“THE LIGHT OF GRACE THAT IS EXPERIENCED IN THE SACRAMENTS DRIVES OUT DARKNESS, DISPELS ALL FEAR AND LEADS US TO HUMILITY ”
Divine Mercy Sunday
Fr. Jonathan L. Reardon
April 7th, 2013
When I was a kid I was terrified of the dark. I had to sleep with the door to my bedroom slightly ajar so that the hallway light could penetrate the darkness of the room. I also had a little nightlight for the very same purpose. Eventually, that fear of dark was overcome as I grew up – at least in part. In some ways, even as an adult I still have an uneasy feeling about darkness. I think that many of us do. What is it about the dark that is terrifying? Simply said, it is the inability to see. Light dispels darkness. It makes visible that which had been hidden by the darkness. As such, a person will then always prefer light to darkness. We can, however, identify more than one form of darkness. There is, as mentioned, physical darkness – the inability to physically see; there is intellectual darkness – the inability to “see” with the mind’s eye in order to understand concepts or ideas; and there is spiritual darkness – the inability to “see” with the eyes of faith and be drawn up to God. In all these instances of darkness there is need for light; the need for sight.
It is a combination of intellectual and spiritual darkness that plagues St. Thomas – doubting Thomas. He cannot wrap his mind around what has taken place and because of that he cannot bring himself to believe. He is struggling with Jesus’ death and having been told that He is alive just cannot seem to grasp it. It seems like it is too much for him to understand. Thomas’ doubt casts a dark shadow over his understanding of his Master and Teacher and thus, has an effect on his belief. He was in need of light – he needed to see. He needed to see with his mind’s eye and understand that Jesus is real. He needed the light of grace that comes from the Risen Lord in order dispel the darkness of his doubt and be illumined to the vision of faith. Thomas was indeed granted this vision and his words were not just an exclamation of what he was experiencing. His reply is an act of faith in the divinity of Christ. For faith, as the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us, is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen” (Heb 11:1) deals with realities that lay hidden. For things seen no longer become an object faith, they fall within the sphere of experience. Why, then, does Jesus say to Thomas: “Have you believed because you have seen me?” It is because Thomas’ physical experience of touching the wounds of Christ illumines his spiritual senses. He saw the man Jesus and believed in that which he could not see, His divinity. He saw the man and recognized God.
Jesus teaches us something here. In some ways, Thomas represents each of us at different stages of our journey of faith in the Risen Lord. All of us struggle with some aspect of our faith and much of that struggle centers on a concept, an idea, a teaching, that we cannot understand intellectually. Other struggles involve sin and certain vices or bad habits that we have a hard time overcoming. In either case, the difficulty casts a dark shadow on our minds and hearts. We need light. We need the ability to see clearly with our mind’s eye so that the light of grace may illumine our faith. We need to have the darkness, the shadows, give way to light and truth; mercy and love.
Where do we find this light? How do we come into contact with it? While Thomas’s experience of the Risen Lord gives way to his spiritual insight, the same is true for us. We encounter Jesus through the medium of our sacramental worship. The signs, symbols, rituals, words, and gestures of the sacraments are meant to put us in direct contact with the Person of Jesus Christ. These rituals touch our senses, they give us human experiences that elevate the soul and illumine the spirit. In the celebration of sacraments we have “Thomas-like” encounters with Jesus. It is in these ways that Jesus meets us in the midst of all our struggles – no matter what they may be. The grace of the encounter dispels the darkness of sin, doubt, and confusion. For in these divine meetings, truth is made known to us and God touches our hearts.
One such encounter is through the Sacrament of Penance – Confession. Today, the whole Church celebrates Divine Mercy Sunday. Fulfilling the requests made by Our Lord to a Polish nun, St. Faustina, during the early part of the Twentieth Century, Blessed Pope John Paul II instituted the Second Sunday of Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday. In revealing Himself to this humble nun, He was able to manifest the power of His mercy. It is in the confessional that we come in contact with His mercy. We experience the very power and strength of God, we experience the greatness of His love for us when we confess our sins to Him. The grace of this encounter with Jesus overcomes the difficulties that arise because of sin, doubt, confusion – all that causes darkness in our lives. The popes down through the ages have all consistently recommended frequent confession, including Pope Pious XII, who in his Encyclical Mystici Corporis, commented in this way:
“…by this means we grow in a true knowledge of ourselves and in Christian humility, bad habits are uprooted, spiritual negligence and apathy are prevented, the conscience is purified and the will strengthened, salutary spiritual direction is obtained, and grace is increased by the efficacy of the sacrament itself.”
In this sacrament, light is given and our sight is restored. Here are we able to see as Thomas saw and divine truth is perceived. The light of grace that is experienced in the sacraments – particularly the Eucharist and Penance – drives out darkness, dispels all fear and leads us to humbly echo the words of St. Thomas: “My Lord and My God.”
Rev. Jonathan L. Reardon is a priest for the diocese of Springfield in Massachusetts.
He serves at Sacred Heart Parish in Pittsfield, MA.