‘Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe’… ‘My Lord and my God!’ (Jn. 20:18).
Today is Low Sunday, known also as Divine Mercy Sunday; and we celebrate the end of the Easter Octave. For eight days we have contemplated the post-Resurrection appearances of Our Lord. These affirm the truth of the Resurrection as a historical event. Today, the Gospel account invites us to contemplate the wounded side of Our Saviour, the Church’s source of life. On Good Friday as we commemorated the Passion of Our Lord, we heard that as He hung in death upon the Cross, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear and at once there came out blood and water (Jn. 19:34). These living streams which continue to flow from the Sacred Heart of Our Risen Lord are the saving waters of Baptism by which we are born again and become a new creation, and the Precious Blood of the Eucharist which nourishes this life. In a spiritual exposition of this event, St. John Chrysostom explains: As God took a rib from Adam’s side to fashion a woman, so Christ has given us blood and water from his side to fashion the Church. God took the rib when Adam was in a deep sleep, and in the same way Christ gave us the blood and water after his own death…. As a woman nourishes her child with her own blood and milk, so does Christ unceasingly nourish with His own blood those to whom He Himself has given life (The Liturgy of the Hours, Vol. II, p. 275).
‘Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe’ (Jn. 20:18). This is much more than an invitation to the Apostle Thomas to see that it is truly Our Lord who stands before him. This wound is our entry to the very Heart of God. As we read in the Epistle to the Hebrews, therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way which he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh…let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith (Heb. 10:19-21). The soldier pierced the Lord’s side, he breached the wall of the sacred temple, and I have found the treasure and made it my own. (From the Catecheses by St. John Chrysostom, The Liturgy of the Hours, Vol. II, p. 472). What the Saints set before us in their contemplation of these mysteries can only be grasped and rightly understood by those who are willing to leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity (Heb. 6:1); a spiritual maturity that seeks to cooperate with Our Lord in the ongoing work of salvation by both prayer, penance and active charity. The truth of what we celebrate and contemplate will only become our very own when we recognize that what is revealed to us is no less what we are called to be. True reverence for the Lord’s passion means fixing the eyes of our heart on Jesus crucified and recognizing in Him our own humanity (From a sermon by Pope Saint Leo the Great, The Liturgy of the Hours, Vol. II, p. 313). To recognize in Him our own humanity is to enter into the mystery of both God and man; to ponder the meaning and purpose of human life and the manner in which we are meant to live our lives. The pierced Heart of Our Saviour is an expression of who and what we are called to be; for Christians are called to be the love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, burning furnace of charity. This is how we become credible witnesses of the living tradition of the Resurrection.
In the coming weeks as we celebrate Eastertide with its privileged form of instruction or particular catechesis known as mystagogy; that is, instruction in the mysteries, we will proceed from the visible to the invisible, from the sign to the thing signified, from the sacraments to the mysteries (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1075). ‘Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe’. We will contemplate the wounded side of Christ and enter into the Mystery of Our Lord’s Most Sacred Heart, the Heart of God. This form of liturgical catechesis or instruction rightly presupposes a commitment to prayer, personal prayer that is reflective, silent and meaningful; and a serious effort to become mature in the practice of our faith. This single-minded, sober approach to understanding and appropriating the truths of our Faith is especially necessary in these our times, when there is so much confusion and quite frankly, so much silliness associated with the practice of the Christian faith. We are not called to an ecological conversion but conversion in Christ.
The mysteries that we commemorate are not theories or fables or myths; they are historical events that by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit are re-presented for our benefit and growth, principally through the exercise of the ministerial or external priesthood. The baptized exercise an interior priesthood that must be nourished and guided by sacramental exercise of the ministerial priesthood. This pattern is not a human invention but a way of progressing in the knowledge of God established by Him in the Old Testament and fulfilled by Christ the High Priest in the New Testament. We in our day are part of the living tradition of the Resurrection that began with the first to see the Risen Lord in His glory. We also perceive this glory and indeed partake of it in the Sacraments that we receive and in the transformation that they effect in us who receive them with reverence and devotion. Let us then make every effort to dispose our hearts and minds to be led to the Sacred Heart of Jesus; that we might recognise this wounded and pierced Heart as the fullest expression of the true nature of God and no less, of who and what we are called to be. So we celebrate Easter anew this year and never exhaust the treasures of wisdom and knowledge that Our Saviour communicates to us from His Sacred Heart.
On this Divine Mercy Sunday, as we contemplate the living and saving streams that flow from Our Lord’s Sacred Heart, let us resolve to imitate the generous self-emptying (kenosis) of Our Saviour on the Cross in our life of prayer penance and charity. This is the mark of the true and mature disciple of Christ. This is what it means to worship the Triune God in spirit and in truth; to exercise the priesthood that is ours by virtue of our baptism, and to imitate Our Lord’s own sacrificial love. On this Divine Mercy Sunday as we rejoice in the peace and glory of the Resurrection let us not fail to thank Our Lord for all the marvels that are wrought by all those who through the ages including our own age, are inspired and bound together by the merciful Love of God.
(Apologies for this weekly reflection being posted late, due to a technical error – mea culpa! – but it is the season of Divine Mercy, this week and the weeks following. And, regardless, Father Testa is worth reading in all seasons.)