In France, during the years following the French Revolution, there was an old man who walked with a limp. He had been a respected soldier in Napoleon’s Army, but battle wounds had ended his promising career. He traveled from village to village, begging, which he certainly hated to do.
He arrived in a village in a western part of France one evening and made his way to the steps of the church. He was willing to take coins from church goers, but he despised them all the same for believing in a God who could have permitted the terrible crimes he had witnessed.
The next morning the priest found the beggar huddled on the steps in a worn blanket and, after Mass, invited him to come to his house for breakfast. The beggar felt repulsed, as he always did when taking charity, but hunger and the kindness on the priest’s face made him accept.
The stranger stayed there for several days. The priest never seemed to grow tired of showing kindness to this person. The beggar had never been treated with such respect. And he had never felt so miserable. So, finally, the beggar asked for confession. There was a sin that stood out from all the rest.
This beggar had at one time been the most trusted servant of an aristocratic family. The head of that family had unsuccessfully rebelled against the revolution. His wife and six children entrusted their lives and fortunes to the servant. But for a bag of gold coins he betrayed his master’s wife and children and watched them go one-by-one to the guillotine. Only the youngest child somehow escaped, and no one had seen him since. With tears of shame, the stranger finished his confession. The priest gave him absolution, raised him up and embraced him.
As the beggar’s eyes lifted, he saw a portrait on the wall behind—-the portrait of the family he had betrayed to their deaths. Shocked, he pulled back from the priest. “Who are you?”, he asked. “Where did you get that painting?” The priest looked intently at the beggar, then turned to the painting on the wall, and then back to the beggar, almost becoming angry at first, but then tears began to run down his face. His expression changed to one of compassion. He smiled. “I am the youngest son, my friend, and I forgive you.”
Maybe this story is too simple—-things like this only happen in the movies. No matter, there are certain themes that we can take from this scenario which can give us an insight into how God works in our life.
But first, let’s go to St. Thomas (in the Gospel). He was disappointed and let down by Jesus’ death on the cross. So, in order not to set himself up for more disappointment, he demanded proof of this news he was hearing about Jesus risen from the dead.
Sometimes we are disappointed by life. Our hopes are dashed, and we carry that disappointment around with us. And it affects every aspect of our lives and makes us angry and sad all at the same time. The beggar was carrying around a lot of disappointment along with the burden of guilt over a serious sin from his past. Yet things changed for him in an instant, and in a very dramatic way—- same for St.Thomas.
Thomas’ true healing came in the miracle of the realization that he had it all wrong, and so did the beggar, and for us, as well. Christ wants to show us that we too might have it all wrong. Easter is about new things; disappointments changed to hope, guilt wiped away by forgiveness, learning to have confidence in the greater reality that Jesus is risen from the dead.
That is also the message of Divine Mercy Sunday. New life comes for a person when the kinds of burdens we described for you this morning are be wiped away. But sometimes the first obstacle we have to overcome is ourselves. Often the hardest person to forgive is yourself. Today is Divine Mercy Sunday. Christ is reaching out to you to free you, so that you can fully experience the new life intended for you through the Cross and the Resurrection.