Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
Second Sunday of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday: Mercy for Doubters
“Bless me Father for I have sinned. Father, I have horrible doubts. Sometimes, I wonder if God exists. Sometimes, I think that He’s not concerned about me. Sometimes, I wonder if He cares about the people in the world. If He exists, and if He cares, then why do horrendous things happen?”
These and similar questions confront all priests. In fact, all priests, as well as bishops and even popes, are often attacked by doubts. Doubting is one of the weights of the human condition. There is a part of us that wants to posit the physical world as the only life that exists. There is a part of us that questions the spiritual.
“I do believe, Lord, help those parts of me that don’t believe,” the frantic father said to the Lord in Mark 9:24. The man had brought his son to Jesus’ disciples to be healed. The poor boy was having seizures, throwing himself into the fire, down a well, etc. The people of the time thought the child was possessed. We would have other explanations, but the fact remained that the child had a serious problem. Jesus came upon the scene of the man and the disciples and a crowd of other people, perhaps all yelling at each other. “What is happening here?” Jesus asked. The man told him about his son, and then added, “I brought him to your disciples, but they couldn’t do anything. If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” “If I can?” Jesus retorted, all things are possible to him who believes.” And then the man cried out, “I do believe, help my unbelief.” And the man’s plea for faith added to his prayer for his son resulted in Jesus healing the boy.
“Help those parts of me that don’t believe.” That’s a prayer that we have to say whenever doubts assail us. Whether we question God’s concern, we question the Church’s teaching, or even if we question God’s existence, every one of us throughout our lives need to call out, “I do believe. Help those parts of me that don’t believe.
Thomas, the world class doubter of today’s Gospel, had experienced Jesus words and his miracles. More than that, Thomas himself, as well as the other disciples who would become apostles, had actually witnessed the Power of God working through them. Matthew 10:1 tells us: Jesus summoned His twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. Thomas could heal people. On another time, Jesus sent out an additional seventy disciples. We read about their return in Luke 10:17-19: The seventy returned with joy, saying, "Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name." And He said to them, "I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you.” Thomas had been a part of all that; he had been given those powers, and, yet, he still doubted.
Maybe Thomas, like Peter and the other ten disciples in the Upper Room on Holy Thursday, was so shocked by the Crucifixion, by Good Friday, that he lost hope in the Resurrection. He lost hope that there would be an Easter Sunday. Maybe Thomas, like Judas Iscariot, was so heavily planted in the physical, that he relegated his spiritual experiences as insignificant. Certainly that would explain Judas’ selling out Jesus, betraying him. Was Thomas like Judas in this way? Perhaps Thomas wondered if there were some sort of physical explanation to the wonders he had experienced. Or maybe Thomas was so sick and tired of the antics of the other disciples, that he just wasn’t going to believe anything they said, even if they told him the Lord had risen from the dead. In the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man in Luke Jesus had prophesied that those who were not just, not united to God, those who did not believe in Moses and the Prophets, would not believe even if someone were to rise from the dead. Perhaps, Thomas was not as committed to God as he thought he was.
What a scene in that Upper Room the Sunday after Easter! Thomas had heard that Jesus had appeared to the other disciples the third day after he died, Easter Sunday. But Thomas was not there at that time. Thomas had said that he wouldn’t believe unless he touched Jesus’s wounded hands and put his hands in Jesus’ pierced side. And then Jesus appeared. He told Thomas to do what he said he needed to do to believe. Actually, Thomas didn’t touch Jesus’ hands and side as many paintings show. Instead, he just said to Jesus, “My Lord and My God.” It is at that point that Jesus looked at Thomas and said, “You believe because you have seen,” and then Jesus looked at us, people through the ages, you and me, and said, “Blessed are those who have not seen but who believe.” We who were not there were in Jesus’ eyes simply because we are here.
He continues to look at us. He sees our fears. He hears our questions. He knows how we often struggle with doubts, and he has mercy on us, just as he had mercy on Thomas. If he did not hold Thomas’ doubts against him, Thomas who had experienced so much of the Lord’s presence, so many wonders, if he did not hold Thomas’ doubts against him, he will not hold our doubts against us. And for those who in confession admit their doubts, well, the very fact that they, and you, and me, hate the times that we doubt the Lord, then our struggle to fight doubts, our prayer for help with those parts of us that don’t believe, all this draws God’s Mercy Upon Us.
This Sunday is Divine Mercy Sunday. Look at the picture of the Divine Mercy. Look at the Lord risen, with the tomb behind him and white and red beams flowing from his side, and then read carefully what is under the picture: Jesus, I trust in you. We trust in his care and concern for us and all the people of the world. And when we hear about horrendous things happening, as we do every day, we trust that the Lord will care for the victims. St. Peter says that in the war against evil our ancient enemy, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. He tells us to be strong in faith and stand up to him. We cannot let Satan’s temporary victories turn the tide in the war for God’s Kingdom.
There is a wonderful group of contemplative sisters from Watertown, New York, the Sister Adorers of the Precious Blood, who have promoted this short prayer from a hymn written by Lucy Bennet:
Trust Him when dark doubts assail thee,
Trust Him, when thy strength is small;
Trust Him, when to simply trust Him,
Seems the hardest thing of all.
Trust Him. He is ever faithful,
Trust Him! for His will is best;
Trust Him! for the Heart of Jesus,
Is the only place of rest.
“Jesus help those parts of us that don’t trust, that don’t believe.”
On Divine Mercy Sunday we pray: “Jesus we trust in you.”