TEXT: Second Sunday of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday, April 7, 2024

April 7, 2024 Father De Celles Homily

Second Sunday of Easter – Divine Mercy Sunday

April 7, 2024

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

Today’s gospel tells us about two appearances

of the Risen Jesus to the apostles:

first on Easter Sunday evening,

and then again one week later,

on what we would call the Second Sunday of Easter, that is, today.

But before these two appearances,

we know that sometime before this, on Easter Day,

Jesus appeared first to Mary Magdalene

and then to two other disciples on the road to Emmaus.

In both of these two earlier appearances, the Gospels make it clear

that all three witnesses, Magdalene and the two disciples going to Emmaus,

at first don’t recognize Jesus when He comes to them.

In Magdalene’s case,

it only takes a moment for her to realize it’s Jesus;

He just has to speak to her.

But the two others walk for hours talking to Jesus, and they don’t recognize Him

until the breaking of the bread at supper.

This question of why this happens is perplexing,

but the Church offers several insightful explanations.

In particular, Pope St. Gregory the Great explained in the 6th century

that Jesus intentionally did something miraculous to cause them

not to recognize Him with the eyes of their bodies

in order to show how they are not recognizing Him

with the eyes of their hearts and minds.

As Gregory wrote, “They in themselves inwardly both loved and doubted.”[1]

They loved Jesus, but they doubted all the promises He made

about rising on the third day.

Even the Magdalen, of whom Jesus says, “She has loved much,”

         came to the tomb on the third day

not expecting to find the Risen Christ, as He’d promised,

but to anoint His dead body.

And Scripture tells us the two disciples on the road to Emmaus were,

“Conversing about all the things that had occurred…and debating.”

“We [had been] hoping that He would be the one to redeem Israel.”

It continues to say they were “astounded” that some were now saying,

“He was alive…”

They loved Jesus, and they liked what he taught,

but they didn’t believe everything He’d said–at least not completely,

and certainly not about the Resurrection.


We find the very same thing in today’s Gospel,

although it doesn’t say anything about them not recognizing Him.

But look a little closer.

In the story of the road to Emmaus, Scripture tells us,

         “Their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him.”

In the same way, in today’s text,

the eyes of one of the apostles, Thomas,

are “prevented from recognizing Him” because Thomas isn’t there!

Jesus knew he wasn’t going to be there,

and He intentionally chose this time, after a long Easter day,

to finally appear to the other ten without Thomas.


Like Magdalene, and the two disciples on the road to Emmaus,

Thomas loved Jesus very much.

Apparently, though, he didn’t believe very much.

Or at least not enough, but rather incompletely, imperfectly.

Thomas tells us this himself:

“Unless I see the mark of the nails in His hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”

He probably believed no more or less than the other apostles,

except for maybe John.

But Jesus uses Thomas to teach us.

He teaches us not about Thomas’ unbelief,

but about all the people in the future who would love Jesus

and believe in some of what He taught, but not everything;

or believe in everything, but not completely.

And for the very same reason that Thomas

didn’t accept even the eyewitness account of the other apostles:

he simply didn’t believe in Christ enough.

He loved Jesus and believed in most of what He said,

but this is so hard to believe in.

Even when they do see it with their own eyes,

         the apostles ask themselves, “Can this be real?”

“I see, but how can this be?”

The same thing happens to us today. We don’t believe either.

Well, we do believe, sort of; but we don’t, sort of.

Part of you accepts that Jesus is risen, not because you’ve seen,

but because the eyewitnesses, the apostles, told you so.

But part of you, and me, struggles to believe.

Think about it.

If we really, completely, and totally believed in the Resurrection,

         wouldn’t each of our lives be very different?

Would we ever sin again?

Would we ever worry and panic again?

Would we ever be even a little bit unnecessarily distracted at Mass?

Would we ever fail to love each other and respect each other?

Ask yourself: Do I believe that Jesus rose from the dead,

and if I do, how deeply?

If we truly believed completely, it would change everything for us.


St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that one reasons Christ rose from the dead,

was, “In order to complete the work of our salvation.”

He explains, “Just as…He endure[d] evil things

in dying that He might deliver us from evil,

so was He glorified in rising again

in order to advance us towards good things…”

Then he cites St. Paul writing to the Romans:

“He was delivered up for our sins, and rose again for our justification.”

In other words, by suffering and dying in the flesh fully as a human being,

He pays for all the sins committed by all human beings.

And by rising in glory and power

in the flesh fully as a human being,

         He raises up the entire human race to be able to participate

in that same glory and power.

St. Paul tells us elsewhere,

“We were, therefore, buried with Him through baptism into death

in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead

through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

The new life of the baptized is a share in the resurrected, glorified life

of the Risen Jesus.

If you really believed that with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength,

with every fiber, sense, and thought of your being,

you would really want and strive

to share in that power and glory all the time.

You would never even dream of settling for the passing and trivial pleasures that sin can bring.

Am I right?

I mean, who would pass up the fullness of peace and happiness

that is possible and available to us in this world, in the flesh,

that the power and glory of Jesus offers us?

Yet still, we don’t believe as we should.

And so, we strive to grow in faith.

Like the father of the boy possessed by an evil spirit, we say to Jesus,

         “I believe, help my unbelief.”

And like the apostles we beg our Lord, “Increase our faith!”

Our Lord is so patient.

Just as after the resurrection He returns over and over again

to the disciples, even though they struggle believing.

He knows we struggle to believe perfectly,

         so He reminds us that even a little faith is powerful.

Remember how He said,

“If you have faith as small as a mustard seed,

you can say to this mulberry tree,

`Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you”?

So, a small amount of faith is a great start.

But He calls us to strive for complete faith, perfect faith:
         “Be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect.”

And we see His patience with the apostles and the first disciples.

Thomas refused to believe Jesus is risen,

         even though for three years Jesus had repeatedly told him things like,

“The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men

and be crucified, and on the third day rise.”

And then he refused to believe when his brother apostles told him

they had actually seen the Risen Jesus.

But Jesus, knowing all that, comes to him on the eighth day of Easter,

and patiently says to Thomas,

“Put your finger here…see My hands,

and…put [your hand] into My side,

and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”


The incredible thing is, even after all of that,

some disciples still struggled to believe that He had risen in the body.

For example, St. John tells us that a few days later

         Jesus appeared to some of the apostles when they were fishing,

and even while they ate with Him,

“None…dared ask Him, ‘Who are you?’”

This belief and doubt continued,

even right up to Jesus’ Ascension into heaven.

St. Matthew tells us the apostles went up the mountain of the Ascension

as Jesus told them to.

“And when they saw Him, they worshipped Him, but some doubted.”


Even so, from Pentecost Day forward,

the apostles understood that the Resurrection

was the first and foundational teaching of Christianity.

As we read in today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles,

         in the very first days after Pentecost,

“With great power the apostles bore witness

to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus”

And St. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians:

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance:

that Christ died for our sins…that He was buried,

that He was raised on the third day,

and that He appeared to…Peter and then to the Twelve…

and to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters.”

Faith in the Resurrection precedes all other dogmas,

so much so, that St. Paul concludes,

“if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation

has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.”

That’s why St. Paul says that faith saves us,

         even though it is wrong to think faith alone saves us.

Faith is the door that opens us up to accept the love and the grace

of the divine life given to us in our baptism.

Because even faith the size of a mustard seed can, as Jesus also tells us,

grow into a great tree.

So, we don’t despair that our faith is weak, because Jesus is merciful

         and patiently helps us to grow in faith.

On this Divine Mercy Sunday, we remember, as Peter says elsewhere,

         “In His great mercy, He has given us new birth into a living hope

through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”


As we now prepare to move more deeply

into the mystery of the Holy Mass, we remember

that Tradition tells us that our Lord Himself called the Eucharist

“The mystery of faith.”

That is, we know that Jesus said it is His body, and we believe Him,

but so often imperfectly.

As we approach this great mystery of faith,

let us give thanks to the Lord for His patience and mercy

in our struggles and strains to believe more profoundly;

to love Him more, and so to believe in Him more

and in everything He teaches us and offers us;

to believe in Him with all our hearts, minds, soul, and strength.

Let us pray that the eyes of our hearts and minds would be eyes of faith,

         and be open to see more clearly,

and to believe.

[1] Rightly also he refrained from manifesting to them a form which they might recognize, doing that outwardly in the eyes of the body, which was done by themselves inwardly in tile eyes of the mind. For they in themselves inwardly both loved and doubted. Therefore to them as they talked of Him He exhibited His presence, but as they doubted of Him He concealed the appearance which they knew.