Believing Without Seeing

2nd Sunday of Easter, Sunday of Divine Mercy (C) – April 24, 2022

St. Paul – Lyons, KS

Acts 5:12-16; Psalm 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24; Revelation 1:1-11a, 12-13, 17-19; John 20:19-31

As I was praying and reflecting on what to say this Sunday, the octave of Easter, the last day of the Easter octave, two events, two experiences continued to stick out to me. And I think these can help us reflect on the great mystery we celebrate today, this Divine Mercy Sunday.

“These are written that you may come to believe”

The first happened just this week. As I was flying back from my retreat, I was sitting in the terminal waiting for my plane to arrive at the gate. And sitting a few seats away was this young family, mom and dad and their daughter, who was about six years old. And it was clear that it was this girl’s first time in an airport, first time flying—she was so excited! The plane hadn’t arrived at the gate yet, so she kept asking, “Where is the plane? Where is the plane?” And then when the plane landed and pulled up to the gate, she was so excited, “It’s the plane! The plane is here!” And then even when we got on the plane, she was a few rows behind me, she just could not believe that she was actually flying.

And as I was reflecting on this, it was incredible for so many reasons. The first, of course, is, “Why am I not as excited as this little girl?” Here I am, about to participate in the miracle of human flight, I am about to sit on a chair in the sky going around five hundred miles per hour…and I’m just sitting there like it’s no big deal. I’m usually complaining, if anything.

But more than that, I reflected on how she felt perfectly safe, how she had no problem with the idea that this plane would take her from point A to point B safely—almost miraculously. She (and all of us, though not with the same enthusiasm as her)—we were willing to strap ourselves into this metal tube with wings that was going to hurl through the sky at 500 miles an hour, we were willing to entrust our lives to this process, our safety to the TSA, turn our lives over to the engineers who designed this plane, to the mechanics at Boeing who had manufactured this plane, to a pilot we had never met, to air traffic controllers we didn’t know, and on and on and on…even handing our lives over to a method of transportation that science still doesn’t know how it works.

Like, did you know that? I was talking to one of my friends, Fr. Matt Siegman, who was an engineer and worked for Bombardier before he was a priest—and he reminded me that science doesn’t have a definitive explanation for why planes fly. Like, on the strict mathematical level, engineers know how to design planes that will fly and stay aloft. But those equations don’t explain why they fly, why aerodynamic lift occurs. We can’t explain or prove why planes fly and yet we hop on them! And yet we entrust our lives, hand our lives over to something that has no scientific explanation; we entrust and hand our lives over to engineers, and mechanics, and pilots we have never even seen or met.

“Once I was dead, but now I am alive forever and ever.”

The second experience I have been stuck with is an experience I had my first year as a priest. One day I had a mom bring her third grade daughter in to the office. And this girl—third grade—had been struggling for months with a simple thought. She just starts crying at times, just unconsolable. And the thought is quite simple. She told me, “One day, my mom and my dad will die, and I will be all alone.” Third grade, and she had already realized: how one day, her mom and dad will die; how the people she loves most in this world will be gone; how the things, the people that love her and give meaning and purpose to her life will be gone. She realized the people she had entrusted her life, these things were not going to be there forever. And when she and her mom were in my office and we were talking, it was the same thing; she just began to cry.

The things, the people, the places—everything we entrust our life to, everything that we “believe in,” that we use to sustain and nourish us…everything is eventually going to let us down. Many things already have: our job isn’t what we hoped it would be, our spouse doesn’t make us as happy as we thought they would, our retirement isn’t as amazing as we hoped, our vacation wasn’t as fulfilling as we hoped, and on and on and on. What this girl recognized wasn’t just a “cold hard fact of life” (that we all die), no. This little girl realized that all good things seem to come to an end, that life as we know it will never satisfy, will never be enough.

The Easter Proposal: “That first day of the week”

What these two experiences kept putting in front of me was this: What can we believe in, when everything in our life either has (or is eventually going to) let us down, peter out, fail, die? And how can we believe in something we have never seen with our own two eyes? These are the questions I am asking myself all the time, and that people ask me all the time. I talked about this last Sunday, on Easter, when I was talking about how you can accomplish everything in life, write the best play ever, have the best career, best family, best whatever—but still end up dead. What can we believe in that will last? And how can we believe in something we have never seen with our own two eyes?

Int the middle of these two questions is proposed the announcement we heard at Easter: “He is not here, but he has been raised.” He is risen! In other words, something new has happened, something new has broken into this world, some new experience, some restoration has happened—as a result of which everything is different. Everything.

If this is true, if this announcement is true, then we can, and must believe in him! Only he can conquer death—our second reading pointed that out, “Once I was dead, but now I am alive forever and ever. I hold the keys to death.” It is Christ that can remain even through death! Nothing else makes this claim, nothing else claims to respond to this need we feel. That is the announcement of Easter, this is the announcement of the Church: Something, someone has proven that they can be present even through death, and this changes everything! Believing in this, entrusting our entire lives to this fact, to this person will change everything!

But that’s an outlandish claim! And people have said that from the beginning, the disciples being the first! Remember the Gospel last week, “Their story seemed like nonsense and they did not believe them” (Luke 24:11). The challenge we face is, “Were you there? Did you see it? I can say crazy things that, if you believed them, would change everything too. You can’t just say things like that. You need to back it up.” That’s Thomas in the Gospel today: “We have seen the Lord!” and he responds, “Uhm, yeah, I don’t believe that.”

“Jesus, I trust in you.”

We can’t entrust our lives to an idea, to words. Only to a fact. Anyone can throw out an idea, a theory, an ideology—we see it every day. Turn on the news and there are 101 different ideas and theories that may or may not be true, and people live their lives as if they are 100% truth (even though two different news stations have two opposing ideas). No, we can’t entrust our lives to an idea. If Jesus and his resurrection are just a nice idea, we are the to be pitied, we are futile in this belief—that’s what St. Paul says. If this is just an idea, and not real, not a fact, then we’re all stuffed, we’re idiots.

But we don’t believe in an idea. We believe in a fact. None of us may be able to give the perfect theological or metaphysical explanation for why it is this way—but like the engineers designing airplanes, we know that it works. We know that for people who have lived their lives with faith in the Son of God, faith in Jesus Christ, have turned their whole life over to Christ, have followed him, have placed their faith and trust in him—everything changed.

Really it comes down to that beautiful line in our first reading: “they even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and mats so that when Peter came by, at least his shadow might fall on one or another of them.” Did they know why Peter’s shadow healed these people? No. Not at all. But with the faith and simplicity of a child, they did it. And their childlike faith, the simplicity of their trust—everything changed.

Here on this feast of Divine Mercy, this is what the Lord was asking. When he asked for this day to be dedicated to his mercy—in the Diary of St. Faustina, she wrote what Jesus told her about his day: that he would just dump his mercy and grace on those who would trust in him. In his own words to St. Faustina, Jesus said: “The graces of My mercy are drawn by means of one vessel only, and that is—trust. The more a soul trusts, the more it will receive. Souls that trust boundlessly are a great comfort to Me, because I pour all the treasures of My graces into them. I rejoice that they ask for much, because it is My desire to give much, very much. On the other hand, I am sad when souls ask for little, when they narrow their hearts.”

This day, the Lord asks us to place ourselves in his shadow, just like the people did with Peter. He asks us to boundlessly trust in Him—because for the people that do, he will give everything! It’s that simple petition, in all those circumstances, in all those times that make no sense, in all of those moments where the “normal” person would curse God, or doubt like Thomas—we cry out: “Jesus, I trust in you!” Ask for everything! Ask, beg him! Abandon all of your life into his care—and watch what happens.

As we come to the end of the octave of Easter, as we come to this Divine Mercy Sunday, we re-embrace, or maybe embrace for the first time, the fact that God comes to us, his mercy is poured out for us, as a fact in our daily lives. God’s mercy isn’t just forgiving our sins in some abstract and ethereal way, no. God’s mercy is Jesus Christ, the fact, the presence of Jesus Christ with us. And it changes the way we confront each and every day, each and every relationship, each and every everything. Even the difficult and tragic circumstances of our daily life—these are His Mercy. God’s mercy is Jesus Christ. And because Jesus Christ is alive and present, everything changes, our entire life changes. “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his love, his mercy is everlasting.”

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