23 April, 2017. 2nd Sunday of Easter

Divine Mercy Sunday; Saint George; Saint Adalbert of Prague

1st Reading: Acts 2:42-47

The early Christians shared what they owned and broke bread together

The whole community devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 1:3-9

Christ’s resurrection gives joy and hope to his followers

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith-being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire-may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Gospel: John 20:19-31

The risen Jesus brings belief and gives peace to his disciples

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

But Thomas (nicknamed the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.


Feel free to add your own homily ideas

Unlocking our doors

We have all become security conscious nowadays. Most houses are now alarmed; the alarm has become as necessary as table and chairs. We also need good strong locks. Long gone are the days when you could simply leave the key in the door, and let neighbours casually ramble in for a chat and a cup of tea. We are more security-conscious than back then, and fear of burglary makes many afraid, even in their own homes. Fear of what others might do can close us in on ourselves  in another sense too. We may keep silent around people we know to be critical and not open up to those we think will judge us.  Fear of others can hold us back and stunt our growth.

Today’s Gospel shows the first Christians locked together into a room, afraid of the Jewish authorities. Even when Mary Magdalene comes to them from the empty tomb claiming to have seen the Lord, it was not enough to overcome their fear. What had happened to Jesus could be done to them. So they hid away, waiting for the air to clear. The turning point comes when the Lord himself appears to them behind their closed doors and helps them over their fear. Jesus breathes on them the Holy Spirit, filling them new energy and hope, setting them free to share in his mission. “As the Father sent me, so am I sending you!”  In the power of the Spirit they go out from their self-imposed prison and bear witness to the risen Lord.

Just how they lived their faith is seen in the first reading today. The Acts describes a joyful community of believers, the church, witnessing to the resurrection both in word and by the quality of their living.

We can all find ourselves like people locked in a hiding place. Even when someone full of enthusiasm and hope, like a Mary Magdalene, suggests a way forward for our church or for our society, we tend to shrug it off. We would rather let them get on with it, while we hold back and play safe. But the Lord wants us to come out of our self-imposed confinement. If Magdalene makes no impact on us, Jesus will find another way to fill us with new life and energy for his service. No locked doors can keep him out. He finds a way to enter where we have chosen to retreat and he helps us resist what is holding us back. This requires some openness on our part; at the least some desire to become what we ought to be. The risen Lord never ceases to renew us in his love. Easter is the season to celebrate this good news.

Of all the disciples who were unmoved by the Easter message, Thomas was the most stubborn. When the others told him, “We have seen the Lord” he would not hear of it. He is the hard-headed, scientific kind who insist on certain conditions being met before he accepts anything as true. “Unless I see..” As Jesus had done with the other disciples, he took Thomas on on his own terms. He accommodated himself to the conditions of proof, “Put your finger here” he said. The gospel  today implies that the Lord meets us wherever we are. He accepts all our fears and doubts. The Lord is prepared to stand on our ground, whatever that ground is, and from there he will speak to us a word that is suited to our own state of mind and heart. We don’t have to get ourselves to some particular place in order for the Lord to engage with us. He takes himself to where we are, wherever it is a place of fear or of doubt. We might pray this Easter season for the openness to receive the Lord’s coming into the concrete circumstances of our own lives, so that we too might say with Thomas, “My Lord and my God.” We might also pray that, like the Lord, we would receive others where they are, rather than where we would like them to be.


(José Antonio Pagola)

Terrified by Jesus’ execution, the disciples take refuge in a familiar house. Once again they are together, but Jesus isn’t with them. In their community there’s a hole that no one but he can fill.. Whom will they follow now? What can they do without him? «It’s getting dark» in Jerusalem and also in the disciples’ hearts.

They are inside the house «with the doors locked». It is a community without mission and without vision, closed in on itself, without capability of welcome. No one’s thinking about heading out on the road to announce God’s Reign or to bring healing to people’s lives. With the doors locked it’s not possible to draw near to the suffering of people.

The disciples are full of «fear of the Jews». It’s a community paralyzed by fear, defensive. They see only hostility and rejection on every side. With fear it’s not possible to love the world as Jesus loved it, nor is it possible to instill encouragement and hope in anyone.

All of a sudden the Risen Jesus takes the initiative. He comes to rescue his followers. «He came into the house and stood in their midst». The little community begins to be transformed. From fear they pass to the peace that Jesus instills in them. From the darkness of night they pass to the joy of returning to see him full of life. From the locked doors they soon pass to announce the Good News of Jesus everywhere.

Jesus speaks to them, putting his full confidence in those poor men: «As the Father has sent me, so I also send you». He doesn’t tell them whom they need to approach, what they need to announce or how they need to act. That’s what they’ve already been able to learn from him on the roads of Galilee. They will be in the world as he has been in the world.

Jesus knows his disciples’ frailty. Many times he has criticized their small and faltering faith. They need the power of his Spirit in order to complete his mission. That’s why he does a special gesture to them. He doesn’t impose his hands or bless them as he did for the sick. He breathes his breath over them and tells them: «Receive the Holy Spirit».

Only Jesus will save the Church. Only he will free us from the fears that paralyze us, break the worn-out structures that we try to enclose him in, open so many doors that we have gone about closing throughout the centuries, straighten so many paths that have led us away from him.

What he asks of us is to revive all the more in the whole Church a trust in the Risen Jesus, mobilize ourselves to fearlessly put him in the center of our parishes and communities, and concentrate all our efforts in listening well to what his Spirit is saying to his followers today.


Saint George, martyr

Georgios (275-303), according to legend, was a Roman soldier of Greek origin and officer in the Guard of Roman emperor Diocletian, who ordered his death for failing to recant his Christian faith. He later became one of the most venerated saints, and in hagiography, he is immortalised in the myth of Saint George and the Dragon. Numerous countries, cities, professions and organisations claim St George as their patron.

Adalbert of Prague, bishop and martyr

Adalbertus (956 – 997), also known by his Czech name Vojtech, was bishop of Prague and a missionary to the Hungarians, Poles, and Prussians. He was martyred at the age of 41, in his efforts to convert the Baltic Prussians to Christianity.


  1. Padraig McCarthy says:

    All three readings tell of a new life lived by the disciples.

    “The first day of the week … eight days later …”
    The disciples had been meeting on the first day of the week since the early days of the church. When this gospel was written, those who heard it recognised that it spoke of what they experienced on the first day of each week. Jesus is among us although it seems impossible, both because of his death and because of the closed door. It is his presence and his wounds which transform us as they did Thomas, our twin.

    The first time Jesus says “Peace be with you”, it unbinds us (like Lazarus) from the fear which keeps us locked in. The second time it sends us on a mission of reconciliation. The Peace of Christ is not to be kept stored up within ourselves. We are not barrels; we are hosepipes.

    The (terrifying?) challenge here is that the peace of Christ breaks down the barriers between us – even people that maybe we would feel better kept behind barriers. Jesus speaks of retaining the sins; but we know what he wants us to do. He came among those who had abandoned him, and his peace demolishes that barrier. Can I do the same for those who have wounded me? Can I find the courage to break and share the one loaf with them? Without discrimination? With those I may fear; those not of my “class” of whatever kind? And can I do it every first day of the week? Even in our own homes?

    The reading from Acts 2 refers twice to the breaking of the bread of fellowship, of communion. And the second time, it goes on to say that they shared their food gladly and generously. Our breaking of bread on the first day of the week is incomplete unless it results in that glad generosity.

    The wounds of Jesus tell me that everything is possible with God. How will those wounds of Jesus touch me at Mass today?

    These things are written so that I may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the anointed one, and that I may have life through his Name – the Name of one who is the I Am. I did not see him (1 Peter), and still without seeing him I am already filled with a joy so glorious that it cannot be described.

    May the Peace of Christ I bring to the world bring out the joy in all I touch – a peace which unbinds us from the sin which sunders us.

    The resurrection is not just of Jesus Christ. The Father has given me also a new birth by raising Jesus from the prison of the dead: a life to be lived in the mission Jesus gives not just those on that first day of the week, but me and each of us, not regardless of our wounds but precisely because of our wounds.

    Lord Jesus, breathe the breath of life on your church in Ireland and around the world, a breath of life which will reveal your peace.

  2. Padraig McCarthy says:

    Sandra Schneiders points out that while Jesus speaks of forgiving sins, when he speaks of retaining, the word “sins” is not there in the Greek: “of those whom you retain, they are retained.”
    Perhaps some Greek scholar could say whether the text there requires the word “sins”, or whether the phrase can or should be translated as retaining the person, not the sin.

  3. Joe O'Leary says:

    The verse reads, “If of any you forgive the sins they are forgiven unto them, if of any you retain they are retained.” The object of both verbs is “sins”. It seems just as hard to make the persons the object of the verb in Greek as it would be in English.

  4. Pat Rogers says:

    The text of Jn 20:22-23

    22 καὶ τοῦτο εἰπὼν ἐνεφύσησεν καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς, Λάβετε πνεῦμα ἅγιον· 23 ἄν τινων ἀφῆτε τὰς ἁμαρτίας ἀφέωνται αὐτοῖς, ἄν τινων κρατῆτε κεκράτηνται.

    The noun ἁμαρτίας would apply to τινων in both cases, I suppose.

  5. The text of Jn 20:22-23 hardly offers support to the attractive interpretation offered by Sandra Schneiders:

    22 καὶ τοῦτο εἰπὼν ἐνεφύσησεν καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς, Λάβετε πνεῦμα ἅγιον· 23 ἄν τινων ἀφῆτε τὰς ἁμαρτίας ἀφέωνται αὐτοῖς, ἄν τινων κρατῆτε κεκράτηνται.

  6. As Jesus elsewhere warns repeatedly against witholding forgiveness, and this warning is reiterated in the Lord’s prayer, is there not a possibility that far from granting a permit to ‘retain’ sins in those verses, Jesus is simply warning AGAINST doing so? ‘Forgiveness will restore peace and reconciliation. Failure to do so will ‘retain’ tension and hostility.’

    Surely the granting of a permit to REFUSE forgiveness would be a denial that forgiveness for sin is a divine rather than a human prerogative?

  7. Padraig McCarthy says:

    Seán O Conaill @7:
    As you say, Seán, it is quite clear what Jesus calls us to do. It is not a permit to refuse forgiveness, but a warning about the serious consequences of not doing so.
    Those gathered are called the “disciples”, not the twelve (or the eleven); it is a call to all the disciples to forgiveness.

  8. Joe O'Leary says:

    An interesting and troubling question, Sean. But the whole point of the text seems to be that Jesus gives the disciples the divine prerogative — which is a very tall order — and this encouraged the church to claim that prerogative throughout history, even today. Forgiveness can come directly from God, but for some reason the Johannine Jesus has it mediated through the apostles (as in the sacrament of Penance in its various developments from the 2nd century on).

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