Msgr. Joseph Prior

(See the readings for Divine Mercy Sunday, Second Sunday of Easter, April 28)

A few years ago there was an article in the New York Times titled “The Anxious Americans.” The author noted that nearly 18 percent of Americans suffer with anxiety. She noted that over $2 billion a year are spent on anti-anxiety medications. She also pointed back to a 2002 World Mental Health Survey that found Americans were the most anxious of the 14 countries studied.

Our youth feel the strain as well. Time magazine had a cover story in 2016 titled “The Kids are Not All Right: American teens are anxious, depressed, and overwhelmed.” This article asserted that today’s youth “are the post-9/11 generation, raised in an era of economic and national insecurity. They’ve never known a time when terrorism and school shootings weren’t the norm. They grew up watching their parents weather a severe recession, and, perhaps most importantly, they hit puberty at a time when technology and social media were transforming society.” Based on the numbers above most people should be familiar with, if not dealing with, anxiety.

Where do we find that inner calm? Serenity? Contentment? Society offers some solutions; science offers others. Perhaps the most basic, simple, free, readily available and eagerly given solution comes from the One who creates, redeems and sanctifies.

In the Gospel account for Sunday’s liturgy we hear Jesus appearing to his disciples. Each time he greets them with these words: “Peace be with you.” Peace is the answer to anxiety. Peace in the world and our community is a good to be pursued but there is another aspect of peace that comes with Jesus’ words. The simple greeting of Jesus is packed with meaning.

The peace he speaks of entails our relationship with the Father that was broken through sin and now restored by Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. He has made us one with God and each other. This might not always be visible in the way we live but it is ever present.

Another aspect of the “peace” Jesus offers and is accomplished and verified again through his passion, death and resurrection is an interior peace. He offers love. He offers mercy. He offers healing. He offers strength. He offers courage.

Jesus brings this peace and offers it to those disciples who were filled with fear, anxiety and distress as they were gathered in the locked room at night. In the fourth Gospel, “night” has a symbolic value in addition to a reference to time. When Judas leaves the table to betray Jesus, the Evangelist notes “it was night.” Night is filled with darkness, and it is into this darkness that the “word made flesh” has come to dispel it and rid it of power. Darkness or “night” represents fear, evil, distress, anxiety.

The Risen Lord comes into the room, despite it being locked. He is the light that will dispel the darkness, the Word that brings life. He greets the disciples: “Peace be with you.” Immediately the disciples rejoiced. They have been freed from their fear and are no longer weighed down by anxiety, stress or grief.

Thomas is not present when Jesus appears. The others tell him but he refuses to believe. The doubt holds him in fear and sadness. When Jesus comes again the next week, he again greets the disciples, “Peace be with you.” This time Thomas is present. Jesus immediately goes to him. He offers his hands and side for examination saying: “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving but believe.” Thomas, now freed, makes perhaps the greatest acclamation of faith: “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus then says: “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” Jesus has conquered death through resurrection. In his mercy he takes away our sin, takes away our fears, takes away our anxieties. Jesus offers his peace to everyone. We receive that peace when we open our hearts to him in faith.

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Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.