Does anyone recognize the name Bill Buckner? He played as a first baseman in the 80’s, where he had a fairly distinguished career. He won the batting crown in 1980 for the Chicago Cubs, and followed that as an All Star in 1981. Over his 20 year career, Buckner had 2700 hits – not bad, for a Cub. But in the midst of all that, what is he remembered for? He’s known most for playing first base for the Boston Red Sox in the 1986 World Series against the Mets, and making a fatal error in the bottom of the 9th in Game 6, eventually allowing the Mets to go on and win the series, continuing the so-called “Curse of the Bambino” for another 20 years. After this, he received death threats and insults, and was booed and heckled by his own fans in Boston. Of all the hard work that he put into his sport, and all the accomplishments he made, that’s what he’s known for, and that’s what defines him.
If you think about it, he’s kind of like Thomas in our first reading. Poor Thomas. Of course, what is he known as to everyone? Doubting Thomas. The guy followed Jesus faithfully during his public ministry, he witnessed the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, he preached throughout Syria, and eventually went all the way to India spreading the Gospel. And what do we remember him for? For doubting Jesus, of course. As we hear in the Gospel, the claim that Jesus was risen from the dead was just too much to handle for Thomas, so he said, “I’ll believe if I see his hands. I’ll follow if I see his pierced side.” And that’s what ends up defining who he is, at least to us.
Thomas is pretty well trashed in his reputation because of this, but really, I think a lot of us are like him. Like Thomas, we have a tendency to approach Jesus with a kind of conditional love: “I’ll follow you, God, if…” or “I’ll follow you, God, when…” And then, based on God’s response, or on our own reaction to that, we begin to define ourselves, like Thomas, by our successes and failures. Our value begins to depend on what we do instead of who we are. We’re a good student, a good parent, a hard worker. Or maybe we’re the one with the failing grades, the children that have seemingly turned against everything I’ve taught them, or the one laid off last year, still unable to find the job I want. That’s what begins to define us. And then, we go so far even as to then define who God is as well: “God, I’m a failure, and there’s no way you can forgive me. There’s no way you can love me.” And then, when we start falling into this, God becomes more of an accessory than our God, and we feel like we have to go alone.
What can we learn from Thomas? Well one thing we learn comes from Jesus’ response to him. A lot of times our love for God is conditional, but what Jesus shows us is that his love for us is completely unconditional. He doesn’t pop into the room where the disciples are and say, “What the heck, guys? Where were you when I was dying?” He doesn’t say, “Well, I guess I’ll love you if…” Instead, he walks into their presence and says, “Peace be with you.” “I love you when you succeed, but I love you also when you fail. I love you no matter what.” You see, God’s love for us doesn’t change when we fail or when we sin. It remains. That’s the great mystery that we celebrate today in this second Sunday of Easter – Divine Mercy Sunday. In 2000, Blessed John Paul II asked us to commemorate this feast as a time to remember what it is that defines us. It’s not our successes or failures that define who we are. It’s not our sinfulness or unworthiness that define us. As St. John Vianney put it so beautifully, “Our sins are nothing but a grain of sand alongside the mountain of the mercy of God.” What defines us is the unconditional love of God; the fact that he has made us adopted sons and daughters. That’s who you are by baptism: an adopted son or daughter of God. Don’t let anyone or anything, not even yourself, tell you otherwise.
God doesn’t give us this love and mercy so that we can just keep sinning. The Sacrament of Reconciliation isn’t like that unlimited car wash membership at Country Club Carwash – you can wash your car whenever it gets too dirty for you to stand (and for my black car, that is very little). God’s mercy isn’t there to be taken for granted or abused. It takes a lot of courage to walk in the door of the confessional back there, but no matter what we confess, if we do so with a longing for God, we know what we’ll receive – his mercy and forgiveness. He gives us that mercy so that we never have to fear to return to him, so that we can give ourselves as his disciples without hesitation, reservation, or condition.
As we approach Christ in the Eucharist again today, he invites us to see his hands and feet, to touch his risen body with our hands, that body that he gave up unconditionally for us. May we share the eyes of faith with St. Thomas, seeing in the Eucharist the endless ocean of God’s mercy. May we embrace that mercy, and say with St. Thomas, “My Lord and my God.”