Today is May Day. The International Day of Labor, but it is also the first day of the month of Mary.
For us in Texas, it may seem like the first day of Summer. But for Catholics whose lives may have been affected by Pope John Paul II, his spirituality, his faith, his love of the Church, we will remember this day as the day of the beatification of Pope John Paul, Karol Wojtyla. Few were as dedicated to the Blessed Mother as Pope John Paul, who made his motto in honor of her, “Totus Tuus”, or “Everything for you”.
Today is also Divine Mercy Sunday, and Pope John Paul also gave us this devotion due to his dedication to Sister Faustina. There will be a Divine Mercy Mass Sunday/this afternoon at 3pm.
Mercy. We use the word a lot. What is it? St. Thomas Aquinas said “mercy consists of bringing a thing out of non-being into being.” This would be like granting life to a condemned person. We were all condemned prior to the Grace of our Baptism. If we did not have eternal life before Jesus, and our baptism into his Resurrection, then we did not exist as eternal but as only mortal men. Now, thanks to God’s mercy we have become immortal and will share in God’s divinity. That is “something out of nothing.” That, my friends is mercy. We don’t deserve it. We can’t earn it. You can’t buy it. Mercy is God’s gift to us sinners.
God’s mercy also consists in his forgiveness of our sins.
“On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
And he said, don’t be afraid,
“Peace be with you.”
And he said,
“Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”
And the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Confession, was given to the Church. Jesus came to save sinners.
What would make them afraid? The Jews? The Jews killed Jesus! But they didn’t kill him. It took the apostles awhile to understand that death was no longer their enemy. So, why be afraid? Death? If you can’t die, then what is there to be afraid of? This is why he could say to them,
“Peace be with you.”
“Peace” is not simply a greeting when Jesus says it. “Peace” is a blessing, the absence of fear. If nothing can harm you, then you can be truly at peace. Peace is God’s mercy.
The Apostle Thomas wasn’t there that first Sunday, the evening of the Resurrection, so peace did not come to him so easily. Thomas certainly believed in Jesus’ death. He wanted to believe in his Resurrection, but he couldn’t. He was still fearful. Fear of death would weaken his faith, as he said,
“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into his side, I will not believe.”
Thank God Thomas doubted. It was for us that this story is recounted. Thomas wasn’t sinning by his doubts, he was afraid; afraid of his own death. He lost his fear as soon as Jesus appeared to him. That is peace!
Let me tell you about St. Thomas, it’s a wonderful story. Fourteen hundred years later, in 1498, the Portuguese explorer, Admiral Vasco da Gama landed on the west Coast of India. That was only about 400 years ago. Europeans had long sought a trade route to Asia, and the Portuguese managed to sail around the tip of Africa and make it to India and China. Often they carried Catholic missionary Priests. When the first European missionaries landed in the West of India, they were anxious to evangelize the pagans and heathens there. To their astonishment, they found Christians in India. They found the Mass and the Sacraments and Sacred Scripture. They found priests and deacons and bishops. They found the Church. The Church in India was Catholic. The Church in India had never broken with Peter and the Apostles.
However, Western History had lost track of them over the centuries. Despite of the passing of time, the Apostolic Church prevailed and succeeded in India. It was and is an apostolic Church because it was founded by St. Thomas, who was eventually martyred in India. Church history says he founded the Catholic Church in what is now Syria, Iraq and India.
How did he get that far? He was simply an Israelite, from Galilee. But he was not afraid. In fact, Thomas lost all fear that second Sunday evening in the Upper Room when he came to believe and told Jesus, “My Lord and My God”. He traveled and learned new languages. He entered and evangelized new cultures. The Catholic Church founded by St. Thomas didn’t use Latin or Euorpean symbols, and it’s music and liturgy may look strange to us, but they celebrate Mass like we do. Their sacraments and Eucharist are apostolically valid just like ours is, because they always had a valid priesthood. This is Divine Mercy. Thomas could not have done this without receiving the Holy Spirit along with the other Apostles. The Syro-Malabar Church of India is Apostolic, through St. Thomas. It is Catholic in creed and it is in union with Roman Church of St. Peter.
The European explorers were surprised to find an intact, apostolic church where they only expected to find pagan natives. That historical experience validated the apostolic power of our Church, that Jesus said, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.”