Homily for the 2nd Sunday of Easter Divine Mercy Sunday, Cycle C Given at St. Jude, April 23 and 24, 2022, by Deacon Ken Steponaitis
We celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday because of the visions that St. Faustina had of Jesus. She kept a diary of these visions and in one of the visions, Jesus told Faustina:
“My daughter, tell the whole world about My Inconceivable mercy. I desire that the Feast of Mercy be a refuge and shelter for all souls, and especially for poor sinners. … On that day all the divine floodgates through which grace flow are opened. Let no soul fear to draw near to Me, even though its sins be as scarlet. My mercy is so great that no mind, be it of man or of angel, will be able to fathom it throughout all eternity. … It is My desire that it be solemnly celebrated on the first Sunday after Easter. Mankind will not have peace until it turns to the Fount of My Mercy.” (Diary 699)
But what is mercy? Why would Jesus think it so important that this day be the day we contemplate Jesus pouring out a whole ocean of grace to those who approach the fount of His mercy?
A scripture scholar, Father John McKenzie, said divine mercy is nothing more than “God’s will to save.” God wants us to be a part of who He is, a part of the heavenly kingdom, not only now but forever! Divine Mercy is salvation.
Here’s another way to look at mercy: In an interview that took place in August of 2013, Pope Francis, was asked “What does the church need most at this historic moment? … What kind of church do you dream of?” The Pope responded:
"The thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle."
If you know anything about field hospitals after a battle, you know that often field hospitals don’t just provide a place of healing for the soldiers who are friendly, they also provide help to enemy soldiers as well. No distinction is made between friend and foe. All are treated with the wounds they have regardless which side they belong. The purpose of a field hospital is to treat the battle wounds and facilitate healing. To say the Church needs nearness and proximity is to say that the Church needs to be on the battlefield fighting off evil and despair. Working for justice and spreading the good news of our salvation. The Church needs to be in the world and part of the world without compromising the truths of her teachings and without dumbing down those teachings. The Church needs to be in the trenches with people and for people, Catholic or not, Christian or not, believers or not. Pope Francis went on to say:
“It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else.”
The greatest wounds a person can have, are the wounds that preclude salvation. They are the wounds whose effects prevent life eternal with God. They are the wounds of unbelief, fear, and distrust in God and the Church. Whether we realize it or not, God quite literally comes to us and gets us and takes us to him without counting our sins, without determining our worthiness, without any pre-requisites. God wants to swoop down and gather us up and, in our brokenness, heal our wounds. But first we must recognize we are wounded, and we have to desire to be healed.
As we are healed, we begin to see and accept God’s love, we begin to realize that God wants to save us. We begin to enter a disposition of being willing to work with God, cooperate with God. It is at that point God commissions us to pass on that love … that mercy he so longs for each of us.
Isn’t that exactly what Jesus did for his disciples who were locked up in the upper room? The disciples had abandoned Jesus. They had locked themselves in a room because they were afraid that they too would be brought to a death like Jesus. Thomas doubted so much he was not even willing to entertain the idea of Jesus’ resurrection unless he touched Jesus’ wounds.
Imagine if Jesus, instead of just appearing and standing in their midst, came pounding on the door, forcing his way into the room and then scolding and yelling at his disciples, saying, “how dare you leave me at the time I needed you most!” How dare you abandon me. I have loved you and taught you. I have healed you and driven out all sorts of daemons. I have fed you and given you the best wine at that wedding in Cana and all you can do is abandon me? How dare you! … This might be the way I would react but that is not who Jesus is.
Jesus understands our brokenness. Jesus understands that the things he asks us to believe are difficult. So rather than condemn the disciples, Jesus “appeared” in the room and said, “Peace be with you.”
This saying is not just some off-handed phrase that means hello or goodbye. It is not just a phrase that means that Jesus wanted no conflict in our world. When Jesus said, “Peace be with you,” Jesus was living up to a promise he made with his disciples before he was crucified. If we look back at Chapter 14:26-28 of the Gospel of John, Jesus had told his disciples earlier:
“The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name—he will teach you everything and remind you of all that [I] told you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. You heard me tell you, ‘I am going away and I will come back to you. If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father; for the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it happens, so that when it happens you may believe.”
This peace that Jesus gave to his disciples and ultimately to us, is not the peace of the world, rather it is a kind of peace that brings wholeness or completeness. This wholeness or completeness is necessary for us so that we can be the hands and feet of Jesus for the rest of the world. For all of us to be whole and complete we need a deep and abiding relationship with God. Our peace is contingent upon Jesus entering and maintaining an everlasting, loving relationship with humanity. And, to emphasize His desire for this otherworldly peace, Jesus did not just say it once, he said it twice and then He did something interesting … he breathed on them.
If we go all the way back to the Old Testament, you will recall in the story of creation, in the book of Genesis, chapter one, “a mighty wind swept over the waters.” This was the breath of God. The Greek used in this phrase is “pneuma,” or in Hebrew, "ruach," meaning the spirit of God. In Chapter 2 of Genesis, God breathed into the nostrils of Adam. God breathed the spirit of life into him.
This action of Jesus breathing on his disciples imparts the power of God’s Spirit, it completes them, it gives them a life that wasn’t just a worldly life, but eternal life, salvation! In Jesus’ mercy, although not deserved, Jesus breathed the gifts of the Holy Spirit into them. They were receiving, in essence, the sacrament of Confirmation, the powers of the Holy Spirit that takes away doubts and fears and brings about the power of God to go out and forgive sins, heal, and drive out unclean spirits … to be the hands and feet Jesus.
This explains what we read in our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. The powers Jesus has, to heal and drive out unclean spirits was accessible to the disciples, so much so, all Peter had to do was cast his shadow over those who desired that healing mercy.
Jesus accepts his disciples as they are and then loves them and provides them the necessary healing of their spiritual wounds. Jesus even accommodates the doubting Thomas’ of the world who desire to touch his wounds so that they too can believe.
What we read about today is the epitome of divine mercy. God is willing to set aside our failures. God is willing to come to us, incarnate as a man and enter a deep relationship with all of us. God is willing to heal us, even those who have abandoned Him and even those who are His enemies.
The Church as a field hospital is such an appropriate description of who we are as Church because that is exactly how Jesus imparts his divine mercy today … through the Church.
Our task as a church must be mercy for even the most obstinate of humanity. To look to the deepest wounds of unbelief, self-centeredness, egotism, and fear. Once we get to the heart, then we discuss the issues of morality and how to become perfect lovers.
The other day I talked with a gentleman at All Saints who wanted so much to understand why so many people don’t understand their faith. Because if they did, they would understand the incredible gift that God has given us in his mercy. He felt like, and maybe rightfully so, that the Church does not do a good job at evangelization. The Church does not do a good job spreading this incredibly good news of the mercy God has for humanity. And maybe that’s why Jesus spoke to Sister Faustina; so that Jesus could emphasize this gift we celebrate today.
I, like this gentleman, am so convinced that if everyone truly understood the faith in real and concrete terms. In ways that aren’t just fluffy platitudes. In ways that satisfy our human suspicions and provide explanations that are reasonable and tangible to our modern scientific minds; in ways that allow us to live out our faith, not just in the church on Sunday’s but in every facet of our lives; we could not help but fall deeply in love with the God who loves us beyond compare. And the more we fall in love with God, the more the flood gates of mercy are opened to sweep over the world. Our task as Church is to come to know God and love God and His Church in a way that can’t help but make us want to go out a proclaim the good news of our salvation and bring about the mercy God so longs for all his creatures!