Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
When we heard the Gospel last Sunday, we heard about the power that Jesus gave to the Apostles to forgive sins, and we heard about the doubt experienced by Thomas, who wanted very tangible proof of the Lord’s resurrection. The Gospel passage continued to tell us that Jesus granted Thomas’ desire, appearing to the Apostles again and inviting Thomas to touch the wounds the crucifixion had left. In that moment, Thomas came to faith. After three years living with Jesus, listening to His teaching, witnessing His miracles, the trauma of the crucifixion left Thomas in doubt and fear. But in His mercy, Jesus continues to invite Thomas to faith and indeed, to use even Thomas’ doubt as a sign of hope for those who will not have the opportunity to believe. St. Gregory the Great comments that “The divine mercy ordained that a doubting disciple should, by feeling in his Master the wounds of the flesh, heal in us the wounds of unbelief. The unbelief of Thomas is more profitable to our faith than the belief of the other disciples. For the touch by which he is brought to believe confirms our minds in belief, beyond question.”
Calling to mind the Gospel we heard on Divine Mercy Sunday helps pave the way for the Gospel we hear at Mass this Sunday. Conveniently, the Gospel given for our meditation this Sunday follows sequentially in the Gospel of John. After encountering Jesus in such tangible ways, Peter and the Apostles decide to go fishing, and are unsuccessful until they see Jesus on the shore, telling them where to cast their nets. Then, on the shore, Peter and Jesus share a powerful exchange. Three times, Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him, and three times Peter responds with his great confession, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Thomas doubted the truth of the Resurrection, and with great mercy, Jesus showed him His hands and side so that his doubt could be eased. Peter three times denied that he knew Jesus before the crucifixion, and now is afforded the opportunity to confess, three times, that he loves Jesus. The Lord never brings up the denials, but very simply gives Peter a chance at restoration. Surely Peter was feeling unworthy of the office Jesus had earlier given him, to be the rock on which the Church would be founded. But now, with each affirmation of love, Jesus tasks him with the feeding and shepherding of the flock, that is, with tending to the needs of the Church and guiding those who would come to faith.
These Gospel stories are important for our own spiritual journey. Doubts and fears often arise in our hearts. The circumstances of our lives can often stand in the way of our seeing the presence of God in tangible ways. And in certain moments, it can feel as though all the faith we have built up over years, all the graces we have received, all the things we have learned about God, are forgotten. Remember the great mercy Jesus showed to Thomas. For all that we may have already experienced of God’s grace, there is always more that He wants us to receive. The Lord never stops inviting us deeper into faith. When we struggle with sin, we experience the denial of Peter. In truth, sin is a refusal to be identified with Jesus, just as Peter refused to be known as a friend of the Lord. But Jesus mercifully moves toward Peter, inviting him to undo the denials with affirmations of love, friendship, and discipleship. So with us, Jesus constantly invites us back, in spite of our denials in thought, word, and deed. Again and again, we are afforded this great gift of mercy. So today, Jesus invites us with Thomas, to touch his wounds. With Peter, Jesus invites us to confess our love. And with the whole body of the apostles, Jesus gives us a mission to go into the world, proclaiming His love and mercy to all.