There are a number of important points made in this morning’s Gospel. The event it narrates took place on Easter Sunday night—very shortly after the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection—this is not an accident, for the power to forgive sins on an individual basis is derived from the same power which enables the Apostles and their successors to offer the Holy Sacrifice for the living and the dead. The ability to hear the specific sins of the penitent, and to forgive them, corresponds to the power to renew the Sacrifice of the Cross, which redeemed mankind on a general basis. The priesthood would be incomplete without the power of absolution—for just as with Baptism, the forgiveness of the sins of the redeemed must be carried out on a personal and individual basis.
These appearances of our Lord in the Upper Room on Easter Sunday night and Low Sunday night are also important as a demonstration of His Resurrection, and the power of His resurrected body. In the first case, our Lord appears to be unencumbered by a physical body—so much so that His Apostles think He is a ghost—for He must have passed through the closed doors to be seen. But, for future generations, it was recorded that the doubting Apostle Thomas was able to probe the wounds of the Crucifixion, and thus be assured that this was no ghost—“My Lord and my God” in the very flesh.
Earlier this week we read accounts of several other appearances of our Lord, and they, likewise, speak of the material reality of our Lord’s resurrected body. Peter spoke of it to the gentiles: “they killed Him, hanging Him on a tree. But God raised Him up on the third day and caused Him to be plainly seen…. during many days by those who had come up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem.” On the road to Emmaus He shared dinner with two disciples who “recognized Him in the breaking of the bread.” In Saint Luke’s account of the same event narrated today, He has all the Apostles examining His wounds, and then sitting down to eat broiled fish and a honeycomb with Him, before being reminded of their mission to preach “repentance and the forgiveness of sins … in His name to all the nations.” A little while later, John records that our Lord cooked fish and baked bread for them after they fished with Peter on the sea of Tiberias. And Saint Matthew recounts the appearance on a mountain in Galilee where our Lord commissioned the Apostles to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.”
In all of these cases, our Lord—in the flesh—reiterated the saving mission of the Apostles. They are recorded primarily for our benefit, that like the doubting Thomas, each one of us may be “believing, rather than unbelieving.” If our Faith would otherwise be weak, we can rely on Thomas’ experience on our behalf, who touched the wounded side and recognized his “Lord and God.” They are recorded also, so that we may recall the importance of Baptism and repentance and forgiveness of sin—both for ourselves and for all the world. Perhaps the greatest evil in the modern world is the denial that sin is a reality—and the foolishness that we have no need to repent or to be forgiven of our sins—that it is no longer necessary to pray for the conversion of sinners and for those who lack the Catholic Faith. The greatest evil in the modern world is the lie that everyone will be saved, whether or not they “believe and are baptized”—whether or not they “observe all that He has commanded us.” God is merciful and we must not despair, but, by the same token, we must never presume on His mercy to the point of failing even to try to keep His Commandments. “Repentance and forgiveness” are a wonderful gift from God, not a burden. As John says today, “these things are recorded that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and believing we may have life in His name.”
Saving Faith is based on the realities that God has revealed to us through the Apostles, preserved in sacred Scripture and the ancient Traditions of the Church. Divine Faith is not based on happy thoughts, wishful thinking, hysterical visions, or pious falsifications—let alone on strange gods and false worship. Our Lord became man to show us the Way to salvation—all other “ways” are “dead-ends.”
Finally, if I may close on a positive note, there is a rather inviting suggestion in the idea that we can touch our God and know Him—or, perhaps, that in some way, He will touch us. I would submit that all that is required is that we be receptive to His touch—that we be open to His approach and always looking for Him. That “touch” may be different for each one of us. For Thomas it was in probing the wounds of a loved-one—and that suggests that sometimes the touch of God will be felt, and should be appreciated, even in things that are difficult and painful. For others, or at other times, the touch of God will be light—perhaps in the glory of a sunset, or in the smile of a child, or in any of a thousand other ways. And let us not forget that these scriptural accounts we have been reading remind us that we can always touch and be touched by God in prayer—particularly in the “prayer of the Upper Room”—in the “breaking of the bread” of Holy Mass and Communion—in the repentance and the forgiveness of sins in sacramental Confession.
“Touch the side of God, and be not unbelieving but believing.”