves to accept God’s love and Divine Mercy, in hopes of one day accepting the gift Jesus made possible for us, admittance to heaven for all eternity?
We can continue to work our Lenten plan. If you committed to praying daily, pray daily. If you committed to an hour of Eucharistic Adoration during Lent, continue to spend an hour at Adoration. If you committed to reading scripture daily, read scripture every day. If you committed to attending at least one daily Mass a week, attend one daily Mass a week. The plan we developed for Lent, doesn’t mean once Easter arrives, we can stop doing those things. Lent is a time for conversion, a time for us to change our lives, to work on becoming the person God created us to be.
And as we go on with our lives during this Easter season, and beyond, stick to your plan. Reviewing your plan on a regular basis, making changes when necessary, but at least once a year, maybe during Lent. And as you continue to follow your plan, you will find you will experience more and more encounters with Jesus. And the more encounters with Jesus you experience, your belief in Jesus will grow. And as your belief grows, it will prepare you for your final encounter with Jesus, at the end of your life. Where, with God’s divine mercy, it will include Jesus inviting you to enter the gates of heaven.