Easter 2 C Sunday - Homilies and Stories

Background:

Often this Gospel is used as an occasion to prove the Church’s control of the forgiveness of sins and even to demand more frequent confession. 

The Church, in this perspective, has a monopoly on forgiveness and must be stern in its use. Patently this narrowly circumscribes the passionate forgiveness of God which Jesus came to reveal. God may be generous with forgiveness, it is implied, but the Church cannot and should not. Yet the story of Thomas, immediately after suggests that such an interpretation of the words of Jesus missed the points. To forgive is not a right to be jealously guarded, but an obligation to be exercised generously. We do not earn our own forgiveness by forgiving others.  Rather we manifest the generosity and implacability of God’s forgiveness of us. 
Story:
Once upon a time there was a man who counted carefully all his grudges. He remembered all the cruelties of the school yard, the taunts from his class when he did something well, the feather-brained irresponsibilities  (as he saw them) of the young women he had dated, the dishonesty of his business associates, the insensitivity of his wife, the ingratitude of his children. So many people had done such terrible things to him that he figured that there had to be a conspiracy. Who could have organized such a massive conspiracy? (Andrew Greeley) 

 Only God

 For some reason, maybe it was his face, God did not like him. This was unfair, but what could he do. If God had a grudge against him, that was God’s privilege. But then he had the right to hold a grudge against God. So he died lonely and isolated, hated (he thought) by everyone who ought to have loved him. I have a grudge against You, he told God on first meeting. So what, God replied. I don’t have a grudge against you, so forget about it!  

 Then God showed him the people at his funeral Mass. All the people who had injured him were sobbing in church. Do you think maybe you missed the point, God asked.

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Michel de Verteuil
General Comments
 

Today’s gospel reading, like all of St John’s gospel, is an interweaving of several themes. It is not possible to follow up all the themes together; we must focus on one at a time, going deeply into it and allowing it to reveal some deep truth about Jesus, about ourselves and about life.

Here I invite you to focus on the apostle Thomas; this is in accord with the Catholic Church’s liturgical tradition for the Second Sunday of Easter. Therefore, although the reading includes two of Jesus’ resurrection appearances – both of them deeply moving – we stay with the second, the dialogue between Jesus and Thomas, and let the earlier appearance  provide the context. We are free to identify either with Thomas or with Jesus, but not with both at the same time. We need to be clear on how we understand Thomas. The popular interpretation puts him in a badlight, as “doubting Thomas”. This however is not the movement of the text, which culminates in Thomas’ admirable act of faith, the most explicit in the New Testament – “My Lord and my God!”.

We are more in accord with the spirit of the text, therefore, when we look at Thomas as a model of faith. He was right to insist that before he could believe in Jesus’ resurrection he must see the holes the nails made in his hands, put his finger into the holes and his hand into the great wound made by the centurion’s lance. 

Thomas teaches us the important lesson that we must not separate the resurrection from the cross, since we are called to be followers of Jesus. He also teaches us the truth of the Church and of our individual spiritual growth. We cannot live the life of grace, the “risen life”, authentically unless we bear in our bodies the wounds of the cross. This means being conscious that we develop the capacity to love and to be loved only by dying to ourselves. Our wounds are also a constant reminder of our frailty, and that it is God’s grace that raises us up to new life.

St Paul’s epistles show that the first Christians needed the corrective of Thomas’ faith. They tended to relate with the risen Jesus without reference to his crucifixion. They forgot that they were called to be “followers of Jesus crucified”, choosing to die with him so that they could rise with him (see especially 1 Corinthians 1).

We Christians fall into the same error today when our lives and our teachings proclaim an abstract “disembodied” Jesus, dispenser of graces and teacher of morality – we forget the historical person who was put to death for proclaiming the kingdom of God.

Thomas professes the true faith of the Church. We too must insist that the Jesus we follow is
the true Jesus, the one whose risen body bears the wounds of Calvary.

Jesus is the model leader and spiritual guide. He is pleased to give Thomas the assurance he is
looking for, and then challenges him to look forward to the day when he will believe without seeing – always in the Jesus who passes through death to resurrection.

The blessedness of believing without seeing came from the experience of the early Church. Jesus
is not moralizing, but inviting Thomas – and us – to celebrate  great people of faith, in our local
communities and world-wide, who take up their cross with confidence in the resurrection.

As always in our meditation we must not limit ourselves to personal relationships. We celebrate
the resurrection faith lived by communities, nations and cultures.

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John Littleton
Reflection
 

Reflecting on God’s forgiveness of our sins, we soon appreciate that the fundamental truth about all of us is that God loves us and accepts us for who we are. The most effective way to realise this truth in our lives is to receive God’s forgiveness graciously and permit it to radiate from our lives and permeate all our relationships. This empowers us to let go of hurt and resentment so that integrity and honesty may be restored where necessary. 

The English word ‘forgive’ derives from an older English phrase ‘forth give’. Thus forgiveness is about forth-giving. In other words, to forgive someone is to give forth of myself to that person, although he or she has offended me and hurt me. Forgiveness means continuing to relate to that person as if the hurt or offence had never occurred. It implies allowing that person into my ‘space’ again without constructing barriers or imposing conditions. Basically, then, forgiveness involves letting go and giving that person another chance. This is precisely what happens every time God forgives (or gives forth of himself). God does not place any barriers or enforce any conditions that prevent us from revisiting his ‘space’. 

However, giving forth of ourselves to somebody who has mistreated us involves taking a risk. It requires that we trust the person not to act in the same hurtful and offensive manner as before. There are times when we are challenged to work at forgiving unconditionally, especially when some people do not understand that they have caused hurt and damage. Elsewhere in the gospels Jesus prays: ‘Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing’ (Luke 23:34).

It is not surprising that we might be reluctant to be hurt again by offering an additional opportunity for friendship and respect. Yet, that is what Jesus calls us to do. Following Jesus is risky. The practice of forgiveness is hazardous. Giving forth of ourselves is perilous. In fact, in taking this risk we can only hope that there is some indication that the person values the opportunity for renewal that is being offered. This is especially true when God, working through the ordained priest, forgives our sins in the sacrament of reconciliation. 

The absence of forgiveness is like a spiritual cancer that, unless challenged, destroys the fabric of our lives. Very often, we ourselves are the first victims of our lack of forgiveness. Some of us live with doubts and regrets, and regrets cause us to regress. We refuse to forgive ourselves, or to accept that others have forgiven us, and we do not let go of the past.

More often, however, we may deny forgiveness to people who have offended us. This can apply to family members, neighbours, friends and colleagues at work or in school. We harbour bad feelings towards them. We wish them bad luck. We despise their happiness and we resent their good fortune. We hold hatred in our hearts towards them and we demand revenge. We avoid people with whom we have rowed and argued. 

We forget — or conveniently choose to deny — that God has forgiven us.
Each one of us needs to imitate God’s example, particularly if we claim to be followers of Jesus Christ. Even at the heart of the model for prayer that Jesus taught his disciples is the crucial phrase: ‘And forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven those who are in debt to us’ (Matthew 6:12). Forgiveness is essential to Christianity. Today we welcome God’s forgiveness in our lives.

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Thomas O’Loughlin,
Homily Notes


1. Belief in the risen Christ is about sacramental living: ‘happy are they who have not seen and yet believe: It is about dying and rising with Christ and becoming part of him, the church (CoI2:12) – the mystery of baptism; it is about gathering for his meal that transforms us from being individuals into being ‘one body for we all share in the one loaf’ (1 Cor 10:17) – the mystery of the Eucharist. Baptism is the sacrament of enter­ing, defining the bounds of the body; the Eucharist is the sacrament of sustaining, keeping the body in communion with Christ and between its parts. Both these aspects of the Paschal Mystery keep recurring in the liturgy; both sacra­ments are inextricably linked with one another, and have been since the earliest days.

2. However, while we may preach these links as abstract items of doctrine, in the minds of most people in the gathering today the two mysteries are as chalk and cheese. A ‘christ­ening’ is something that belongs to infants and lots of people have the children christened because that’s what you do – in all likelihood everyone in the congregation has been to one such ceremony. And, while it ‘makes you a Christian’ or ‘a Catholic/ this is recalled primarily as a social bonding. The Mass, by contrast, is something you go to each week ‘if you are religious/ and it is about praying, getting communion (optional), and about ‘getting thoughts of the week’. The ministry of preaching has to try to permeate these percep­tions and reveal the deeper dimensions of religious practice, and so highlight the core content of Christian faith. Actions tend to break through the crusts of tacitly held perceptions with a far greater effect than formal verbal teaching or preaching (recalling that part of the perception of preaching for many is that it is irrelevant or ‘goes over their heads’).

3. This could be done by having an infant baptism on this day ­the people who are practising and away from the parish on Easter Night may now be back and so can have their baptism today – at the Eucharist. Or, at the very least, by using today (as on Easter Sunday) the Renewal of Baptismal Promises (Miss at pp. 220-221) instead of a declaratory confession of faith. This activity, the baptism or the renewal of promises, brings the mysteries together visibly – and not just on that most special night (the Easter Vigil) but at a regular Sunday gathering.

4. Then taking the cue from the gospel, that the Sunday gather­ing around the Lord’s Table for the Lord’s Supper has been a fundamental activity of Christians from the start (long before we had any of the writings now called the New Testament), then make the gathering a real, physical gathering around the table, with a real fraction, and communion under both species from one cup.

5. The fact that the assembly have to engage in the ritual in these unusual ways, not just listening to a homily, may help them engage with the mysteries they are celebrating.

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Prayer reflection 

“You who remain ever faithful even when we are unfaithful, forgive our sins and grant that we may bear true witness to you before all men and women.”      Pope John Paul II, Service of Forgiveness, March 2000
Lord, we thank you for the moments of grace of this Lenten season,
when – as individuals and as a Church community -
we walked in the footsteps of Jesus by passing from death to new life.
We thank you in particular for the great day
when our Church publicly asked forgiveness from other religions and cultures.

We thank you for Pope John Paul who, like Jesus with St Thomas,
invited us to see the holes that the nails of arrogance and self-righteousness
had made in the body of Christ, and to put our fingers into the holes,
to put our hands into the huge wound which the lust for power has made in his side,
so that we could recognise how, just as you raised Jesus from the dead,
you do not allow his Body, the Church, to remain in the tomb,
but always raise her up to new life.

Lord, we thank you for the times when reconciliation emerged triumphantly
from the tomb of conflict:
- the spirit of dialogue between our Church and Jews, Muslims, Hindus,
and African traditional religions;
- the European Union created by former enemies;
- the Good Friday agreement in Northern Ireland;
- the peace process in the Middle East.
Lord, we thank you for the experience of the military in Iraq.
We pray that they will to hear your voice calling on them all
to remember those who have been hurt,
who still have holes that the nails made in their hands
and can put their finger into the holes they made,
and unless they can put their hands into their side, they will refuse to believe.
Do not let us forget the terrible legacy of hatred and resentment
which had to be overcome;
invite us to put our fingers into the holes made by nails,
our hands into the great wounds made by lances,
so that we can recognise with awe and wonder
the spark of your divine life that is within us all.
Remind us too of those who worked for peace during the long years of conflict
when it seemed that they were working in vain.
How blessed were they who did not see
and yet continued to believe in your power to bring new life into the world.

“Whoever sees anything of God, sees nothing of God .”   Meister Eckhart
Lord, lead us to the blessedness of not seeing and believing.

“Go for broke, always try to do too much, dispense with safety nets, aim for the stars.”  Salman Rushdie
Lord, we thank you for friends, leaders and spiritual guides
who challenge us as Jesus challenged Thomas.
When we commit ourselves to a cause because we have tested its reality,
they invite us to experience the blessedness of believing without seeing.

“Beware of the seduction of leaving the poor to think about them.”  Jean Vanier
Lord, forgive us that we want to help those in need without sharing their pain,
we look for their resurrection but do not want to see their wounds:
- young people have been deeply hurt and we serve them with pious exhortations;
- we become impatient with those who continue to mourn the death of a spouse or a child;
- we think we can restore a broken relationship by merely saying we are sorry;
- we propose reconciliation between warring factions without acknowledging  past wrongs;
- we pray for peace in the world and do not agonize over its terrible injustices.
We thank you for people like Thomas who will not let us get away with easy solutions;
they insist that we must see the holes that nails have made in the hands of victims,
put our fingers into the holes and our hands into wounds that lances have made in their sides,
and only then believe that they have within them the capacity to rise to new life.

“We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being, the exact nature of our wrongs.”
Step 5 in the 12 Step Method of Alcoholics Anonymous
Lord, when we are converted from an addiction to alcohol, drugs, power or sex,
we are so anxious to make a new start
that we try to forget the hurt which was at the root of our problem
- the loneliness of our childhood
- the sense of racial inferiority
- our disability
- the fear of failure.
We thank you for sending us friends who insist
that we must face the reality of the past.
We pray that like Jesus welcoming Thomas,
we will invite them to put their fingers into the holes the nails have made
and their hands into our sides, so that they can walk with us in our new life.

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ILLUSTRATIONS:

1. Not Much about Thomas in the Gospels; Nothing in the first three Gospels:

If I were to mention the names of certain disciples to you and ask you to write down the first word that comes into your mind, it is unlikely you would come up with the same words. If I were to mention the name of Judas many of you would write down the word "betray" but not all of you. If I were to mention Simon Peter, some of you would write down the word "faith," but not all of you. If I were to mention the names of James and John, some of you would write down the phrase "Sons of Thunder," but not all of you. But when I mention the word Thomas, there is little question about the word most everyone would write down. It would be the word doubt. Indeed, so closely have we associated Thomas with this word, that we have coined a phrase to describe him: "Doubting Thomas."

You may be interested to know that in the first three gospels we are told absolutely nothing at all about Thomas. It is in John's Gospel that he emerges as a distinct personality, but even then there are only 155 words about him. There is not a lot about this disciple in the Bible but there is more than one description.

When Jesus turned his face toward Jerusalem the disciples thought that it would be certain death for all of them. Surprisingly, it was Thomas who said: Then let us go so that we may die with him. It was a courageous statement, yet we don't remember him for that. We also fail to point out that in this story of Thomas' doubt we have the one place in the all the Gospels where the Divinity of Christ is bluntly and unequivocally stated. It is interesting, is it not, that the story that gives Thomas his infamous nickname, is the same story that has Thomas making an earth shattering confession of faith? Look at his confession, "My Lord, and my God." Not teacher. Not Lord. Not Messiah. But God! It is the only place where Jesus is called God without qualification of any kind. It is uttered with conviction as if Thomas was simply recognizing a fact, just as 2 + 2 = 4, and the sun is in the sky. You are my Lord and my God! These are certainly not the words of a doubter.

Unfortunately history has remembered him for this scene where the resurrected Christ made an appearance to the disciples in a home in Jerusalem...


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2. OUR Security: 

One of the fastest growing, most profitable investment ventures in today's economy is . . . . anything having anything to do with security. You couldn't have lost money in the last twenty years if you invested in storage or security: national security, personal security, home security, financial security, Internet security. The dangers of this world seem to be breathing hotter and closer down our necks. Any offering that promises to cool that threat down is welcomed with open arms and wallets.

We gladly invest in "LifeLock" and "Life Alert" and "Alert Life"- hoping to safeguard both our fiscal and physical lives. Instead of scripted shows by the Blue Angels at air-shows, we are sending long-range spontaneous shows of strength in the form of stealth bombers over South Korean airspace, which offends North Korea. We have "apps" on our smartphones that enable us to watch our front doors at home and our backdoors at work, to turn on our lights and turn off our heat, to be on-guard and on-point, even when we are off-site. We are desperately trying to contain the chaos of the cosmos. 

In John's gospel, Jesus' first appearance to his disciples is when he comes to them behind closed, locked doors. Despite the vision of the empty tomb, despite the version of the resurrected Jesus Mary Magdalene had reported to them, the disciples were still shuttered and shuddering - clamped down and closed off from a threatening world. Then Jesus blasts through their ADT security system, blows out their "Life-Lock," and suddenly stands in their midst...
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 3. We Know Where We Are Going 

The story is told about Albert Einstein, the brilliant physicist of Princeton University in the early 20th century. Einstein was traveling from Princeton on a train, and when the conductor came down the aisle to punch the passengers' tickets, Einstein couldn't find his. He looked in his vest pocket, he looked in his pants pocket, he looked in his briefcase, but there was no ticket. The conductor was gracious; "Not to worry, Dr. Einstein, I know who you are, we all know who you are, and I'm sure you bought a ticket."

As the conductor moved down the aisle, he looked back and noticed Einstein on his hands and knees, searching under the seat for his ticket. The conductor returned to Einstein; "Dr. Einstein, Dr. Einstein, don't worry. I know who you are. You don't need a ticket, I'm sure you bought one." Einstein arose and said "Young man, I too know who I am; what I don't know is where I am going."

And that is the good news of Easter; that we know where we are going. We have been told by the Savior that his life and death has promised us life eternal. And Low Sundays don't change that promise. And unemployment doesn't change that promise. Neither does divorce, or bankruptcy, or cancer, or depression, or felony, or failure. Through elation and deflation and every emotion in between, this truth remains; we know whose we are and we know where we are going, because the Son of God has promised. And this, my friends, is faith.

Steven Molin, Elated....Deflated
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 4. A New Shalom

When Jesus appeared to the disciples, his greeting was, "Peace be unto you." The Hebrew word shalom, for "peace," is a most comprehensive word, covering the full realm of relationships in daily life and expressing an ideal state of life. The word suggests the fullness of well-being and harmony untouched by ill fortune. The word as a blessing is a prayer for the best that God can give to enable a person to complete one's life with happiness and a natural death. If the concept of shalom became all too casual and light-hearted with no more significance than a passing greeting, Jesus came to give it new meaning. At Bethlehem God announced that peace would come through the gift of God's unique Son. The mission and ministry of our Lord made it quite clear that Jesus had come to introduce the rule of God and to order peace for the world.  

Harry N. Huxhold, Which Way To Jesus?, CSS Publishing
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 5. The Greatest Scar Story  

I can think of no better modern-day illustration of the sacrifice Jesus made for us than a recent scar story I heard from a tennis friend of mine. As we were waiting for another match to finish, she was relating how badly her knees hurt. This friend is the most fit 30-something-year-old I know. Yet she sat beside me with a brace on each knee. I pointed to the open hole of her knee brace and asked if her scar was from knee surgery. She told me, "No, it's from my son, and I actually have an identical scar on my other knee."

You see, several years ago she scooped up her toddler son from the swimming pool and began to walk towards a lounge chair. As she stepped onto the tiled patio, her foot slipped on the wet slick surface. She was also seven months pregnant, and it was one of those moments where you feel like you're moving in slow motion but there's nothing you can do to stop the fall. Within a split second, she knew her momentum was toppling her forward, and she could either face-plant and land on top of both her son and her unborn child, or she could fall on her knees.

 Of course, as any loving parent would do, she chose to fall on her knees directly onto the unforgiving concrete. Her knees immediately burst open and blood went everywhere. She ended up needing stitches, which resulted in scars, but her son and unborn child were both unscathed. It is hard for me to tell this story without tearing up, because to me, it serves as a miniscule example of the immense sacrifice and love of Jesus Christ for us. You see, we are the beloved children of God for whom Jesus took the fall. Christ suffered on the cross and endured unimaginable pain for us. His is the greatest scar story ever told. 

Christi O. Brown, Scars of Hope
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6. Peace Be With You...It Already Is!
 

Theologian Karl Barth once remarked that to say the old line from the creed, "I believe in the Holy Catholic Church" does not mean that we believe in the church. It means rather to believe that God is present and at work in the church, that "in this assembly, the work of the Holy Spirit takes place. ... We do not believe in the Church: but we do believe that in this congregation the work of the Holy Spirit becomes an event." 

Barth's words rang true for me some years ago, when I was invited by a church in a nearby town to be the worship leader at a special evening communion service. The church staff had planned this service to be educational as well as worshipful. The idea was that, first, the congregation would gather in the sanctuary and I would give a brief talk about the meanings of the Lord's Supper. Then, we would go into the fellowship hall and be seated around tables for the service itself.

At each table there would be the flour and other ingredients to form the dough for the communion loaves. The plan called for each table to prepare a loaf and, while the loaves baked in the ovens of the church kitchen, the people at each table were to engage in various exercises designed to get them talking about their experiences in the faith. 

It was a good idea, but like many well-planned events, things looked better on the drawing board than they turned out in reality. There were problems. Children at many tables began to play in the baking ingredients, and white clouds of flour floated around the room coating everybody and everything. There were delays in the kitchen, and the communion bread baked with agonizing slowness. Some of the tables ran out of things to say; children grew weary and fussy; the room was filled with commotion and restlessness. The planners had dreamed of an event of excitement, innovation, peak learning, and moving worship. What happened was noise, exhaustion, and people making the best of a difficult situation. In other words, despite the rosy plans, it was the real church worshipping down there in the church basement. 

Finally, the service ended, and, with no little relief, I was able to pronounce the benediction. "The peace of Christ be with you all," I said, and just as I did, a child's voice from somewhere in the room called out strong and true, "It already is." 

Just that -- "It already is" -- but with those words the service was transformed into an event of joy and holy mystery. That small voice captured what the Gospel of John is trying to say. In the midst of a church that can claim nothing for itself, a church of noise, confusion, weariness, and even fear, the risen Christ comes to give peace. The peace of Christ be with you? Because the risen Christ comes to inhabit our empty places, then, as the child said, "It already is," and the church with nothing becomes the church with everything.  

Thomas G. Long, Whispering The Lyrics, CSS Publishing
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7. We Want Proof


There is a reason why many Christians around the world have latched so quickly and tenaciously onto the discovery of what may be the ossuary or burial box for James, the brother of Jesus. There's a reason why every time archaeologists discover some inscription referring to King David, Pontius Pilate, or some other biblical figure that this news immediately makes a splash in the pages of Christianity Today. Here, we are told, is further "proof" that the stuff in the Bible really did happen! There's a reason why there is now a huge enterprise that is literally scouring the universe for evidence that the formation of the cosmos required the hand of a Creator God. It's not just that we want to meet evolutionary and atheist scientists on their own turf--most folks also quietly hanker for something tangible that can bolster the confidence they have in their faith.

Over and again we find ourselves wanting more.  

Jesus himself knows that faith is both a blessing and a miracle. That's why he says in verse 29 that while it was one thing for Thomas to believe with Jesus standing right in front of him, it would one day be quite another thing to believe without such undeniable physical proof standing in the same room.

Scott Hoezee, "Wanting More"
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 8. Honey...It's Me

Perhaps you've heard the story of the Yugoslavian judge who was electrocuted when he reached up to turn on the light while standing in the bathtub. No, I'm not cruel or weird, let me tell you the rest of the story. This guy's poor wife found his body sprawled on the bathroom floor. He was pronounced dead and was placed in a preparation room under a crypt in the town cemetery for twenty-four hours before burial.  

Well, and this is the part I love, in the middle of the night, the judge came to. The judge looked around at his surroundings and suddenly realized where he was. He got pretty excited and rushed over to alert the guard. But instead of being any help, the guard was terrified and promptly ran off. 

Fortunately, though, the guard returned with a friend, and they released the newly-revived judge. The judge's first thought was to phone his wife and reassure her that he really wasn't dead. Unfortunately, he got no farther than, "Honey... it's me," when his wife screamed and fainted.

So, he decided that the best course of action was to enlist some friends. He went to the houses of several friends; but because they all had heard the news from his distraught wife, they all doubted that he was really alive. They were all convinced he was a ghost.

Finally, in a last desperate effort, he contacted a friend in another city who hadn't heard about his death. And that person was able to convince his family and friends that the judge really was alive.

That story almost sounds like one of the Gospel writers could have written it, doesn't it? It sure sounds like the passage from John this morning.  

Traditional Story
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9. Watch and You'll See
 

This story is about three accountants who doubted their three engineer friends. They were traveling by train to a conference. The accountants bought three tickets, but the engineers only bought one. "How are three people going to travel on only one ticket?" an accountant asked.

"Watch and you'll see," said an engineer. 

They all boarded the train. The accountants took their seats, but the three engineers crammed into a restroom and closed the door behind them. The train departed the station and soon the conductor came through the car asking for tickets. He knocked on the restroom door and said, "Ticket, please." The door opened a crack and a single arm emerges with a ticket in hand. The conductor took it and moved on. 

The accountants agree that this is a rather clever idea so after the conference, they decide to duplicate the engineers' feat. They buy only one ticket, but are astonished when the engineers buy no ticket at all! "How are you going to travel without a ticket?" the accountants ask. Watch and you'll see, reply the engineers. 

When they boarded the train, the accountants crammed into a restroom with their ticket while the three engineers did the same in a nearby restroom. After the train departed the station, one of the engineers left the restroom and walked over to the restroom where the accountants were hiding. He knocked on the door and said, "Ticket, please." 

Author unknown
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10. God's Back 

It was Saturday, the day before Easter, and Joanne Hinch of Woodland Hills, California was sitting at the kitchen table coloring eggs with her three-year-old son Dan and her two-year-old daughter Debbie. She told her kids about the meaning of Easter and taught them the traditional Easter morning greeting and response, "He is risen...He is risen indeed!" The children planned to surprise their Dad, a Presbyterian minister, with that greeting as soon as he awoke the next morning. Easter arrived, little Dan heard his father stirring about in his bedroom, so the boy got up quickly, dashed down the hall and shouted the good news: "Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, God's back!"

David E. Leininger, "Laugh, Thomas, Laugh!"
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11. Ants in The Pants of Faith 

Whether your faith is that there is a God or that there is not a God, if you don't have any doubts you are either kidding yourself or asleep. Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving. 

Frederick Buechner
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12. Just Because We Can't See It

 A junior high school teacher was telling her class about evolution and how the way everything in the world was formed proved that God doesn't exist. She said, "Look out the window. You can't see God, can you?" The kids shook their heads. "Look around you in this room. You can't see God, can you?" The kids shook their heads. "Then our logical conclusion is that God doesn't exist, does He?" she asked at last, certain that she had won her audience over.

 But one girl from the back of the classroom said, "Miss Smith, just because we can't see it doesn't mean it doesn't exist. We could do brain surgery and investigate the parts of your brain and we could do a CAT scan and see the brain patterns in your head. But we couldn't prove that you've had a single thought today...
 
From Fr. Charles Irwin

Who among us, myself included, can say we have never felt like Thomas? Or that at times we wonder if the whole death and resurrection accounts of Jesus Christ are merely the stuff of legend? We thirst for certainty. We can feel at times insecure about reports of the Resurrection. The Apostle Thomas heard the report of the entire Apostolic College yet he would not believe Jesus had risen from the dead unless he could touch the nail wounds and thrust his fingers into Christ’s pierced side. We ourselves are in his shoes. We are forced to rely on the reports of those who have seen the Risen Lord, and we want, desperately want, a direct experience of the Jesus who lives. It is one thing to be told about Jesus, it’s quite another to experience Him.
Saul, the Jewish Pharisee who set about persecuting the first Christians, had his own skepticism before he, on his way to Damascus to crush the followers of Christ living there, encountered the Risen Christ. Later, now as St. Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles, he wrote to the Christian Community he had founded in Corinth and addressed those same questions.
Corinth was a seaport town in Greece, a commercial and intellectual center inhabited by very sophisticated people from all around the Mediterranean. They were no fools. St. Paul addressed them with these words taken from his First Epistle to them:
The testimony of eyewitnesses is needed in court trials. It is the evidentiary stuff of necessary proofs. That being so, I want to point out to you today that after His resurrection Jesus appeared twelve times to different groups in sizes ranging from just one person to five hundred people. After His resurrection from the dead His first appearance was to Mary Magdalene and the other women who had come with burial spices to embalm His dead body. Later He encountered two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Later to the disciples who had locked themselves behind closed doors, to seven disciples while they were fishing, and to a crowd of 500 “most of who were alive, St. Paul notes, when he wrote his letter to the Corinthians.
When St. John wrote his gospel, and we must remember that John was as a young man a disciple of Jesus, he concluded his gospel account with these words:  But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.
So as we reflect on today’s Gospel account we need to keep in mind that the Apostle Thomas was a real man. He believed only that which he could touch. He would not allow himself to be played the fool. He was the dupe of no one. He would not settle for illusions. He is a rock, vulnerable to one… the courageous pessimist among those of this world’s philosophers who hold to the notion that life is absurd and that all we can do is endure it and then die. The only reality, they say, is violence and man’s inhumanity toward man. Happiness? Happiness is a fool's paradise… a pie in the sky promise of Polyannas. The worst will always happen. We’ve all met people who really believe that and whose hearts are help in that icy grip.
To return now to Doubting Thomas, do you remember Thomas when Christ raised Lazarus from the dead? His character was the same back then. A messenger comes to Jesus and says: “Lord, he whom you love is dead." The disciples of Jesus are concerned about Christ. They know He will want to go to Lazarus. And they know about the political dangers that exist in Judea, dangers to life emanating from powerful persons who hate Jesus. Immediately Thomas, the pessimist, the apostle of the futility of it all, pipes up and declares: “Well, let’s all go and die with Him.”
That was no confession of faith. Rather it was a declaration of despair. Thomas has courage, but only the courage to accept death… not to face life. What makes his character so clear to us, so much our contemporary brother, is the violence of his rejection. I will not believe, he asserts, unless I can see, feel, and experience those wounds in the body of the Risen Lord. His conditions are hard. In his heart what he is saying to Jesus is: "Prove to me that You love me!" That's hard evidence, a firm stone on which to lay a head filled with pessimism. Haven't we, he is saying, been exposed often enough to cruel disappointments? Haven't we often enough become vulnerable, only to be taken in? Why should we believe? After all, if we do then much will be demanded of us. Our freedom to do as we wish will be severely curtailed! Can't I enjoy life now and forget about any resurrected life?
You and I live in an age of immense suffering and death. We live among men and women who have conditioned themselves to see only one reality, namely death, misery, and terrifying treatment of others. We are conditioned to make only one statement of belief, namely that human love is unreliable and that death is ultimate. Even the causes and the hopes and dreams for which men are willing to die are incredible. We fear being open to hope. Our hopes have been dashed so often. My self is the only reality, and I will not become vulnerable to others, to hope, to love, to the chance of a new life, to belief in others and what they say about life, and about the resurrection of the Lord of life. I am a rock, we say, only that which can be seen, tasted, and touched is real. The only certainty is death. Jesus is a myth.
Yet what could be more of an illusion? What could be more foolish? Not to believe in belief is itself an unproven and unprovable belief. He who says he is free from illusions is usually the one that is most often filled with illusions, anxieties, and unreality.
Thomas suffered for his belief in Christ. So often in his life he had been disappointed! So often his prayers for a Messiah who could free him were answered in strange ways, ways which he could never have expected. So often his expectations about God were turned around by God. To suffer because there is no one in whom we can place our love, and believe in, is in itself the mark of a terribly strong desire to love and to believe! It is THE suffering of our times. It is the form that faith is taking us in our day. It is discretionary, humble, searing, and tragic. But it also very sincere, quite loyal, and it is pure. It is the faith of the new young people of our day and age who so much want to believe.
Out of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection came the most beautiful and the most convincing act of faith ever recorded in the Bible. Jesus yielded to Doubting Thomas as He yielded to no other member of the College of Apostles. He surrendered in great humility and vulnerability once again. God stoops over and lays Himself down at our side in our troubled waters and bridges the gap. He sees me and He sees you in Thomas. He loves Thomas immensely, and you and me also. He knows our disappointments, our unhappiness, our frustrations, our misery, and our fears and insecurities over being taken in by someone else. Gently He submits to the challenge of Thomas’s doubts, bitterness, and his hard challenge to faith. He comes to the side of Thomas and offers Thomas His own side.
And from out of the heart of Thomas came forth humility and a purgation that touches us 2,000 years later. All of his doubts melt away. Thomas, the hard-as-nails cynic, becomes submissive, yes even intimate, with the Risen Christ. He is lifted to a height that none of the others had attained, except perhaps St. John. Dazzled and overwhelmed Thomas exclaims: My Lord, and my God! He becomes the first of the Apostles to carry his love and belief that far. No other Apostle had ever referred to Jesus as “My God!" From this poor and pessimistic Thomas, violent in his unbelief, Jesus drew the statement of belief that He had spent His entire life preparing for! From Thomas came the fulfillment of Christmas, the expectations of Mary, and the response God wants from us. From the dregs of human suffering, despair, disappointment and disbelief comes the cry of man ravished by the love of the God who became part of all that it means to be human. From the heart of a doubting and rebellious man comes the response that a yearning God who is a Lover has always looked for. Nothing has so influenced our God as the thoughts festering in the heart of Thomas and in your heart and mine as well. 
All that remains is our surrender, our willingness to believe, our acceptance of the Risen Lord, and our communion of love. All that remains is our surrender to our Divine Lover and give Him the cry from our hearts: “My Lord, and my God!" With that we can go to the sides of all who live in the darkness of doubt and disbelief.
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Stories from Fr. Tony Kadavil's Collection:

1) "Well, then, I will have mercy."  
 
Emperor Napoleon was moved by a mother's plea for pardon for her soldier son.  However, the emperor said that since it was the man’s second major offense, justice demanded death.  "I do not ask for justice," implored the mother, "I plead for mercy."  "But," said the emperor, "he does not deserve mercy."  "Sir," cried the mother, "it would not be mercy if he deserved it, and mercy is all I ask for."  The compassion and clarity of the mother's logic prompted Napoleon to respond, "Well, then, I will have mercy."  The Second Sunday of the Easter season invites us to reflect on God’s infinite love and mercy for His people, as detailed in the Bible and as lived and taught by Jesus, and to practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. 
2) St. Faustina and the Image of the Divine Mercy:  
 
St. Faustina of Poland is the well known apostle of Divine Mercy.  On the 30th of April, 2000, the Second Sunday of Easter, at 10:00 a.m., His Holiness Pope John Paul II celebrated the Eucharist in Saint Peter’s Square and proceeded to the canonization of Blessed Sister Faustina.  The new Saint invites us by the witness of her life to keep our faith and hope fixed on God the Father, rich in mercy, who saved us by the precious Blood of His Son.  During her short life, the Lord Jesus assigned to St. Faustina three basic tasks: 1. to pray for souls, entrusting them to God's incomprehensible Mercy; 2. to tell the world about God's Generous Mercy; 3. to start a new movement in the Church focusing on God's Mercy.  At the canonization of St. Faustina, Pope John Paul II said: “The cross, even after the Resurrection of the Son of God, speaks, and never ceases to speak, of God the Father, Who is absolutely faithful to His eternal love for man. ... Believing in this love means believing in mercy."  “The Lord of Divine Mercy,” a drawing of Jesus based on the vision given to St. Faustina, shows Jesus raising his right hand in a gesture of blessing, with  his left hand on his heart from which gush forth two rays, one red and one white.  The picture contains the message, "Jesus, I trust in You!" (Jezu ufam Tobie).  The rays streaming out have symbolic meaning: red for the blood of Jesus, which is the life of souls and white for the Baptismal water which justifies souls.  The whole image is symbolic of the mercy, forgiveness and love of God. 
3) Mayor’s mercy:
 
One night in 1935, Fiorello H. La Guardia, Mayor of New York City, showed up at a night court in the poorest ward of the city.  He dismissed the judge for the evening and took over the bench.  One case involved an elderly woman who was caught stealing bread to feed her grandchildren.  La Guardia said, "I've got to punish you.  Ten dollars or ten days in jail." 
As he spoke, he threw $10 into his hat.  He then fined everyone in the courtroom 50 cents for living in a city "where an old woman had to steal bread so that her grandchildren should not starve."  The hat was passed around, and the woman left the courtroom with her fine paid and an additional $47.50.
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4) Traffic cop’s mercy:  
 
A priest was forced, by a traffic police, to pull over for speeding.  As the cop was about to write the ticket, the priest said to him, "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."  The cop handed the priest the ticket, and said, "Go, and sin no more."
5) Photographer’s mercy:
 
The story is told of a politician who, after receiving the proofs of a picture, was very angry with the photographer.  He stormed back to the man's studio and screamed at him: "This picture does not do me justice!"  The photographer replied, "Sir, with a face like yours, what you need is mercy, not justice!" 
6) "Law v Mercy”
 
In Reader’s Digest, Jim Williams of Montana, writes: "I was driving too fast late one night when I saw the flashing lights of a police car in my rearview mirror. As I pulled over and rolled down my window of my station wagon, I tried to dream up an excuse for my haste. But when the patrolman reached the car, he said nothing. Instead, he merely shined his flashlight in my face, then on my seven-month-old in his car seat, then on our three other children, who were asleep, and lastly on the two dogs in the very back of the car. Returning the beam of light to my face, he then uttered the only words of the encounter. 'Son,' he said, 'you can’t afford a ticket. Slow down.' And with that , he returned to his car and drove away.” Sometimes mercy triumphs over law. So it is for sinners who call out to Jesus.”
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Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
2nd Easter: Afraid and Doubting; Yet Still Believing

Poor Thomas always gets bad press the Sunday after Easter.  We are always focusing in on his doubts.  We often think that he was the only one who did not believe that the Lord had risen from the dead.  The fact is that most of the disciples doubted the Lord’s resurrection until they experienced His presence.  Only the apostle John, the Beloved Disciple, appears to have believed the Lord had risen before he ever encountered the Risen Lord. If you remember, after Mary Magdeline reported what she had seen that Easter Sunday morning, Peter and John ran to the tomb.  John outran Peter, but waited and let Peter go in first. When John went in, the Gospel says, “He saw, and He believed.”  Peter, still, did not know what to think.

Like Peter, the other disciples did not know if they should believe Mary and John.  Peter reported that the tomb was empty.  Perhaps in some macabre act, someone had stolen the Lord’s body. Certainly, there appeared to be no limit to the despicable activity of the chief priests and pharisees when it came to the Lord.  So, they all doubted.  Initially. Later that day Jesus appeared to Peter and the other disciples, except for Thomas who was not present.

When Jesus appeared that day He came to the disciples in the same Upper Room where they had celebrated the Passover the Thursday before.  The door was locked.  Why?  The disciples were afraid, frightened to be exact.  Jesus had not just been killed; he had suffered one of the most horrible deaths known to mankind.  Would the same thing happen to them?  They were frightened.  In their fear, they began doubting the Lord.  Maybe He was just a wonderful, powerful prophet, but nothing more. And then He appeared to them.  That’s when they realized that this was more than just a new message, a new prophecy.  Jesus Himself was the message.  He was the Son of God. His Gospel had power, the Power of God.

Thomas was not there.  He doubted the other disciples’ story.  He even doubted the word of the Lord, who had said He’d rise again. When he saw Jesus, Thomas’ reaction was the same of the other disciples, best expressed in his statement, “My Lord and My God.” Jesus Christ is Lord and God.  There is no need to be afraid.

This is true also for us.  We are often afraid. This is normal, part of our human condition.  Beneath the fear there is doubt. Will God really take care of me and my family?  Does He really care?  Does He really exist?  Where is He now that I need Him so much.

We go through periods of joy and periods of stress.  Sometimes we say, “Life is good.  I love what I am doing.  I have people I love.  And I am loved by others.”  Or you might say, “I have a great marriage.  The children are work, but I can’t stop smiling when I think about them, even when they are driving me crazy.” Or for our younger people, “I really like school.  I have friends.  I have activities that are fun.  Life is good.”  That is how we feel sometimes.  And then there are times that we seem to go from one crisis to the next.  We are confronted with death, sickness, unemployment, actions of others that disappoint us, and our own actions that upset us. There is stress in relationships.  And we wonder about God.  “Where is He?” we ask. And, yes, like Thomas and the others, there are still times that we are afraid, that we question, that we doubt.

Our Loving Lord knows and understands.  He was one of us.  Jesus knows what it is like to be afraid. He was afraid in the Garden of Olives.  He sweat blood.  But He also trusted in the Power of His Father and our Father and did not let these fears change His determination to do the will of the Father.  He sees us when we are afraid. He understands.

He also gives us the ability to get up from our fears and do the right thing.  This is Divine Mercy Sunday.  The rays that come from the heart of Jesus remind us of the blood and water that came from His heart.  The blood destroys the power that evil has over us.  The  water revives us through baptism.

He sees, He knows, He understands.  Yes, it is human to be afraid.  And it is human to doubt. Perhaps we feel horrible for doubting Him.  His mercy and compassion are stronger than our doubts.

No matter what we are facing in life today, or will face tomorrow, joy or challenge, we look to Jesus; we remember His mercy and compassion, and we join Thomas in saying, “My Lord and My God.”
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Homily from Father James Gilhooley
A prisoner of war, a nominal Christian, was being abused. However, one guard was regularly kind. One day he stood next to the prisoner and drew a Cross in the dirt. Then he smiled and whispered,"Believe." The pow's faith took a seismic leap.

"Joy," wrote Leon Bloy, "is the most infallible sign of the presence of God."

The results are in and they are not happy ones. "Weekly church attendance for US Catholics is much closer to 25% than to 50%." The researchers hail from the Sociology Department at the University of Notre Dame. These scholarly findings do confirm what many of our unscholarly eyes have been telling us on Sunday mornings.

No doubt many of our fellow Catholics are staying under their electric blankets on Sunday mornings out of sheer laziness and indifference. Still there are countless others staying there because of an absence of faith. And, faith is what it is all about this Easter season.

One has to wonder whether I myself, say, or you are the cause of the lack of faith in others. I was riding the New York City subways. Across from me sat a religious in full habit. She struck me as singularly unhappy. She seemed so stern. Even when I greeted her, she did not reply. My stop arrived and I exited.  A passenger, unknown to me, shared the same destination. He had witnessed her deliberate snub of me. On the platform, he said to me, "That nun was a very poor advertisement for the good news that Jesus has risen."

I kept my silence, murmured a "God bless," and moved off. Yet, Monsieur Bloy's observation did come to mind. Someone had the patience to count the number of times the word joy appears in the Bible. The number is an astonishing 542.

Am I a joyful person?  Are you? Do people look at us and sense that we firmly believe that Jesus the Lord has conquered death? Do they sense that we subscribe to that beautiful line from the Apocalypse? "I was dead and now I am to live for ever and ever."

Or do they feel as my fellow subway passenger that there is no Easter joy about us and that we appear to be prophets of both doom and gloom? It is an awesome responsibility to be a Christian. And we must act accordingly. A dour Catholic is an oxymoron. Ours is an age where faith is an absent quality in even many ostensibly Catholic households.

It is important to reflect that genuine joy is not "make believe." Nor does authentic joy call it a day when it makes us feel good and causes us to walk about with a large smile. Rather, it leads us to live lives worthy of the risen Christ we salute this sacred season. We become people filled with good works as well as cheer.

James Tahaney has put the point I am trying to make well. We tell God that we do love Him, but we must prove that declaration by our actions. "Proof, says Tahaney, "comes from performance, not promises."

We would all do well to check our Catholic and Christian lives critically from time to time. Are we working at the faith as well as we should? Can others looking at us tell that we are clearly the followers of Jesus? Do we possess Easter joy? Haven't we been told often enough that faith is something caught and not taught?

One of the best ways to both measure ourselves and then correct a bad situation is with the Scriptures themselves. Perhaps you may want to follow the advice offered by O.T. Gifford in the book he titled Hints to Young Christians . And no matter what one's age is, one should by definition be a young Christian. Isn't that what the Easter Gospels are all about?

Writes Gifford, "If you're getting lazy, read James. If your faith is below par, read Paul. If you're impatient, consider the book of Job. If you're a little strong-headed, go and see Moses. If you're weak-kneed, have a look at Elijah. If there is no song in your heart, listen to David. If you feel spiritually chilly, get the beloved disciple John to put his arms around you. And if you're losing sight of the future, climb to Revelation and get a glimpse of heaven."