Today is Low Sunday (First Sunday After Easter).
by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876
“Peace be to you!”–John 20.
Peace be to you!” With these: words Jesus greeted His disciples when, entering through closed doors, He suddenly stood in their midst. The circumstance that the doors were locked is an evidence of the fear and sorrow which filled their hearts. They were tossed by the storm of persecution which had broken upon them, and deprived them of the presence of the Lord.
What confidence, therefore, must have filled their hearts, when the Lord stood once more alive in their midst, and brought with Him the peace they had lost. No doubt, each one of us wishes, that he too had been with the Apostles, and heard from the mouth of Jesus that greeting of peace.
But why should we envy them? Behind the closed doors of the tabernacle, in every place where the Holy Eucharist is kept, our Lord and Saviour is to be found. And every soul that approaches Him with love and faith hears that same greeting: “Pax vobis! Happy are we, if we listen to it and treasure it up in our hearts!
The peace which Christ wishes us–which He gives us–is true, complete, holy, and imparts sanctity and beauty to our souls. Let us consider it to-day, and endeavor to receive it in all its fullness. It will be our most precious Easter-gift.
Mary, Mother of fair love and holy peace, pray for us that the peace of God may strengthen our hearts as it strengthened thine! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, to the greater glory of God!
I say that the peace which Christ wishes us and which He imparts to us, is true peace; it is that peace which He alone is able to bestow. “My peace I give unto you! ” says the Lord; “not as the world giveth, do I give unto you.” No, it is a peace of which the world has no idea; it is a peace which the world can never bestow. It is that peace which we lost by the fall of our first parents, and which could not be restored to us but by the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ, our Redeemer and Saviour.
Man, as he came from the hands of the Creator, was endowed with sanctifying grace, was at peace with God, at peace with himself, at peace with the whole outer world; but sin destroyed all this, and instead of peace came war, and instead of spiritual life came spiritual death. By sin man was set at variance with God, with himself, and with the outer world. As Holy Writ assures us: “There is no peace for the wicked,” at least no peace of soul. Though a man be on good terms with his fellow-men, yet as long as he lives in a state of sin he will enjoy no peace; for sin is a revolt against God, and every revolt brings with it trouble, anxiety, and war. Without Christ there is no true peace; no peace with God, the only peace which is worthy of the name, and which alone is able to calm our agitated hearts.
Listen to the warning of the prophet: “They cry: Peace, peace! and there is no peace.” There is no communion between light and darkness, between Christ and Belial. There is no place where the banner of Christ and that of antichrist wave together, nor where men desire to serve God and the devil at the same time.
Moreover, the peace which man enjoys with the world is not complete. But the peace, which Christ gives unto his own, is perfect. We shall understand this, if we regard one by one the results of the first sin and of all individual sin, and the relation in which soul and body stand to God. By his very nature man has a soul, reason, will, and heart. He thinks, he wills, he suffers or enjoys. Now, the fall ot Adam darkened the understanding of man, weakened his will, made his heart suffer; and but one can free him from the anxiety which all this causes: one alone, Christ Jesus our Lord.
I have said that understanding, and will, and heart, each has suffered: man’s understanding is beset with doubts in regard to his existence and to his relations to God; his will is weakened, and he frequently feels its moral feebleness and impotence. But, above all, it is the heart of man which is exposed to the stripes of adversity and to the stings of suffering; nor can it anywhere find comfort but in Christ but in Him Whom Holy Writ emphatically styles: “The Prince of peace!”
Before Him, before His Word and example, every cloud of anxiety vanishes, and perfect peace makes its dwelling in the soul.
I have already said that when the soul is left to itself it is disquieted in regard to its relations with God and concerning its fate for eternity; it is darkened by ignorance and beset with doubts. “Pax vobis!” “Peace be to you!” says Christ to all men. It is He who spoke through Moses and the prophets; it is He who came Himself into the world, and opening His mouth preached to us the Word of salvation, explaining all those questions and doubts in regard to the other world, which excite, frighten, and harass the mind of man.
He calls himself the Light of the world; and as the sun sends forth his rays, so Christ sent forth His Apostles, that by the light of their teaching day might break for all the nations upon earth; that all might open their hearts to the sweet influence of truth. And great, indeed, is the peace which is instilled into believing hearts with the word of faith spoken by the mouth of the infallible Church; it is felt by all her truly believing children.
The will of man also is enfeebled by the fall of Adam; hence he feels his weakness, his impotence in the light with temptation. Hence the anxiety which excites and torments him. How differently man feels when Christ greets him and calls to him “Pax vobis” Peace be to you! When the power of divine grace enters his heart, and he can say with St. Paul: “I can do all things in Him who strengthened me.” A calm conscience comforts his heart, from which all anxiety has lied; yes, all that anxiety which, the consequence of his sins, had for years tormented him.
After the fall of Adam the heart of man felt the burden of suffering and the insufficiency of every merely human consolation. How often a friend can only say: I can weep with you, but I can not console you! How differently a child of the Church feels when Christ who has Himself suffered upon earth calls to Him from the cross: “Pax vobis!” and when he recollects that the Lord Himself said to His disciples: “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things and so enter into His Glory.” How inexpressibly great was the consolation which fell from the five wounds into the hearts of the disciples when Jesus suddenly appearing among them, gave them that Easter greeting: ” Pax vobis!” All truly believing children of the Church partake of this consolation in the midst of all the cares and sorrows of this life. For whatever we may suffer, one glance at Christ risen from the dead and marked with His wounds will cause us to cry out with St. Paul: “I exceedingly abound with joy in all our tribulation.”
But far more grievous does the anxiety of man’s heart become, if he has the misfortune to turn from the path of virtue, to precipitate himself into the abyss of sin, and if he is tormented day and night by the reproaches of his conscience. No one but Jesus can give him calmness and peace. He alone redeemed us, sinners! He alone gave His Apostles and their followers the power to forgive the repentant! a power which Christ bestowed upon His Church until the end of time, and of which we are solemnly reminded by the words of the Apostolic creed: “I believe in the holy Catholic Church, the forgiveness of sins.”
Into the breast of the greatest sinner there enters an inexpressible peace, if he receives the Sacrament of Penance as Christ has instituted it in His holy Church. Ah! what joy when the priest, the representative of Christ, says to his troubled soul: “My son, my daughter, your sins are forgiven!” Pax tibi! Peace be with you! Oh, the happy peace which then through Christ enters the heart reconciled to its God!
Finally, the heart of man is frequently pained by the fear: Shall I continue to the end? and what will become of me if Satan, in my last hour, should beset me with temptation, and place all the sins of my life before my eyes in order to drive me to despair? “Pax tibi,” says our Lord to the loving child of His Church. I shall complete in you my work of mercy. Trust!
Never can your own heart desire your salvation so ardently as I desire it: Peace be to you! Nor must we forget the consoling inspirations which Christ sends to all who bow, in suffering, to His holy will, and unite themselves to Him. Yes, yes, “Pax vobis!” I call in the name of the risen Christ to every soul here present.
“Pax vobis” the peace of Christ be and remain with you now, and for evermore! Amen! (3)
OUR neophytes closed the Octave of the Resurrection yesterday. They were before us in receiving the admirable mystery; their solemnity would finish earlier than ours. This, then, is the eighth day for us who kept the Pasch on the Sunday, and did not anticipate it on the vigil. It reminds us of all the glory and joy of that feast of feasts, which united the whole of Christendom in one common feeling of triumph. It is the day of light, which takes the place of the Jewish Sabbath. Henceforth, the first day of the week is to be kept holy. Twice has the Son of God honored it with the manifestation of His almighty power. The Pasch, therefore, is always to be celebrated on the Sunday; and thus every Sunday becomes a sort of Paschal feast, as we have already explained in the Mystery of Easter.Our risen Jesus gave an additional proof that He wished the Sunday to be, henceforth, the privileged day. He reserved the second visit He intended to pay to all His disciples for this the eighth day since His Resurrection. During the previous days, He has left Thomas a prey to doubt; but today He shows himself to this Apostle, as well as to the others, and obliges him, by irresistible evidence, to lay aside his incredulity. Thus does our Savior again honor the Sunday. The Holy Ghost will come down from Heaven upon this same day of the week, making it the commencement of the Christian Church: Pentecost will complete the glory of this favored day.
Jesus’ apparition to the eleven, and the victory He gains over the incredulous Thomas—–these are the special subjects the Church brings before us today.
By this apparition, which is the seventh since His Resurrection, our Savior wins the perfect faith of His disciples. It is impossible not to recognize God in the patience, the majesty, and the charity of Him who shows Himself to them. Here, again, our human thoughts are disconcerted; we should have thought this delay excessive; it would have seemed to us that our Lord ought to have at once either removed the sinful doubt from Thomas’s mind, or punished him for his disbelief. But no: Jesus is infinite wisdom, and infinite goodness. In His wisdom, He makes this tardy acknowledgment of Thomas become a new argument of the truth of the Resurrection; in His goodness, He brings the heart of the incredulous disciple to repentance, humility, and love; yea, to a fervent and solemn retraction of all his disbelief. We will not here attempt to describe this admirable scene, which holy Church is about to bring before us. We will select, for our today’s instruction, the important lesson given by Jesus to His disciple, and through him to us all. It is the leading instruction of the Sunday, the Octave of the Pasch, and it behooves us not to pass it by, for, more than any other, it tells us the leading characteristic of a Christian, shows us the cause of our being so listless in God’s service, and points out to us the remedy for our spiritual ailments.
Jesus says to Thomas: ‘Because thou hast seen Me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and have believed!’ Such is the great truth, spoken by the lips of the God-Man: it is a most important counsel, given, not only to Thomas, but to all who would serve God and secure their salvation. What is it that Jesus asks of His disciple? Has he not heard him make profession that now, at last, he firmly believes? After all, was there any great fault in Thomas’s insisting on having experimental evidence before believing in so extraordinary a miracle as the Resurrection? Was he obliged to trust to the testimony of Peter and the others, under penalty of offending his Divine Master? Did he not evince his prudence, by withholding his assent until he had additional proofs of the truth of what his brethren told him? Yes, Thomas was a circumspect and prudent man, and one that was slow to believe what he had heard; he was worthy to be taken as a model by those Christians who reason and sit in judgment upon matters of faith. And yet, listen to the reproach made him by Jesus. It is merciful, and withal so severe! Jesus has so far condescended to the weakness of his disciple as to accept the condition on which alone he declares that he will believe: now that the disciple stands trembling before his risen Lord, and exclaims, in the earnestness of faith, ‘My Lord and my God!’ oh! see how Jesus chides him! This stubbornness, this incredulity, deserves a punishment: the punishment is, to have these words said to him:
‘Thomas! thou hast believed, because thou hast seen!’
Then was Thomas obliged to believe before having seen? Yes, undoubtedly. Not only Thomas, but all the Apostles were in duty bound to believe the Resurrection of Jesus even before He showed Himself to them. Had they not lived three years with Him? Had they not seen Him prove Himself to be the Messias and the Son of God by the most undeniable miracles? Had He not foretold them that He would rise again on the third day? As to the humiliations and cruelties of His Passion, had He not told them, a short time previous to it, that He was to be seized by the Jews in Jerusalem, and be delivered to the Gentiles? that He was to be scourged, spit upon, and put to death? [St. Luke xviii 32, 33]
After all this, they ought to have believed in His triumphant Resurrection, the very first moment they heard of His Body having disappeared. As soon as John had entered the sepulcher, and seen the winding-sheet, he at once ceased to doubt; he believed. But it is seldom that man is so honest as this; he hesitates, and God must make still further advances, if He would have us give our faith! Jesus condescended even to this: He made further advances. He showed Himself to Magdalen and her companions, who were not incredulous, but only carried away by natural feeling, though the feeling was one of love for their Master. When the Apostles heard their account of what had happened, they treated them as women whose imagination had got the better of their judgment. Jesus had to come in person: He showed Himself to these obstinate men, whose pride made them forget all that He had said and done, sufficient indeed to make them believe in His Resurrection. Yes, it was pride; for faith has no other obstacle than this. If man were humble, he would have faith enough to move mountains.
To return to our Apostle. Thomas had heard Magdalen, and he despised her testimony; he had heard Peter, and he objected to his authority; he had heard the rest of his fellow-Apostles and the two disciples of Emmaus, and no, he would not give up his own opinion. How many there are among us who are like him in this! We never think of doubting what is told us by a truthful and disinterested witness, unless the subject touch upon the supernatural; and then we have a hundred difficulties. It is one of the sad consequences left in us by Original Sin. Like Thomas, we would see the thing ourselves: and that alone is enough to keep us from the fulness of the truth. We comfort ourselves with the reflection that, after all, we are disciples of Christ; as did Thomas, who kept in union with his brother-Apostles, only he shared not their happiness. He saw their happiness, but he considered it to be a weakness of mind, and was glad that he was free from it!
How like this is to our modern rationalistic Catholic! He believes, but it is because his reason almost forces him to believe; he believes with his mind, rather than from his heart. His faith is a scientific deduction, and not a generous longing after God and supernatural truth. Hence how cold and powerless is this faith! how cramped and ashamed! how afraid of believing too much! Unlike the generous unstinted faith of the Saints, it is satisfied with fragments of truth, with what the Scripture terms diminished truths. [Ps. xi 2] It seems ashamed of itself. It speaks in a whisper, lest it should be criticized; and when it does venture to make itself heard, it adopts a phraseology which may take off the sound of the Divine. As to those miracles which it wishes had never taken place, and which it would have advised God not to work, they are a forbidden subject. The very mention of a miracle, particularly if it have happened in our own times, puts it into a state of nervousness. The lives of the Saints, their heroic virtues, their sublime sacrifices—–it has a repugnance to the whole thing! It talks gravely about those who are not of the true religion being unjustly dealt with by the Church in Catholic countries; it asserts that the same liberty ought to be granted to error as to truth; it has very serious doubts whether the world has been a great loser by the secularization of society.
Now it was for the instruction of persons of this class that our Lord spoke those words to Thomas:
‘Blessed are they who have not seen, and have believed.’
Thomas sinned in not having the readiness of mind to believe. Like him, we also are in danger of sinning, unless our faith have a certain expansiveness, which makes us see everything with the eye of faith, and gives our faith that progress which God recompenses with a superabundance of light and joy. Yes, having once become members of the Church, it is our duty to look upon all things from a supernatural point of view. There is no danger of going too far, for we have the teachings of an infallible authority to guide us. ‘The just man liveth by faith.’ [Rom. i. 17] Faith is his daily bread. His mere natural life becomes transformed for good and all, if only he be faithful to his Baptism. Could we suppose that the Church, after all her instructions to her neophytes, and after all those sacred rites of their Baptism which are so expressive of the supernatural life, would be satisfied to see them straightway adopt that dangerous system which drives faith into a nook of the heart and understanding and conduct, leaving all the rest to natural principles or instinct? No, it could not be so. Let us therefore imitate St. Thomas in his confession, and acknowledge that hitherto our faith has not been perfect. Let us go to our Jesus, and say to Him: ‘Thou art my Lord and my God! But alas! I have many times thought and acted as though thou wert my Lord and my God in some things, and not in others. Henceforth I will believe without seeing; for I would be of the number of those whom Thou callest blessed!’
This Sunday, commonly called with us Low Sunday, has two names assigned to it in the Liturgy: Quasimodo, from the first word of the Introit; and Sunday in albis [or, more explicitly, in albis depositis], because on this day the neophytes assisted at the Church services attired in their ordinary dress. In the Middle Ages it was called Close-Pasch, no doubt in allusion to its being the last day of the Easter Octave. Such is the solemnity of this Sunday that not only is it of Greater Double rite, but no feast, however great, can ever be kept upon it.
At Rome, the Station is in the basilica of St. Pancras, on the Aurelian Way. Ancient writers have not mentioned the reason of this Church being chosen for today’s assembly of the faithful. It may, perhaps, have been on account of the Saint’s being only fourteen years old, when put to death: a circumstance which gave the young Martyr a sort of right to have the neophytes round him, now that they were returning to their everyday life. (2)
Image: The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, artist: Michelangelo Merisi (Michele Angelo Merigi or Amerighi) da Caravaggio , circa: from 1601 until 1602
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff