Throughout the Gospel Our Lord shows his mercy: he heals the sick, raises the dead to life, teaches us his sublime doctrine. After the Resurrection, however, the apparitions of Jesus have a special quality.
During his public life, whenever he heals the sick, Jesus asks for faith, faith in the living person who has obviously a gift for healing.
When Jesus is asleep in the boat, the Apostles woke him up and he calmed the waters. When he walked on the water, Peter tried to reach him but his faith faltered and he was sinking.
Jesus wants us to trust him at all times even when we cannot see clearly the path ahead.
The faith Jesus asks for after the Resurrection has an added dimension: now it is faith in his glorified being. He is the Person who sometimes they do not recognise immediately as the man with whom they were familiar.
Our Lord knows that the passage from the material world to the spiritual world is not an easy one. We all fear death, the unknown or obscurely known, life beyond the grave. Our faith is weak and needs reinforcing.
When he first appears to the Apostles in the Upper Room, he offers hope in his greeting words: “Do not be afraid.” He then asks them to touch him in order to prove that he has flesh and bones and that he is not a ghost.
He also eats fish with them (on at least two occasions), showing that he has a real living body. Our Lord ensures that there can be no doubt: the reality of his risen Body is unmistakable.
For us, as well as for the Apostles, this is evidence that the body and soul of Christ are reunited, that he is truly living: the Resurrection is an undeniable reality.
Jesus does not reproach Thomas for his unbelief but humbly offers the visible signs of his wounds in a gesture of great mercy and compassion for the Apostle who could not believe, the one who needed a tangible proof of the reality that Jesus was truly there in his body.
Thomas’ exclamation of faith, “My Lord and my God!” is what Jesus requires of us who are not able to see him in the flesh as when he was on earth. In the very first meeting with Mary Magdalene at the sepulcher, he says: “Do not cling to me for I have not yet gone to the Father.”
Now it will no longer be the same physical contact she knew, she will no longer be able to sit at his feet and listen to him talking about the Kingdom. He is calling her to become attached to him in a spiritual way.
When he appears to the disciples on the road to Emmaus they recognise him at “the breaking of the bread”. This is the new way in which Christ wants us to contact him, in his physical body, a body that is veiled to the eyes of our body but revealed through the eyes of faith.
Jesus says to Thomas: “Blessed are they who do not see and yet believe.” It is indeed a testimony of mercy for us who throughout the ages have worshipped the Eucharist.
That is, all of we faithful who can receive him under the appearance of bread and wine, who can contemplate him in the monstrance and in the tabernacle, “the living heart of each of our churches”.
We are privileged to spend time with him, clinging to him, talking and listening. In The Credo of the People of God (26), Blessed Pope Paul VI says: “It is our very sweet duty to honour and adore in the Blessed Host which our eyes see, the Incarnate Word whom they cannot see, and who, without leaving heaven, is made present before us.”
When Jesus met the Apostles, those professional fishermen who had worked all night and caught nothing, in his goodness he performs another miracle and allows them to make a great catch.
With the eyes of love, John immediately recognises Jesus. Peter runs to him through the water. God wants our faith and he wants us to respond to signs of his presence.
In the encounters with Jesus after the Resurrection, it is a significant manifestation of mercy that Mary Magdalene, the one who had had seven devils cast out of her, is the first one to whom he appears.
Peter is mentioned explicitly in a dialogue with Jesus. Peter, the one who had denied his master and bitterly repented, is given the opportunity to reaffirm his love. Each time he does so, it is with greater emphasis until the last affirmation testifies to an unconditional and a total commitment.
Like the lover who never ceases to be told that he or she is loved, Jesus wants us to repeat our love again and again.
The act of charity: “O my God, I love you with my whole heart, and mind and soul and above all else, and I love my neighbour as myself for the love of you”, is a prayer which can be repeated again and again throughout the day, reaffirming our love, our total commitment.
When the two disciples are going to Emmaus, Jesus accompanies them though they are not aware of his identity. Jesus walks with us all the way even when we are dejected as the disciples were, even though we do not recognise him.
His promise, “I shall be with you until the end of time”, means that he accompanies us at all times. His presence is with us when we talk to him in our heart, it is there in the people we meet, particularly when we offer support and imitate him in a corporal or spiritual act of mercy.
He is present in direct contact when we receive the Sacraments. He is present at Mass: in the priest, in the assembly. He talks to us directly through the Word.
He is present in the reality of his body, soul and divinity after the Consecration. This presence is called the real presence because of its excellence. (cf Mysterium Fidei)
The Ascension is not a time of separation, although Jesus is no longer with us as the man who lived in Palestine, was crucified, dead and was buried. The glorified Christ is now present at the right hand of the Father interceding for us.
He leaves this earth because he now wants to send us another gift, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Person who is the mutual love of Father and Son, the Love Gift given through the mercy of God to be with the Church and to make us holy.