Some years ago there was a popular and inspiring TV show called Touched by an Angel, in which the Irish actress Rona Downey played an angel named Monica. In each episode she, sometimes assisted by two other angels named Tess and Andrew, took on human form and tried to help people discover and accept God’s truth and love. For the episode shown on Easter Sunday back in 1997, Monica’s assignment was to go to a bar in a rundown section of Chicago and give away a miracle to the person most needing and deserving one. There was Noah, the bar owner, who was confined to a wheelchair because he had been shot twelve years earlier; a fast-talking salesman who was afraid to call the daughter he had abandoned eleven years earlier; a woman addicted to crossword puzzles; a man who constantly complained about his bad luck, even though he had a wonderfully loving and supportive wife; an alcoholic pool player who was more interested in making excuses than in taking a chance in living; a young girl just in from Wisconsin, who saw no way to make a living other than becoming a streetwalker; and a bitter young man who had just been released from prison named Mr. Burns, who, as it turned out, was the one who had shot Noah twelve years earlier.
All of them desperately needed a miracle, but none of them believed Monica when she said she was an angel with a miracle to give away; even when she proved it by appearing in a heavenly light, none of them wanted the miracle at first, because it meant taking a chance in opening their hearts to God and letting Him change their lives. Finally Mr. Burns, who admitted he was the one who shot Noah, asked that the bar owner be miraculously healed, so that he himself would finally be free of his guilt. Monica explained that the miracle God was offering to Noah wasn’t a physical healing, but a willingness to touch his heart, so that Noah would be able to forgive Mr. Burns. The story had a happy ending: Noah accepted his miracle, and found he was able to extend his forgiveness to Mr. Burns, and this released an attitude of hope and joy and peace that changed the lives of everyone in the bar that night in a wonderful and lasting way. The people in the bar had been afraid of God, but when they dared to believe that He loved each one of them personally, they were set free. Sometimes we’re imprisoned—not by people or circumstances or events outside of us, but by our own doubts and fears. Jesus wants to set us free—and it’s faith on our part that gives Him the chance.
Thomas did not believe the other apostles when they told him they had seen the Risen Lord. Maybe he was skeptical; maybe this news seemed just too good to be true; maybe he felt like the people in the bar in Chicago: believing would require him to change himself and his outlook on life. That may be why he imposed what he thought would be an impossible condition for believing: actually touching Christ’s wounds. A week later Jesus in effect called his bluff; Thomas was given a miracle—and he accepted it, forever changing his life. Genuine faith makes a difference; as St. John tells us, we are truly Christ’s followers when we love God and keep His commandments. The Acts of the Apostles describes the beautiful community life of the early Christians; they were radically changed because of their belief in Jesus, and their example inspired others to believe in the Good News of salvation.
The apostles were spiritually and emotionally imprisoned in the upper room, for they knew Jesus had died a horrible death, and they felt guilty and ashamed for abandoning Him. When He miraculously appeared to them, He set them free. Thomas was imprisoned in his suspicions and doubts, but Jesus freed him, too. Jesus wants us to know this same miraculous and life-giving freedom. If we don’t, it may be because of some attitude or habit on our part which prevents or delays a miracle in our lives: a refusal to forgive someone, an attachment to a particular sin, or an unwillingness to seek God’s will in all things. There are certain thoughts and feelings which can imprison us—thinking, for instance, “If people knew the real me, they’d reject me, so I’d better put on an act and do what everyone else expects,” or “the Lord must be very disappointed in me, so I don’t dare ask for His forgiveness and help,” or “God is responsible for all my mistakes and problems and suffering, so I’m better off without Him.” We may doubt God’s mercy, or believe our sins are too terrible or numerous for Him to forgive; we may doubt the Lord’s love because we feel unworthy of it, or even because we feel like He or one of His representatives in the Church has betrayed us. It’s also possible for us to be like the people in the bar in Chicago who were offered a free miracle, preferring to feel sorry for ourselves and remain imprisoned in our misery and illusions, because we’re afraid to give God control of our lives, and worried that His truth will be uncomfortable for us and that His grace might start changing us.
To all these fears Jesus says to us what He said to the apostles: “Peace be with you.” He wants us to discover the freedom and joy of living in Him, and of sharing His new life, as they did. Christ is the victor over sin and death, and He has the power to give eternal life to anyone who will accept it. Like Thomas, all we have to do is cry out “My Lord and my God!” Just as Monica the angel couldn’t force anyone to accept a miracle, so Jesus will never force Himself on us; if we prefer to remain locked within ourselves, He will respect that decision, even though it causes Him infinite sadness. If, however, our hearts are open to Him, we will be spiritually reborn, and as St. John (20:19-31) says, we will believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and will have life through His Name.