May I begin with some liturgical catechesis. This is a Sunday of many names.
It is the 2nd Sunday of Easter. Easter is a season as well as a day. It’s a season of 50 days. It begins on Easter Sunday and ends on Pentecost Sunday, eight Sundays in all. So this is the second, counting Easter Sunday as the first.
It’s the Octave Day of Easter, the 8th day. The Jewish feast of Passover and Unleavened Bread was kept for 8 days. And the 8th day was a repeat of the 1st. If you have a 7 day week, of course the 8th day does take you back to the 1st. If you go up 8 notes from middle C, you come to C again. So today is a second Easter Day. The Gospel says the same. The Lord appears to the disciples on the evening of the Sunday he rose, then eight days later. He didn’t want Thomas to miss out. So if any of us feel Easter passed us by, here it comes again. ‘Jesus came in and stood among them, “Peace be with you”, he said’. That is what he says today.
Then again, this is Thomas Sunday. This is the Sunday Thomas, late and stubborn, makes his magnificent act of faith and brings the Gospel of John to its climax: ‘My Lord and my God.’ So a Sunday of faith.
Then again, this is Low Sunday or White Sunday. ‘Low’ perhaps after the ‘high’ of Easter. ‘White’ because in the early Church this was the day when those baptised at Easter wore their white garments for the last time. At the beginning of Lent, we may remember, the catechumens became the elect. Now having been baptised, they are neophytes, the new-born. The Church is a mother and looks after her young children. All week, there have been special prayers in the Mass for the newly-baptised and so again today. Today’s Collect has them in mind: ‘Increase, we pray, the grace you have bestowed.’ May they grasp ‘in what font they have been washed, by whose Spirit they have been reborn, by whose Blood they have been redeemed.’ Water, Spirit and Blood: the whole reality of Christ is there. Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Communion: they are there. These are not little things. They’re holy things. And we have this second Easter and these 50 days to imbibe and appreciate them.
Then again, since 2000, this Sunday has been Divine Mercy Sunday. This comes from Bl. John Paul II, inspired by St Faustina Kowalska. He himself died in 2005 on the vigil of this Sunday and on this Sunday was beatified in 2011. We are free to take up the devotions associated with St Faustina or not. But the reality, God’s mercy, is surely for all of us. ‘God of everlasting mercy’, begins today’s Collect. Easter, Jesus’ death and resurrection, is God’s mercy. Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist are God’s mercy. And today, Jesus breathes on the disciples saying, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained.’ God’s mercy forgives our sins: in Baptism, in prayer, and for grave sins after Baptism especially through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. ‘God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son, has sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins.’ This is a day for hearing these words too.
This Sunday, this Octave, these 50 days: they’re a gift from God to help us assimilate, appreciate, take into ourselves, make our own the Paschal Mystery. And so we will be more and more ‘the people God has made his own.’
There’s a follow-through to all this. In the first Reading, from the Acts of the Apostles, St Luke threw open a window on the first Christian community in Jerusalem: how they’d meet in the Portico of Solomon, what respect they had, how God added to their number, and how healing flowed out from them, even from the shadow of Peter, on all the sick and tormented of the city and around.
It’s hard, hearing this, not to think of us, the Catholic community in Aberdeen and in this Cathedral parish. We’re in our Portico of Solomon here. We’re growing in numbers too – something to thank God for. And I think that creates new opportunities. There is something we could be doing more. It’s to do with the people around us. It’s to do with this healing overflow from the Church. In Acts, it happened miraculously – and there are always miracles. But miracles relate to the ‘how’. The essence is the ‘what’. The essence is the love of Christ flowing out from the Church. It’s charity entering wounded human lives and lifting them up.
I don’t mean we’re currently uncharitable. I know, – we all know – so many Catholics doing wonderful, often hidden, things: looking after sick relatives, doing voluntary work, giving to charity, all done with a social conscience, with faith. But what the Acts of the Apostles show is something more. It’s corporate. It’s action together. It’s the action of the Church, Peter going first. We have the SVP here, in this Cathedral. We have the Apostleship of the Sea reaching out to seafarers. We have three Catholic Primary Schools, giving a splendid education and not just to Catholic children. Other associations too. But I wonder if now is not the time for more.
Here we are, as in Jerusalem, so in Aberdeen, in a season of growth. It’s time, I think, for what we receive through our faith to flow out more in charity. It’s time for the divine mercy flowing from the side of Christ in the seven sacraments to flow out in the seven works of mercy. It’s time to do charity together, as Catholic Christians, in the name of the Church. It may be a matter of giving new freshness to what we have, or doing something new, or bringing here some existing Catholic charity. I want to put this to you. I leave it to your thought, your prayer, your initiative. Today St. Thomas touched Christ’s wounds and believed. In God’s eyes, humanity is Christ’s Body. It’s full of wounds, all around us. Wounds of illness and depression, of unemployment and homelessness, of family conflict, of addictions, of loneliness, of inner emptiness. Blessed are we if, Thomas-like, we too touch those wounds, and recognise the Lord in those who bear them.
‘As the Father sent me, so am I sending you.’ May each and all of us hear Christ say that to us this Sunday!