domenica 3 aprile 2016

«Fui mortuus et ecce sum vivens»

I do not know if you have noticed that during Eastertide the way of choosing the readings is different. Usually, on Sundays, we have the first reading taken from the Old Testament, the second reading from Saint Paul and the gospel from one of the three Synoptics (this year, Saint Luke). 

During Easter Time the Church, as a rule, does not read the Old Testament, because with the Lord’s resurrection, as Saint Paul says, “the old things have passed away; behold new things have come” (2 Cor 5:17). So, by ancient tradition, at Easter the Church reads the Acts of the Apostles, the book of the New Testament that narrates the life of the early Church. Why? Because the Risen Lord keeps living in his Church. Have you heard today’s passage? “Many signs and wonders were done among the people at the hands of the apostles.” How was that possible? The apostles were those who just few weeks before had betrayed Jesus, and now they work miracles! It is Peter who, on the occasion of one of these wonders, explains to the Jews the secret of them: “If we are being examined today about a good deed done to a cripple, namely, by what means he was saved, then all of you and all the people of Israel should know that it was in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead; in his name this man stands before you healed” (Acts 4:9-10). Jesus continues to work through his disciples.

The second reading is taken this year from the last book of the Bible, the Apocalypse or Revelation. It is a mysterious book, full of unfamiliar and extravagant symbolism. Some people think that Revelation is about the end of the world; instead, like the Acts of the Apostles, it is about the early Church under persecution. Of course, the literary form is totally different; but the purpose is the same: to show that Jesus is present in his Church. Today we have read the beginning of the book, from which we realize that the revelation was received by John, exiled to the island of Patmos, through a vision happened on the Lord’s day, that is on Sunday. Jesus introduces himself to John as the Risen Lord: “I am the first and the last, the one who lives. Once I was dead, but now I am alive forever and ever. I hold the keys to death and the netherworld.” Jesus is the Living One: he was dead, but now he is alive forever and ever. 

During Eastertide, the Church always reads the gospel of John. Since today is the octave, that is the eighth day, of Easter, we are told about what happened on the evening of the day of the resurrection and a week later. It is, in both cases, the “first day of the week,” that is the Lord’s day, Sunday. The disciples are gathered together in the dining room where Jesus had eaten the last supper with them. Most probably they are repeating his gestures and words, as he had ordered them to do. And Jesus appears in their midst. That is exactly the mystery of the Eucharist: when we celebrate the Holy Mass, the Risen Lord makes himself present among us. He stays with us, shows himself to us, speaks to us, gives us his peace, and then sends us: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Not all believe this; not all believe that Jesus is risen; they want to see; they want to touch. But Jesus rebukes them, as he rebuked Thomas: “Do not be unbelieving, but believe ... Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” 

This Sunday has several names. The official name is “Second Sunday of Easter,” because each Sunday of this liturgical season is Easter. In English-speaking countries its traditional name is “Low Sunday,” while in the Eastern Churches it is usually called “Saint Thomas Sunday.” Ancient Latin names are: “Quasimodo Sunday” (from the first words of the Entrance Antiphone: “Quasi modo geniti infantes” = “Like newborn infants”) or “Sunday in albis” (because the newly baptized put aside their white garments). Since year 2000 it has become also “Divine Mercy Sunday.” In Saint Faustina’s Diary Jesus promises that whoever approaches on this day the “Fount of Life” (that is, the holy sacraments) will be granted complete forgiveness of sins and punishment. “I desire that the Feast of Mercy be a refuge and shelter for all souls, and especially for poor sinners. On that day the very depths of my tender mercy are open. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the fount of my mercy.” Let us avail ourselves of this opportunity!