Teaching, Potential and Mercy

Note: This article about Divine Mercy Sunday is from the CMCS archives, and very timely as we are presently experiencing the Pandemic of COVID-19.

On this 2nd Sunday of Easter and Divine Mercy Sunday, the 1st reading celebrates the building up of the early church. The community of believers were on fire for the Lord. They were united (one heart and mind), bore witness to the Resurrection, and shared their possessions. Wonderful! Alleluia! On the other hand today’s gospel story paints a much different picture of the “first” church, the “first” community of believers. Here we see Jesus’ disciples hiding in a room, doors locked, for fear of the Jews. No witnessing going on here! The only thing they shared was FEAR and DOUBT! So what might these scripture passages say to you and me today?  Jesus spent three years teaching and training his disciples in preparation for their ultimate mission. Today I see Jesus continuing his teaching by encouraging his disciples and us to reach our God-given full potential.

One warm, sunny Spring day a few years ago, I was out in the yard doing the early prep for my garden when I heard a small voice behind me say, “Hi Papa! I wanna help”.

Now if you are anything like me, this is not the kind of help you look for when the helper is 5 years old. My initial reaction is that I know if I do it myself, I would be done and out of here much faster.

But, part of being a grandpa is giving someone we love the opportunity to develop their potential and share life’s lessons. So, I gave my grandson the responsibility of handling the water hose. All he had to do was water each plant as I put it in the ground. Well, as you can imagine, he watered everything in sight; the yard, the fence, the sidewalk, the driveway, the neighbor’s yard, himself and, on occasion, the new plants in the garden!

But in the end, we got the job done. And at the same time, I felt that the time we spent together was a time of “seed planting” in my grandson, and early preparation for later in life when knowing how to work with others and following through would be an important part of his life. In a sense, I was teaching him how to build on who he is and developing his full potential.

That’s what I see Jesus was doing with his disciples in today’s gospel. He is taking them by the hand and starting them on a journey to their full potential. Look where he found them, behind locked doors scarred, disheartened and defensive.

Uninhibited by their location, he came and breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit”, the gift that would unlock the doors they were living behind. Remember, they were there so that others would not find them.

We are not living behind closed, locked doors – physically. But, this is still a gospel for us because the human condition DOES choose to live behind closed doors, or better said, closed minds. Each of us has the potential for prejudices, bad habits, negative attitudes, fears, tunnel vision, false concepts and ideas. And we stay there because we don’t want others to see others differently, or, find the “real us” either.

As he breathed on them he said: “what you forgive is forgiven; what you hold bound is bound”. In doing this, he is challenging them to live up to their full potential as given to them by God.

What we can also read into his message is this: “if you want to stay in this room, behind locked doors all your life, you can, but you don’t have too. This is not where you will have life to the fullest”.

Then Thomas comes into the picture. Remember, he wasn’t there on the first visit so he didn’t see what Jesus had done, therefore, he didn’t believe. So, he sets parameters – “I will believe if…!”  Does that sound familiar? If I don’t see it, it doesn’t exist. Does that sound like us?

Jesus tells us to “Love your neighbor” and we say, “God, you don’t know my neighbor”. He tells us to “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you”. We say, “I can’t, I want revenge…or, I might consider that right after I get even”. Jesus continues: “Give and it shall be given to you”. We say, “I’ll decide what to give and to whom”. In other words, if I don’t see the immediate value or consequence, I don’t buy it or I don’t feel compelled to obey that command.

Thomas didn’t see it either. But, Jesus refused to let him get away. He saw more in Thomas than he saw in himself.

You see, Jesus believes in the emerging person – the untapped potential – sometimes locked away in a room, deep inside us that we don’t want anyone else to see. Perhaps the real truth is, we don’t see it ourselves.

So, on behalf of Thomas and all the rest of us, Jesus, in an act of great mercy, says to him; “if that’s what it takes to set you free, then so be it. Put your hand in my side, your finger in my nail holes – if that’s what it takes!”

He is saying to Thomas and us: “I have come so you will have life – and you can’t have it locked behind closed doors, behind closed minds. You cannot do my Fathers will living in the very small world limited to only what you can see”.

Jesus knows the human being, our heart, our mind, and even the locked rooms we have.

He wants to reach in, pull us – the real us – the potential he sees, to the surface, for all the world to see – to set us free from the bondage – so we can live our lives to the fullest.

And he is going to keep coming in, coming in, coming in to those locked rooms, because he desperately wants to set us free. In his Lenten reflection booklet “Daybreaks” Fr. Ron Rolheiser says this, “The Resurrection assures us that God never gives up on us, even if we give up on ourselves”.

Brothers and sisters, today’s gospel is a story of Great Mercy. Jesus refuses to let his followers lock themselves outside of his plan for salvation.

Will we let him do the same for us?

At Mass this weekend we will join in the liturgy of the Eucharist. As devout and believing Catholic Christians we will exclaim within our hearts the same act of Faith first uttered by Thomas the Apostle “My Lord and My God.” But as praiseworthy as that act of Faith may be, as followers of Christ, it is not enough, for as Jesus himself said (Matt 7:21) “not everyone who says, “Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of My father in heaven.” And God wills that we be merciful as He is Merciful. ALLELUIA.

Deacon John Rangel,
CMCS Director of Mission

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Author: Catholic Men Chicago Southland

Catholic Men Chicago Southland (CMCS) fosters Catholic Men in personal holiness to make Jesus Christ the center of our daily lives, and sponsor of the Bishop Perry Catholic Chicago Men's Forum. CMCS is Catholic Apostolate of Most Reverend Joseph N. Perry of Chicago. Executive Director, Frank J. Casella Vision: To Nurture Catholic Men's Spirituality in the Chicago Southland