Despite its failures and imperfection, within the community of the Church is where one finds Jesus, Pope Francis said on Divine Mercy Sunday.
Reflecting on St. Thomas the Apostle’s initial doubt in Christ’s resurrection, Francis asked: “Where do we seek the risen One? In some special event, in some spectacular or amazing religious manifestation, solely at the emotional or sensational level? Or rather in the community, in the Church, accepting the challenge of staying there, even though it is not perfect?”
“Without the community,” he emphasized, “it is difficult to find Jesus.”
The pope spoke about doubt and the Church to an estimated 20,000 people gathered in St. Peter’s Square April 16. On Sundays during the Easter season, in place of the Angelus he prays the Regina Caeli, a Latin antiphon honoring the Virgin Mary.
In his brief message before the prayer, Francis explained how Jesus’ invitation to touch his wounds is not only for the “doubting apostle” but for us, too.
“In reality, Thomas is not the only one who struggled to believe. In fact, he represents all of us a little bit,” he said.
He noted that Jesus chose to appear to St. Thomas when he was with the community of the other disciples in the upper room, not when he was alone.
“Thomas wants an extraordinary sign — to touch the wounds. Jesus shows them to him, but in an ordinary way, coming in front of everyone, in the community, not outside,” the pope said.
“Despite all of its limitations and failures, which are our limitations and failings, our mother Church is the body of Christ,” he underlined. “And it is there, in the body of Christ, that, now and forever, the greatest signs of his love can be found impressed.”
Pope Francis recalled that when Jesus first appeared to his disciples in the Upper Room after his death and resurrection, Thomas was not present.
“While the others had closed themselves inside the upper room out of fear, he went out, running the risk that someone might recognize, report, and arrest him,” he said.
We might, he said, think that Thomas, due to his courage, was even more deserving to have had the risen Lord appear to him on his own.
“Instead, precisely because he had been away, Thomas was not there when Jesus had appeared the first time to the disciples on Easter evening,” Francis explained, “thus losing that opportunity. He had gone away from the community. How could he retrieve the opportunity? Only by going back with the others, returning to that family he had left behind, scared and sad.”
When Thomas does return, he struggles to believe what the other disciples tell him. He wants to see Jesus’ wounds with his own eyes, the pope recounted.
“And,” Pope Francis added, “Jesus satisfies him: Eight days later, he appears again in the midst of his disciples and shows them his wounds, his hands, his feet, these wounds that are the proof of his love, that are the ever-open channels of his mercy.”
The pope said the risen Lord’s choice to appear to the disciples as a community was a message that is also relevant to us today.
“It’s as if he said to [Thomas]: If you want to meet me, do not look far away, remain in the community, with the others. Don’t go away, pray with them, break bread with them,” he said. “And he says this to us as well.”
“That is where you will find me; that is where I will show you the signs of the wounds impressed on my body: the signs of the love that overcomes hatred, of the pardon that disarms revenge, the signs of the life that conquers death,” he continued.
“It is there, in the community, that you will discover my face, as you share moments of doubt and fear with your brothers and sisters, clinging even more strongly to them.”
Pope Francis encouraged Catholics to ask themselves if in the name of Jesus’ wounds, they are willing to open their arms to others, especially the wounded, so that no one is excluded from God’s mercy.
“May Mary, the Mother of Mercy, help us to love the Church and to make her a welcoming home for everyone,” he said.