Reflections on Second Sunday of Easter-Divine Mercy-Loving Thomas
We present here three insightful reflections, and my own, on this Sunday of Divine Mercy. On this day, where our Gospel has the apostle Thomas encountering the risen Jesus, we see Jesus’ love for Thomas and how Jesus connects with Thomas, through his wounds. First we have a reflection by Sr. Melanie Svoboda on how we who are wounded (and that is indeed most of us in one way or the other) connect with Jesus through his wounds- how we connect with God through knowing that God’s Beloved Jesus suffered even as we do-and that God is with us, loving us through that which causes suffering. This reflection reverberates in my heart this year as I encounter the ‘suffering’ of another cancer, one which, very thankfully, is not life threatening, but is in some ways life altering. And there is also the suffering of loss and change as Pastor Judy Beaumont and I discern the ways which our ministry at the Good Shepherd will need to change to accommodate our situations of life and health.
During this Holy Week we had to modify our worship and liturgical activities. Usually we celebrate Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter with our Good Shepherd Community. We have always celebrated the Mass of the Last Supper and foot washing. This year we were able to celebrate Good Friday, although we did the Stations of the Cross in the Church and not walking through the community as done before. And we celebrated a glorious Easter but could not include Holy Thursday. We attended Holy Thursday at the Lamb of God Lutheran Episcopal Church, the congregation that we joined with in 2007 to provide a meal and later worship with the poor and homeless in Lion’s Park in Fort Myers. Our friends there continue to cook and serve with us at our Good Shepherd Community, and their Thrift Store sends regular financial support as is possible to our ministry. Since we could not minister ourselves we were so happy to be able to join our friends at Lamb of God. As we sat there we both remembered the holy events of our lives that took place at Lamb of God in years past. In 2012 Pastor Judy Beaumont was ordained by Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan, ARCWP in that same beautiful worship space. Almost 400 people attended and joyfully affirmed her ordination. She was truly called forth by this whole community. She was presented to the Bishop by members of our Good Shepherd Community and her family.
In 2008, this beautiful worship space was used to call me forth to service as a Roman Catholic Woman Priest. In the tradition of the Black Catholic Church there is a Dedication Service before a formal ordination and since I was to be ordained in Boston it was so important to assemble our community to participate in my calling. Various people from the homeless community and the wider community stepped forward and said why I was called to serve them. Representatives of the homeless, Latina, Black, LGBTQ, Homeless, and Roman Catholic and Ecumenical communities brought me to tears on that day. Pastors Becky Robbins-Penniman and Walter Fohs of Lamb of God and Rev. Dr. Bridget Mary Meehan, then of RCWP presided and facilitated the calling forth by the community. I remember Bridget Mary’s words and her father Jack Meehan playing the trumpet. I recalled how Pastor Walter first and then Brenda and Roger, who are still with our Good Shepherd Community lead in blessing me with water from the Baptismal Fount as a long line of people followed suite. I remember Pastor Becky standing next to me at one point, and perceiving my feelings of being overwhelmed by love and the momentous nature of the calling, she asked me to kneel for the blessing and whispered to me: “Just focus on the face of Christ etched into the altar”, and I did. This is the face of Christ in agony on the Cross, the Crown of thorns pressing into his head that is etched into the rich brown wood. Yet it is entirely strong and beautiful and transforming. She knew what I would face in shepherding this community and she knew Who would be with me as I did. I am ever grateful to her for that moment, and that day and perceived her with me as well on this Holy Thursday as I returned to that same space to be with Jesus at the time of his Last Supper with the disciples before the Cross, and Resurrection.
Like Jesus that night, I knew that I would not continue with my people, my ministry to the poor and homeless, in the same way as I had for the last eight years. And deep within me, just beyond my consciousness, I knew something of how Jesus felt that night in leaving his work on earth behind and in the hands of others. And I began to cry softly and then weep openly as I moved forward to participate in the foot washing. I remembered all of the feet I had washed, large, small, dirty, clean, twisted and strong. And as I submitted my feet to Pastor B. to wash, and washed hers I deeply knew that there was a time to receive as well as a time to give. And I knew the Resurrection was coming. As our friends from Lamb of God including the Catholics who attend there reached out to us at the Sign of Peace we felt enveloped in love. When dear Lisa Munklewitz, a LOG member, who serves our ministry so faithfully with her cooking and serving embraced me and cried for joy at seeing me whole after this second surgery I did feel whole again. On Good Friday when eight of our faithful sat in a circle and reflected on the Stations of the Cross, I was again moved to silent tears. When Pat S and Mr. Gary shared their journeys from homelessness to homes as reflected in falling down again and again, and having the brow wiped or the Cross carried by a friend, our ministry, I gave God thanks and praise for the ministry given us. As we reached out to one of our members, Dr. Joe who grieved as he recently lost his sister to death and as another shared how her disability caused major disruption in her life, I realized that the frequency, time and place of our ministry may change, but we would continue to serve God’s people in new forms. And on Easter we all rose again in great joy. Having experienced the sufferings the joy of Easter was rich, full and overflowing. And so for dear Thomas. As Pat McMillan notes below: Jesus came back for him, did not leave him in his grief, doubt and misery. And as Rev. Katy Zatsick notes we see the risen Christ around us every day-in faces that once suffered and rose again.
The second reflection is from Rev. Katy Zatsick,ARCWP and Patricia MacMillan of Mary Mother of Jesus Inclusive Catholic Community in Sarasota ,Florida from bridgetmarysblog.com
Liturgy of the Word
First Reading: Acts 5:12-16
Psalm 118 All: #814 “This is the day that our God has made; let us rejoice and be glad; for this is the day that our God has made; alleluia, alleluia!”
Second Reading: Revelation 1:9-11, 12-13, 17-19
All Sing: Alleluia! Alleluia!
Gospel Reading: The Good News of Jesus the Christ from John 20:19-31
St. Thomas by Pat MacMillan
I am St. Thomas. I am sometimes the “doubter” (where is God?) but more often the “ believer”, ( “My Lord and my God.”). In reading about Thomas, I learned that he is characterized as being somewhat gloomy and easily discouraged. While he was considered a pessimist, he was, indeed, a full believer in Jesus and a very loyal follower through His life. His loyalty and love is depicted in John, Chapter 11, when the disciples were worried about going with Jesus to Judea (because the Jews had previously tried to stone Jesus there), Thomas encouraged them to stick with Jesus, who wanted to return to the area to help his friend Lazarus, even if that meant being attacked by Jewish leaders there. Thomas says in verse 16: “Let us also go, that we might die with him.”
Thomas was the one disciple who was not present on Easter Sunday, the day of the resurrection. Jesus knew why. He knew that Thomas was in deep mourning over his death. So, Jesus returned several days after the Resurrection- He returned for Thomas. Not to be little him for being a non-believer (“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” No, Jesus didn’t come back because of those words, not at all. He returned so that Thomas, who was suffering, could see and be healed. He knew Thomas loved HIM, he wanted Thomas to know HIS love.
And, isn’t that what we all need in our hours of greatest despair?
Reflection for April 2 by Katy Zatsick
When the doubts come
Today we celebrate the God of Love who died in Jesus has been raised from the dead. As Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead now he himself is raised and is present throughout the ages to all who believe. In our Gospel Thomas struggled to understand and accept that Jesus lives.
How many experiences have we had like Thomas? We know there is a God but…and it is a BUT in the struggles of life we doubt, we hesitate in knowing our Higher Power, our Brother Jesus loves us unconditionally and is present to us.
Two years ago I asked your prayers for my grandson James Charles then a junior at Jesuit High School in Tampa. He was experiencing a life-shattering emotional, spiritual and physical breakdown. JC has an uncle who is diagnosed schizophrenic and has lived a life of suffering. We did not know the possibilities for JC’s future. His mother took care of JC’s physical needs and found a nutritionist and a therapist. And the members of MMOJ prayed for his healing along with myself.
As JC completed his senior year at Jesuit he created this watercolor as a project. For me, it is the story of Thomas. From sufferings including depression, will come new life to bloom in fullness of living. My doubt about JC’s healing and God’s loving presence was transformed into rejoicing at his new life. May Jesus continue to heal JC as Thomas was healed, as I was healed.
Jesus is risen and is with us NOW., accompanying us as unconditional Love the energy of spiritual evolution.”
And From the blog of newways ministries bondings2.0:
Nearly four months ago, Pope Francis inaugurated, to much excitement and anticipation, the Jubilee Year of Mercy now underway. He has called for this to be a time to remind ourselves that the church to be a “home for all,” a place “where everyone is loved, welcomed, and forgiven.” Catholics worldwide are participating in many ways and Malta’s Bishop Mario Grech even expressed his hope that the year would “start a new era for the Church.”
On this Divine Mercy Sunday, it is worth inquiring about what impact the Year of Mercy is actually having for LGBT Catholics, their loved ones, and their allies.
Positive moments of expanding mercy and inclusion have occurred. In several instances, bishops have used the Year of Mercy to extend special welcomes to LGBT communities.
For instance, Bishop Terry Steib, SVD of Memphis, in his letter titled A Compassionate Response, called on Catholics to tightly link mercy with humility and to be open to encounter and dialogue in ways which can move LGBT issues forward. Two bishops even apologized for the church’s mistreatment of marginalized people. In his Lenten message on mercy, Bishop Mitchell Rozanski of Springfield, Massachusetts, sought forgiveness from those whom the church had hurt, including LGBT people. In New Orleans, Archbishop Gregory Aymond is hosting a Mass for Divine Mercy Sunday that includes a ritual of forgiveness and resurrection which acknowledges:
“[That] we as individuals, as members of the archdiocese and society as a whole have let people down. . .This rite seeks forgiveness and reconciliation with those who have been hurt or alienated by the church either through institutional or individual offenses.”
While no communities were specified, LGBT people are clearly included among those hurt by the church and Aymond has spoken in more positive terms about issues of sexuality in the past.
Lay Catholics are participating in the Year of Mercy, too. Many call for a more just and inclusive church and society. As a way to mark this special year, Kentucky Catholics marched through downtown Louisville and rallied outside the cathedral to foster support for LGBT non-discrimination protections. U.S. Catholics elsewhere, including at least two governors, are actively resisting “license to discriminate” bills now under consideration in state legislatures across the country. And two transgender Catholics shared their stories during a workshop at L.A. Religious Education Congress, the largest Catholic gathering in North America.
Despite these items of good news, negative moments have also occurred.Too many church officials are either avoiding the Year of Mercy or it seems they do not quite understand mercy. Malawi’s bishops used a pastoral letter on mercy to call for the government to jail LGBT people. A pastor disrupted a funeral because of his opposition to LGBT issues. Another pastor closed a parish LGBT ministry. The Vatican has thus far refused to intervene to stop Dominican Republic church leaders’ increasing attacks on gay U.S. Ambassador James Brewster. For church leaders whose hearts remained hardened to LGBT people, we can pray these words taken from Pope Francis’ prayer for the Year of Mercy:
“You willed that your ministers would also be clothed in weakness in order that they may feel compassion for those in ignorance and error: let everyone who approaches them feel sought after, loved, and forgiven by God.”
When it comes to LGBT concerns, Pope Francis’ own involvement in the Year of Mercy is ambiguous. The million-dollar question right now is what impact his upcoming apostolic exhortation on the family, Amoris Laetitia, will have for LGBT Catholics. The pope consistently preaches mercy during his Wednesday audiences, his foreign travels, and everything else in between. But he lodged his harshest criticism of marriage equality yet in January, and his involvement in Italy’s debate over civil unions has been unclear.
The jury is still out on whether the Year of Mercy, viewed as a whole, will be good or not good for LGBT people and other Catholics who support equality. There are signs of hope among the people of God but plenty of intransigence in ecclesial institutions too.
What do you think? Has the Year of Mercy benefited LGBT Catholics? If not yet, do you think it still might? What would be ways of showing greater mercy to those the church excludes and harms? You can leave your thoughts in the ‘Comments’ section below.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry
Feel free to comment……
May all who need mercy and compassion all who give mercy and compassion be blessed!
Rev. Dr. Judy Lee, RCWP