By Msgr. Joseph Calise
In 2016, Martin Scorsese directed the thought-provoking film, “Silence.” It was the story of two Portuguese missionaries who hear that their mentor had rejected his faith in Japan. Convinced that the reports are wrong, they embark on a mission to find him although they are aware that they will be putting themselves in great danger.
If they are caught openly professing and practicing their faith, they will have to either reject Jesus or face a prolonged, painful death. In one of the most dramatic scenes, one of the men is forced to watch as a group of believers are tortured as he is being taunted that the only way their torture will stop is if he renounces his faith.
As Christians we come to admire and respect the courage of martyrs but we also understand human weakness. Although one choice might be more admirable than another, both are understandable. Suffering is not something that people of sound mind seek but it is something that each of us is asked at different times and in different degrees to accept. It is our response to the suffering in life that identifies who we are as a people of faith. It is easier to say “I believe” at baptisms than at funerals.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prays that the cup should pass from Him, that the suffering He was to endure would somehow not be necessary. But He also prays that the Father’s will be done, that He be given the strength to endure whatever was necessary for the opening of the Gates of Heaven. The marks of that suffering are prominent in today’s Gospel.
Ten apostles are together. All we know is that Thomas was not with them. When he hears that Jesus appeared to the others and showed them His hands and side, Thomas utters the words for which he will always be remembered, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my fingers into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” This is the same Thomas who, when Jesus announced that he was going to Jerusalem, told the other apostles, “Then let us go too that we may die with him” (Jn 11:16).
When Jesus appeared to the ten and showed them the signs of His suffering, His message was, “Peace be with you.” When He appeared again to the eleven, He first offered His peace and then invited Thomas to touch His wounds to which he replies, “My Lord and My God.” Thomas believes because he has come to see the wounds not as a sign of defeat but as a sign of Christ’s victory over suffering and death. It is in the recognition of that victory that Jesus empowers the apostles and sends them forth in the Holy Spirit with the commission to forgive others. The suffering, which seemed so final and tragic, has become the vehicle of great grace.
We do not espouse suffering for the sake of suffering but because it allows us the opportunity to put our trust in God’s plan, to acknowledge our reliance on Him and to remember that this life is not all there is. It is often suffering that not only brings out the best of our humanity but which also gives us the opportunity to offer inspiration to others.
In his great book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”, Dr. Viktor Frankl explained it this way, “Our generation is realistic, for we have come to know man as he really is. After all, man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord’s Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips.” Thomas invited the disciples to go to Jerusalem to die with Jesus. It is because of those days in Jerusalem that we are all invited to live with Him, here and hereafter.
Second Sunday of Easter – Divine Mercy Sunday
Psalm 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24
1 John 5:1-6
Msgr. Calise is the pastor of Transfiguration-St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish, Maspeth.