How do you see yourself? That’s always been a question that people have at some point in their lives had to focus on. Or perhaps more accurately it’s a question multiple times in their lives everyone has had to answer. Sometimes we keep it on a surface level where we just offer factual biographical details about ourselves; what we’re studying; what we do for a living. Having experienced being bullied growing up, or times when I struggled with health and weight issues, it was easy to believe lies that others told me about myself as I called myself a loser… Having made mistakes, and experienced setbacks- it was easy to get stuck there and exclusively focus on those things as I called myself a failure. When I think back to some of those challenging times, it is amazing to recognize how powerful a thing like how you see yourself can be. How it can be so distorted, manipulated… the potential, and the effect it can have on someone.
Thanks so much for stopping by to read my homily for SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER – DIVINE MERCY SUNDAY April 16, 2023, for sharing it on your social media posts and your feedback and comments… I’m also grateful for all those who’ve asked for the audio version and share them as well at SOUNDCLOUD click HERE or from ITUNES as a podcast HERE. May the Lord be glorified in your reading and sharing- Father Jim
A few weeks ago, the social media site TikTok, acknowledging this reality came up with an approach to how to deal with it. They had this trend that went viral called “blur your insecurities.” They invited people to select an area on themselves that causes them to feel bad and the app pixilated that area of the person. If there were good intentions that went into that campaign, to me it seemed destined to fail from the outset. Because the shallowness that social media often promotes can cause people to do nothing but look at themselves – compare themselves to others which can result in narcissistic, envious thoughts. And “Blur your insecurities” sure went off in some disturbing directions. Especially since they picked a song with their filter called “Stressed out” with the words “my names blurryface and I care what you think” it practically invited people to negative places.
Comments included a 15-year-old sharing with the world how she hates her nose and her teeth as she wrote: “My nose is broken, it curves to the side, and I have a bump that shows up on my side profile…” That was sad enough thinking of how this young woman was already being super critical of physical things about herself and is over fixating on them. But it got worse. One user said “My whole existence would be blurred” to one kid said, “I’d sell my soul to get rid of those lines by my mouth.”
It’s easy for us to think this is something new that has evolved as we see society devolve. But the reality of people obsessively fixating on the negative is nothing new. Think about today’s Gospel. This scripture passage recounts the first Easter Sunday Night 2,000 years ago, a vast majority of us if we were asked to describe what it was about would probably respond “DOUBTING THOMAS.” That label coming from this one event is so powerful that people use it as a popular expression when someone expresses skepticism about something. This poor guy Thomas probably could never have imagined that millennia later people would invoke his name as they say things like “This guy doesn’t think the Giants will ever be in the Super Bowl, he’s such a doubting Thomas.”
That is one of the reasons this Gospel passage has always fascinated me. The more I’ve prayed and read about it, the more I’ve developed a soft spot for St. Thomas. The reason he didn’t believe Jesus was risen from the dead was that he wasn’t there that first Sunday – Easter Sunday Night. But so often people’s minds and hearts immediately go to his doubt and skip over that fact – which is always something that stood out to me. Why wasn’t he there that first Sunday Night? Why wasn’t he dubbed “Absent Thomas”? Why when they were all gathered together in the Upper Room was he the only apostle not there? Well, not all of the Apostles were there in that Upper Room. Judas Iscariot wasn’t there either. The other apostle whose name, whose identity has been forever linked to something he did and is now attributed to others for less than ideal reasons.
Maybe that’s part of the reason Thomas isn’t there. Maybe he could’ve been dubbed “Shattered Thomas.” Because we can’t forget all that happened in a very short period of time. Going from the sacred intimacy of Holy Thursday where Jesus reveals His heart to His 12 apostles – these men who’ve been close to Him as they followed Him for years… Who at the Last Supper makes them His first priests as He washes their feet, as He gifts them with the sacred treasure and responsibility of bringing the Eucharist – His actual body, blood, soul, and divinity in the bread and the wine … hours later they’re not only completely impotent in stopping the horror, the madness, the brutality of the Passion, the humiliating and devastating end as Jesus dies on the cross… they weren’t even there.
Is that why Thomas was missing? Is it that Thomas was thinking all kinds of negative things about himself? Coward…hypocrite… fraud…weak… What was he thinking of his 11 brothers, including one who had sat right there at the table with them and would be the one who betrayed Jesus and then went out and hung himself? Try to imagine the disbelief, the hurt, the anger that must’ve been weighing in on all of them. I don’t know about you, but the more I try to imagine what this must’ve been like, I can’t blame Thomas if he was feeling like he didn’t want to be with them… he wanted to be alone. He was angry & disappointed with himself and the whole lot of them.
Nor can I blame him for reacting the way he did. When these 10 remaining brothers are now telling him “We have seen the Lord.” Thomas probably went from beating himself up to now turning in on them. He doesn’t believe them. Maybe Thomas thinks if Jesus is alive again if He has risen from the dead – why would He come here, come to us? We’re not worthy…
But the thing is, Thomas’ “Doubt” is all born of this negativity which has caused him to forget.
Forget the many times Thomas saw Jesus pour out love to those who felt isolated, and unworthy. Forget the many people who were ill and labeled unclean that Thomas saw Jesus heal and restore.
Forget the time Thomas heard Jesus tell the story of the Prodigal Son… or the Good Shepherd who abandons the 99 in search of the one lost sheep…
Forget all the time Thomas spent with Jesus, all the things he saw Jesus do, the things he heard Jesus say – including telling them He knew that He was going to be crucified, He knew that they would fail Him, He told them He would rise again.
Thomas wasn’t “doubting” because he was a natural skeptic who had remained unmoved and unconvinced over the years He followed Jesus. It was that as his heart was heavy with anger at himself and the others for their failures, for their weakness, for their inadequacies- he forgot to stop looking inward at himself, or outward on the others. He forgot to focus on Jesus.
This is why every year on the Second Sunday of Easter, we always hear this Gospel. Because we’re not so different from Thomas, are we? Even if we make it to Mass every Sunday, were faithful to the practices of Prayer, Fasting, and almsgiving throughout Lent… Even if we do go to confession on a regular basis, it’s easy for all of us to still let the doubts, the failures, and the sins undermine our faith… To let the insanity of the world make us so mixed up and confused about who we are… to become so fixated on the negativity that we numb ourselves with distractions, or worse with alcohol or drugs, with self-harm – anything to escape the despair… We don’t recognize how easy it is for us to join so many in our world who’ve lost the source of their true, eternal identity – which comes from Jesus Christ, the crucified one who is risen from the dead.
What is the first thing Jesus says and does after being risen from the dead? It’s not to go drop in on Pilate, Caiphas, and all those who conspired to put him to death and wreck their worlds. It’s not to appear in the midst of downtown Jerusalem in front of all the people who demanded He be crucified and ask them how happy are they with that decision now. No – Jesus offers Peace. He meets those who were shattered and thinking some pretty negative things about themselves after Good Friday and reminds them that He had called them to be His apostles. He sees greatness, a potential in them – He knows that they are more than the things they are saying about themselves, or what they’ve heard others call them. They are His chosen ones.
He offers peace to those who needed it the most and felt the least worthy of it – in the upper room, to his apostles. He tells them He was serious about offering forgiveness as He commissions them in His name to do the same. That’s why today is called “Divine Mercy Sunday” where in the joy of Easter we recognize that is who God is. That is His identity. That He meets us in our brokenness, and our sinfulness, and offers us His love and forgiveness when we deserve it the least and when we need it the most.
That’s what Thomas experiences and witnesses to us. Jesus knows the complexity, the heaviness of the human heart. He knows the complexity and heaviness of Thomas’ heart as He comes to him the following week. And look at what he does – he doesn’t shame him… he doesn’t call him doubting Thomas. He calls him to “believe” – another translation has Jesus saying “Become trusting, not distrustful.” He’s forgiving Thomas – telling him two important things 1 – to forgive yourself and 2 – to not be defined by what he did, but by what God was calling him to do.
That’s the good news of great joy for us. Lent is a time when we were very much attuned to our sinfulness and our need for God’s mercy. Easter, and in a particular way this Divine Mercy Sunday invites us to celebrate it can be ours… if we follow Thomas’ example – stop replaying all the mistakes and setbacks; stop listening to the lies and labels that we’ve allowed others or ourselves in our brokenness to attach – and let Jesus speak into them – as we ask for and receive His forgiveness when we go to confession and our sins are wiped away. As we ask and receive His healing where Jesus calls us to receive His Peace. As we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday, we celebrate How God sees Himself, and how He wants us to see ourselves, to reclaim our eternal identity, as His beloved sons and daughters.