Reading 1: Acts 2:42-47;
2nd Reading, 1 Pet 1:3-9;
Gospel, John 20:19-31
Today, the Church celebrates in a special way the Mercy of God. No one is worthy to stand before God (Psalm 130). Adam and Eve, Peter and the rest of the disciples, indeed the whole mankind sinned and had fallen short of God’s grace and mercy. God through the death and resurrection of Christ, reconciled all mankind back to himself. The new people gathered in the name of Christ are rightly called believers or body of Christ or simply the Church. The head cares for the body and the body is subservient to the head. The body and the head are inseparable. Thus the promise, I will be with you to the end of the world (Matt 28:20b) is true here. First Reading has a lot in common with the Gospel. Sometimes depending on the topic under consideration, it will seem as if it precedes the gospel even though it came after the Gospels. Believers were together (in fellowship and prayer) gripped with fear and with a common agenda: what is happening (Christ died and was buried but the body is not in the grave and they were asked to wait that he is coming to meet them). Christ appeared to douse every tension threw away all the fears that previously gripped them. Jesus appeared with the message of forgiveness and hope. He never appeared to blame any of them. He never expressed any atom of disappointment on the part of Peter and indeed on the whole apostles. This is because he knew all of them ever before they came to be. What was uppermost in his mind was to calm them and to send them out to extend his message in the world. Thus he said twice to them, “Peace be with you!” (eir?n? humin). The second one came after he must have proved to them that he is not a ghost but the Jesus Christ they used to go out with. For one to be with peace means total well being. After granting them the total well being from all fears, or anxieties, he gave them the gift of the Holy Spirit and through that gift, he granted them the divine grace with which to forgive sins. That is the origin of the Sacrament of Reconciliation in the Church. Through this sacrament, strayed Christians are reconciled back to Christ. So many today have strayed and find it difficult to avail themselves of this gift and thus are labouring daily under impediment.
One of the apostles, Thomas, was not there when Christ came, but when he was told he refused to believe for it sounded too good to be true. Again, to show us the Divine Mercy in action, he did not allow him to die in his doubt. Jesus knows all of us and we are all important to him. By implication, no one is more important to him than the other. He sees every Christian as part of the block that is used for the building of the Church. The absence of a Christian creates a hole in the building that is the Church. No wonder the parable of the lost sheep ,where ninety-nine were left behind in search of the strayed one. So, when Thomas said, “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe”, Jesus moved extra mile to convince Thomas to believe. Thomas we know is not a coward but one of the most courageous apostles. We remember that when Jesus got the news concerning the death of his friend Lazarus, the apostles knew that Jesus’ going back to Judea may expose him to be arrested by the Jews (John 11:8, 12) so they were reluctant to allow him to go or even to go with him. It was only Thomas who mustered courage and said to his fellow disciples, “Let us go, that we may die with him” (John 11:16). It was that single statement that spurred the rest into action and they followed Christ. There is no doubt that Jesus has not forgotten this courage of Thomas, hence his coming back in the subsequent week just to douse the doubt of Thomas and to make his followers one. The doubts raised by Thomas is never a mockery. He loved Jesus so much and never believed that he would ever see him again in this life. When Jesus appeared again after eight days and satisfied the curiousity of Thomas, he shouted in adoration, “My Lord and my God!” This prayer of adoration which was proclaimed more than 2000 years ago is still what majority of Catholics say in our own day whenever the Body of Christ is raised up and also when the Chalice containing the precious Blood of Christ is raised up. Through that doubt which Thomas raised, Jesus after showing himself to him prayed for all of us who are in the Church today who believe in him (his birth, life, passion, death, burial and resurrection) without seeing him. That wonderful act made the whole Church to be united and thus elongate Christ in the world.
This leads us to the first reading of this mass. The early Christians truly lived like a body. The Church as a body just as today, has leaders and members. The leaders are the ordained and the members are the laity. According to our first reading, “the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). This was said when the Church was still truly one, apostolic, holy and universal. These qualities we know still subsist in the Catholic Church. This is a verse that is packed with meaning. It challenges and offers direction for the Church of today. Let us study the above underlined words today using the original language from which they were written, that is, Greek. They devoted themselves: The word devoted comes from the Greek present participle proskarterountes which means “continue faithfully”, “remain constant”, “continuing steadfastly”. All these nuances point out the idea of total submission and acceptance to what the apostles were doing with them and for them. Obedience and devotion in following seemed to be the watch word of the early Christians. This spirit is dying today and needs to be revived. Some Christians no longer listen to their priests instead they listen more to the directives given by the leaders of their kindred especially in matters of faith and moral.
Another word is ‘teaching’ which comes from the Greek word didach? which means, the compendium of the teachings of the apostles that originates from what they learnt from Christ, the founder of Christianity. The question would be, are the present day teachers/apostles (bishops/priests) still teach doctrines of the Church during their homilies both on Sundays and weekdays. Is there still anything like Sunday-Evening instructions that used to precede benediction in those days? Or has pulpit been changed to a proverb centre, miracle centre, prosperity centre, insult centre, complaint centre or is it still a place where people are encouraged to be good Christians as those who came before us were. Again, present day Christians, are they still interested in the authentic teachings of the Church? How many Christians still attend Sunday-evening instruction or benediction? Are the present day priests still prepared for Sunday-evening instruction? The present day leaders of the Church and their followers have a lot to learn from the lives of the early Christians.
Another word that attracts attention is fellowship, it comes from the Greek word koin?nia which means “sharing”, “association”, “fellowship”. This is more than sitting together, hence it means fellowship in friendship or in love. It means sharing life together or experiences. The weakness of a Christian is the weakness of all, absence of one is noticed and therefore helped by all. Today, the Church is so large that even the Parish Priest and his Vicars rarely know half of their parishioners. Church in his wisdom has so many holy men and women who lived good Christian lives in the past and they are called saints today. The Church now has smaller societies bearing the names of these saints. Such societies include, St Anthony, Sacred Heart, St Theresa of the Child Jesus, St Jude, Charismatic renewal movement, etc. There are also larger umbrella bodies like CMO, CWO, Youth, Mary League Girls. These are meant to strengthen fellowship. Only God knows what is happening today in all these societies. Are we not pursuing shadows? How many are active members of these societies? Early Christians were also noted to fellowship also in the breaking of Bread. Breaking of Bread refers either to an ordinary meal, or to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper (the Eucharis). We gather on Sundays and weekdays to celebrate the Holy Eucharist, and leave the celebration to enter into the world to love and serve others through the breaking of ourselves not literally but spiritually for the welfare of others. A Christian must learn how to alleviate other’s problems. Such is part of fellowship. Just as there was fellowship in the breaking of bread, there was also fellowship in prayers. It is a fact that the family that prayers together stays together. When the parishioners of a parish are no longer comfortable in being devoted to the teachings of the Church through their pastor and if their fellowship in the breaking of bread and prayer are waning also, then, the parish has lost its essence. Societies in the Church are meant originally to encourage koinonia but it is turning into something else.
A closer look in the first reading reveals that if the above are intact, the burden of the parish can easily be carried. For instance, after Christ’s death, fear gripped everybody but because the believers were very close to one another, carrying one another’s problems, sharing in each other’s joy, they were able to surmount all difficulties and even attracted so many to their midst as a result of how they cared for one another. Do we still care for one another as the early apostles did? Let us trace our steps backward from where we started lest we become irredeemably lost.