“Now, a week later, his disciples were again inside, and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and he stood in their midst and said, ‘Peace be with you.'” John 20:19-31.
Thomas’s words to Jesus, “My Lord and my God,” come toward the very end of John’s gospel (John 20) and represents one of three dialogues between Jesus and Thomas.
This particular passage is read yearly on this Sunday after Easter. So, it has great importance for us as witnesses to the risen Christ.
In the 2000-year history of the Church, this Sunday celebration has been given various names with particular reference points. For example, when this day was called “Low Sunday,” there was a time to distinguish it from “High Sunday,” namely Easter.
In more recent times, Pope John Paul II named this “Divine Mercy” Sunday better to acknowledge a devotion to Saint Faustina and her novena to assist us in making our Easter Duty.
In his eight years as pope, Francis has consistently emphasized mercy and tenderness in his words and actions. Early on, Francis stated: “The Church is like a field hospital after battle. [In a MASH unit,] it is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars. [Instead] you have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. To heal the wounds, you have to start from the ground up.”
My work in this “field hospital” began long ago; in fact, fifty years ago, in a large urban parish, Saint Aedan’s was on Bergen Avenue in Jersey City, New Jersey.
As I arose for the 6:30 AM Mass and walked to the Church sacristy, on most mornings, I could smell the aroma of roasting coffee, not from our kitchen but the Maxwell House coffee factory nearby.
It was a vacuum-packed neighborhood of working-class people whose lives deeply pressed in on one another.
As the “rookie priest” on the staff, I was “on duty” once a month, covering the sprawling and even daunting Jersey City Medical Center. It gave the chaplain, Father Tom, a day off.
At a major trauma center, you see first-hand the daily grind of nurses, staff, and hospitalists confronted with the sick and dying.
My covering the hospital was a chore, and I was not especially good at it; so many patients, the random encounters, those sudden emergencies on the edge of sadness.
One Sunday afternoon in the hot summer, after all the Masses, I had fallen asleep watching a Yankee game. Then, the telephone kept ringing until I finally picked up the receiver.
Could it be the hospital calling?
Instead, the caller was a polite man who asked that I open the Church since he had guests that wished to have a moment of silent prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.
I explained that for security reasons, we kept the doors locked between Masses.
Not listening to my excuses, he insisted: “Father, open the Church, and if need be, I’ll play security guard!” His no-nonsense tone of voice got my attention. I put on my priest’s collar with a bit of reluctance and went downstairs with the Church’s keys.
Outside on the Church’s steps, I saw them: a man with a group of women, six or so, dressed in the Sisters of Missionary Charity’s distinctive white and blue saris of Mother Teresa’s community.
They had come from their convent in Brooklyn. I asked one of the sisters what brought you to Jersey City?
She told me that most Sundays, the sisters ministered to the sick at the Jersey City Medical Center. It was their custom to pray in thanksgiving for their day’s work and for the intentions of the people they met that day in the hospital.
How ironic the Missionary Sisters did my work on their day off. After all, I was “on duty,” or so I thought?
Fifty years later, I recall their kindness and compassion. One of the sisters told me they would pray for me since I opened the Church’s doors that afternoon.
Open doors, well, that’s what we do. Isn’t it?
Open the doors for others, that each might minister in Christ’s name.
On this Divine Mercy Sunday, we renew our willingness to go outward to those in need, to help others to see the face of God in Jesus Christ, the human face of God among us.
What are the works of mercy? To feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter travelers, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead.
Pope Francis writes: “Dear Brothers and Sisters, I have often thought about how the Church might make clear a witness to mercy. It’s a journey that begins with a spiritual conversion. Be merciful, just like your Father is merciful.”
Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey CA.