In the Legend of Saint Martin of Tours we read how the devil appeared to him disguised as Christ Himself. He was dressed in splendid robes, wearing a crown and surrounded by a glorious light. But Saint Martin wasn’t convinced, because he didn’t see the most convincing sign associated with the Risen Christ: His wounds. Saint Martin rebuked the devil saying: I will not believe that Christ has come unless he appears with that appearance and form in which he suffered, and openly displaying the marks of his wounds upon the Cross.
In the Gospel we heard similar words: Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe. Like Saint Martin, Saint Thomas the Apostle immediately recognized the importance of Christ’s wounds. Now we may find talk of Our Lord’s wounds unsettling and even be disturbed by Thomas’ insistence on touching them. But Christ’s wounds, as Saint Thomas and Saint Martin understood, are the greatest witness to His mercy; and they keep us from making two big mistakes: the denial of our own sinfulness, and the denial of Our Lord’s ability and willingness to forgive our sins.
Christ bears the wounds of the Cross, first of all, because He doesn’t deny our sins. Those wounds were inflicted upon him because of our sins, and so Divine Mercy demands this recognition of sin. We are foolish if we think we can sweep our sin under the carpet and not even acknowledge our wrongdoing. Sin and Divine Mercy are the two sides of the same coin.
Too many people today prefer a cheap mercy that ignores sin altogether. Psychologists make so many excuses for sin that many people have lost the sense of sin and they just blame everything on the circumstances of their lives. And yet Divine Mercy requires a serious acknowledgement and repentance of our sins. To ignore or overlook someone’s sins is not mercy at all — it is blindness, and a failure to love them as Christ loves them.
But more importantly, Christ bears the wounds of the Cross to prove His triumph over our sins. No longer do the wounds mean death; they now signify sins forgiven and the prospect of eternal life. Our Lord shows the wounds to assure us of His forgiveness, as if to say: Yes, I have conquered even these wounds, which your sins placed in me. My mercy has overcome your sins, and these wounds have become glorious.
To extend His forgiveness throughout the world and throughout history, Our Lord entrusts the Sacrament of Penance to the Apostles: Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained. In this Sacrament we encounter the same Divine Mercy that Saint Thomas discovered in Christ’s wounds. We begin by confessing our sins, because there cannot be mercy without a recognition of guilt. Then we receive absolution and the remission of any guilt for our sins. By His Resurrection, Christ changed the once hideous wounds into glorious signs of forgiveness. By the Sacrament of Penance He changes our sins into something glorious: an occasion to praise and glorify God for His mercy.
One of the most dangerous doubts is the doubt of God’s mercy, a mercy that convicts us of sin and relieves us of its guilt. Christ’s wounds confirm both the reality of our sins and the triumph of His love and forgiveness. They serve as a medicine for the doubtful. Saint Augustine said: For nails had pierced His hands, a spear had laid open His side: and there the marks of the wounds are preserved for healing the hearts of the doubting.
May we never doubt God’s Mercy and may we always seek the Sacrament of Mercy knowing for sure that God forgives us and sets us free from sin together with the guilt and the shame that linger for so long. God wants us to shed the heavy burden of guilt and shame and move forward in our pilgrimage to our final home in heaven where we shall enjoy the total bliss of seeing God face to face for all eternity.