Father Donald Senior, CP

April 28: Second Sunday of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

A church with wounds

Acts 5:12-16; Ps 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-23; Jn 20:19-31


Holy Week this year was marked by a tragedy that seemed to affect the whole world — the terrible fire that ravaged Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, one of the most beautiful and historic buildings ever created.

When I first heard the news, I experienced a sharp sadness as if I had lost a member of my family — a reaction I soon learned was similarly felt by many others. When I was in graduate studies in Europe (many years ago), I had many occasions to visit this exquisite medieval church, and one summer I served as a chaplain at a school in Paris not far from Notre Dame and visited it almost daily. 

Many of the news reports about the fire emphasized its role as a beloved tourist site, but my experience of Notre Dame over the years has been that it is a vibrant functioning church, its Eucharists done with such reverence and often with full congregations there in a spirit of prayer. Now its magnificence is scarred, with its graceful roof and spire consumed by flames and its interior littered with cinders and piles of debris. 

All of this crossed my mind and heart when I reflected on the readings for this Second Sunday of Easter. The mixture of breathtaking beauty and marks of destruction that have befallen Notre Dame mirror the mix of beauty and wounds we encounter in the Scriptures for today. 

The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles portrays the Jerusalem apostolic community filled with joy and unity in the immediate impact of Jesus’ Resurrection and the gift of the Spirit that was poured out on those first disciples. From every direction people were bringing the sick to the apostles to be healed. In other passages, Luke will describe the love and sense of purpose that binds these early Christians together in a spirit of friendship and peace.

In a similar vein, we have the opening lines of the Book of Revelation as our second reading. Even though the writer, John the Seer (probably not the apostle John), is in exile on the Island of Patmos because of his fearless confession of his Christian faith, he is ecstatic because he has been given a vision of the risen and exalted Christ who has triumphed over death and is far more powerful than any threat from the Roman Empire that John and his fellow Christians are enduring. It is in this vein that he will subsequently write to seven churches in Asia Minor, exhorting them to stand strong.

It is this selection from John’s Gospel that triggered for me the comparison to the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral. In this powerful scene, the risen Christ appears to his disciples who are huddled in fear. The events of the crucifixion have shaken their faith in Jesus. 

But death did not defeat Jesus. He is risen and brings them the gift of peace. He also breathes the Spirit of God on them and gives them a share in his own mission of healing and teaching. The reading from Acts demonstrates they were able to do this. 

But there is something more in this scene. The risen Jesus still bears the wounds of his crucifixion. The reality of opposition and death and the terrible destructive power of sin that wracked the body of Jesus are not to be forgotten. The evangelist drives homes this point by adding the account of Thomas’ demand to “see the mark of the nails in his hands.”

Jesus’ intense love transformed those wounds into a sign of God’s healing love for the world. Who of us this Easter can forget that we, as a church, belong to a community of faith graced with incredible beauty — our acts of charity, our sacraments, our devotions, our courageous saints and martyrs, then and now. Yet that beauty, we all know, is marred by public failure of the worst kind.

The Easter readings on this Divine Mercy Sunday encourage us not to hide the wounds but also not to forget the beauty. 



  • scripture