Men’s Conference
2nd Sunday of Easter – April 7, 2019 

Today’s gospel passage from St. John provides us with the most lasting image of a saint about whom we actually hear very little in the scriptures:  Thomas.

This passage from St. John’s gospel that describes the meeting between Thomas and the risen Jesus is also unique, insofar as it is one of a very few gospel passages that are provided for our reflection every year on the very same day – the Second Sunday of Easter – the concluding day of the Octave of Easter – Divine Mercy Sunday.

Let’s look at Thomas a bit more closely in order to come to a better understanding of his significance in our lives as men of faith.

Perhaps the most striking thing about Thomas in today’s gospel is that, initially, he was apart from the community of disciples.  For some reason, he wasn’t with them when Jesus first appeared to them following his resurrection.  What’s more, when Thomas eventually reunited with the disciples and was told about their experience of the Risen Lord, his faith seemed to waiver as he asserted that he wouldn’t believe the disciples unless he had proof – unless he could probe the nail marks in Jesus’ hands and put his own hand into Jesus’ side.

Who knows how and why St. Thomas became so contrary in the midst of the miracle of the resurrection?  Yet, one thing is clear.  In not being a part of the community of believers – the nascent Church – Thomas missed the opportunity to encounter the risen Jesus.  His response:  “I will not believe, unless … .”

Sometimes the best of us wonder about our relationship with the Church, don’t we?  …  The past nine months have given us good reason to question many aspects of the Church’s life and ministry as we confront the reality of the abuse of children and the abuse of power by priests and bishops.  The heartbreaking stories of innocent victims have left not a few of us bewildered at how some Church leaders who preached the sanctity of human life could, at the same time, so callously disregard it.  …  Sometimes, like Thomas, we just can’t seem to bring ourselves to believe and accept some aspect of our faith for one reason or another.

Yet, look carefully at Jesus’ response to Thomas in today’s gospel.  While Jesus lifted up and called “blessed” all those souls who had not seen him as raised from the dead and who still believed, nowhere in his encounter with Thomas does Jesus berate him or diminish him because of his doubts and struggles.  On the contrary, Jesus engages Thomas – loves and accepts him as he is – and sends him forth with the other disciples to proclaim the Kingdom of God and build the Church of Christ.

Jesus’ acceptance of Thomas – with his doubts and questions – was a sign not only to the earliest believers but also to Christians throughout the ages – including me and you – that the mercy of God, poured forth into our world from the cross of Jesus, trumps the brokenness and sin of our world and our lives.   It is hardly by accident that Saint John Paul II designated the Second Sunday of Easter in which we annually focus upon the struggles of Saint Thomas as Divine Mercy Sunday.

You’ve gathered today to participate in our Diocese’s 5th annual Catholic Men’s Conference.  …  Your presence affirms your willingness to confront the evils of a world that seems to have gone awry in so many ways and to be used by God to turn hearts to the truth of the Gospel message.

During the course of your time together, you’ve prayed, you’ve celebrated the Sacrament of Reconciliation and you’ve listened to the wisdom of speakers filled with the Holy Spirit who’ve enabled us to reflect upon the timeless question posed to Jesus by Pontius Pilate 2,000 years ago, “What is truth.”  …  The answer to Pilate’s question is actually rooted in the words of Jesus that prompt Pilate to ask the question in the first place.

“For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth,” Jesus asserts to Pilate.  “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”  …  And what is it that we hear, when we listen to the voice of Jesus?

To the woman caught in adultery, whom the Pharisees wanted to stone, Jesus’ voice speaks these words, “Woman, has no one condemned you? … Neither do I. … Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.”  …  Recall the words of a father regarding his lost son who took his share of his inheritance, squandered it on a sinful lifestyle and then returned to his home: “We must celebrate and rejoice.  This son of mine was lost and has been found.”  …  And to the repentant thief on the cross, Jesus’ voice is clear and direct, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

As its planners so beautifully articulated, this conference is intended to “remind us that God is the measure of all things and His truth is revealed in His son Jesus Christ.”  …  Brothers, the voice of Jesus that proclaims His truth reveals nothing short of the message of divine mercy!

Some may contend that the Church has become far too focused upon God’s mercy.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Make no mistake; the Church does not proclaim a cheap grace that demands little in response from its recipients.  It reflects the words of Jesus, who continually invites recipients of his healing to “sin no more” and who condemns the self-righteous who presume to be beyond reproach in their behavior.  The Church does, however, go to great lengths to remind us of the mystery of God’s plan and the wisdom of his ways.  Our salvation is not achieved by our perfection and righteousness but first by God’s merciful intervention into our lives.  …  “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”

Saint John Paul II shared this words just a few years before he died during his final visit to his beloved homeland of Poland, to the Shrine of Saint Faustina Kowalska, whose vision of God’s great mercy laid the foundation for this day, “Apart from the mercy of God there is no other source of hope for mankind.”  …

Pope Benedict XVI, in carrying on the legacy of his predecessor, John Paul II, proclaimed with clarity on Divine Mercy Sunday in 2008, that “mercy is the central nucleus of the Gospel message.  …  True religion,” Benedict noted, “thus consists in being attuned to God’s heart, ‘rich in mercy,’ which asks us to love everyone, even those who are distant and our enemies, imitating the Heavenly Father who respects the freedom of each one and draws everyone to himself with the invincible power of his faithfulness.”

So what does it mean to be a man, brothers?  It means that we fight for the truth!  But we fight not with weapons of hatred or condemnation.  We’re called to fight with the weapons of mercy and forgiveness that are nothing short of the heart of the gospel.  …  What do you think is more reflective of the truth that Jesus proclaims – to stay angry with your son or daughter for a lifetime because of a choice that they made – or to love them in spite of it?  …  What’s the more convincing way to peace – to draw a line in the sand and to keep at a distance those who have given evidence of sin in their lives – or to proclaim as Jesus did from the cross in his dying words, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do?”

Brothers, today’s gospel reminded us as it does every year, of the great Saint Thomas, who simply would not believe that Jesus was raised from the dead until he had proof – until he was able to insert his hand into Jesus’ side and his finger into the nail marks in Jesus’ hands.  …  Pretty pitiful on Thomas’ part, don’t you think?  …  Surely, we would’ve responded differently.  …  We wouldn’t have doubted.  …  Or would we?  …  What do you think you would have done if you were in Thomas’ place?

Brothers, the truth of the gospel is that Thomas was given a way forward only through the mercy of God.  May the same truth sustain us and enable us to bear witness to God’s mercy in every life that God weaves into our own.