Second Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday)
April 8, 2018
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
There are 2 central themes that come up over and over again
in the earliest preaching of the Church,
2 themes that are fundamental
to any true understanding and belief in Jesus Christ.
These are the themes of the historical reality
of both Christ’s bodily death on the Cross
and His bodily resurrection
–the fact that the same body
that was conceived in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
also died on the Cross, and rose from the tomb on Easter.
The teaching of the apostles repeats this theme over and over.
For example, in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles we find:
“With great power the apostles bore witness
to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.”
They bore witness because they had seen Him in His body.
And this is a particularly important theme of St. John’s teachings.
In today’s 2nd reading from St. John’s 1st letter,
St. John rejects the false teachings that Jesus had not really died,
or that Jesus was not really a human being
but merely a spirit who appeared to be human.
He says: “[Jesus Christ] is the one who came through water and blood,
not by water, but by water and blood.”
He insists that Jesus came in flesh and blood,
blood that spilled out on the Cross.
And then in today’s Gospel
St. John reminds us that in order to emphasize the necessary connection
between belief in Christ and belief in his bodily resurrection,
Jesus directly confronted St. Thomas’s unbelief in that resurrection:
“Put your finger here and see my hands,
and bring your hand and put it into my side,
and do not be unbelieving, but believe!”
To understand why belief in the bodily death and resurrection of Christ
is so important,
we have to remember that human beings are created not as merely spirits,
but as spirits who are joined to bodies.
Our body is not just something we use to move our spirits around,
or to give our spirits pleasure.
Our bodies are part of us, part of who we are–part of the whole person.
So when we slam a door on our finger we don’t just say “my finger is in pain,”
we say “I am in pain.”
When the body hurts–even the smallest part of the body—
the whole person hurts.
So, in order to redeem man, Jesus had to redeem the whole man he created
–body and soul.
He did this by physically undergoing the death of the body on the Cross,
and then raising that human body of his up
to the fullness of life in the resurrection.
This is the life that he promises us
–eternal life that is not just a life of our bodiless souls
roaming around some timeless and spaceless heaven,
but a life of the whole person living in complete happiness,
when the body and soul are reunited
in the glory of the resurrection of the dead.
But the meaning of the resurrection of the Body isn’t just important
as an insight into how things will be in heaven.
It has a very real meaning to us in this life on earth.
Some of the earliest heresies of the Church,
even starting within a few years after the death of Christ,
center on the body and the bodily resurrection of Christ.
In particular, the Gnostic heresy, which arose during the time of the apostles,
and which they specifically and adamantly rejected,
as we see especially in the writings of St. John.
A heresy which is still having an effect today,
not only in secular ideologies and quasi-Christian theologies,
but also as we see it as the basis for books and movies
like “The Da Vinci Code.”
This heresy, Gnosticism, said that the body was bad,
it was mere carrier of the soul,
and in it the soul was a prisoner.
And they argued that since the body was just a carrier of the soul,
it was then just an object for the use of the soul.
So, to them, it wasn’t terribly important what you did with your body
as long as your soul–or your “heart”–was properly disposed toward God:
as long as you internally loved God,
it wasn’t terribly important what you physically did
with your external actions, your bodily actions.
But all this is in direct opposition to the meaning of the Resurrection.
The body is us, or at least part of us.
Through our body we express and communicate–knowingly or unknowingly—
who we are: we express our loves and our hates,
our belief and our unbelief.
And we express this not as an object used by the soul to express itself,
but as the real physical presence of ourselves in this physical world.
As I said, this same gnostic heresy
is alive and well today, infecting and devastating the world around us.
We see this in many ways.
First, we see it most fundamentally when we think that
the way we act or the gestures we make with our bodies,
or the words we say with the mouths of our bodies,
doesn’t matter, as long as what’s in our “hearts” is good.
So we can call someone an ugly name, or we can avoid sitting next to someone, or refuse to feed someone who is hungry,
and still say, that’s okay, cuz in our hearts we love them.
We also see it in more devastating ways.
For example, when people judge the value of a human life
based on the size or health of the body.
So that when the human body is the size of the head of a pin or even softball, it has no value, so you can kill it in her mother’s womb.
Or when it is sick and in pain, or old and feeble, you can kill it
to take him, you, or society out of misery.
We also see it when we look at the way society view sexual intimacy.
While Christ and His Church would say,
that bodily sexual intimacy is meant to express the total self-gift
of the whole person, body and soul,
and so the ultimate acts of bodily intimacy are supposed to express
the ultimate act of total self-gift, which is marriage.
And any other use of this bodily intimacy is a dastardly lie,
a horrible contortion, and despicable abuse of the gift.
But the modern Gnosticism says, the body has no meaning,
so what does it matter if we have sex with whoever we please,
however we please.
Whether it’s outside of marriage, or with someone of the same sex, or alone,
or even if its inside of marriage, but in some unnatural act.
in perhaps the ultimate rejection of the importance and meaning of the body,
we see it today in what is called “gender ideology” or transgenderism.
When some say that your body means nothing and tells you nothing about yourself.
So even if your body
—from your genitalia, to your bone structure,
to every single one of the cells of your body—
screams, “I am a male,” or “I am a female,”
that means absolutely nothing, if your emotions seem to tell you the opposite.
God created us to live our lives both on earth and in heaven
in both soul and body.
And He redeemed us by loving, living, dying and rising this way–soul and body.
And so, being keenly aware that the whole person includes the physical body,
He has given us with certain physical gifts to communicate His life
and make Himself present to us through our bodies.
One of these physical gifts is the Church–His visible “body” in this physical world.
And at the head of the Church He left us not only His Holy Spirit,
but His Holy Spirit acting through the visible and audible leadership
of His apostles and their successors, the popes and bishops.
And through the apostolic ministry Christ has given us His teachings
in audible and visible form, in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.
In these teachings we find that Christ has left us
certain physical signs and means
of participating in his life of the resurrection:
signs that we call “the sacraments.”
And just as our bodies are not mere objects used by us
to merely symbolize our spiritual dispositions,
the sacraments are not mere objects
that merely symbolize the spiritual gifts of Christ.
Just as our bodies are the real physical presence and communication
of our whole person to this physical world,
the sacraments are also the real physical presence and communication
of Christ and his power in this physical world.
Today’s Scriptures directly speak of at least 4 of the 7 sacraments.
The 2nd reading reminds us of the water of baptism
and the body and blood of the Eucharist:
“Jesus Christ…came in water and blood.”
And the Gospel reminds us of the sacrament of Holy Orders–the priesthood—
as He said to the apostles, His first priests:
“As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
And that priestly authority is exercised in a special way by the forgiveness of sins
in the sacrament of penance:
“If you forgive men’s sins, they are forgiven them;
if you hold them bound, they are held bound.”
Today as we end the octave of Easter,
and continue to celebrate the season of Easter,
we celebrate the most fundamental and important of these sacraments
–the Holy Eucharist.
I call it the most “fundamental” because
the Eucharist is the real re-presentation
and our personal bodily and spiritual participation
in Christ’s bodily sacrifice on the Cross and His bodily Resurrection
—it is the source of all graces, the source of all sacraments,
[and on this Divine Mercy Sunday,
we remember it is the source of all mercy.]
–it is the source of all life in the Resurrection of Christ.
As we enter into these sacred mysteries of the sacrament of Eucharist,
let us remember that those who proclaim faith in Christ
must embrace the resurrection of the body,
and allow this Eucharist and all the sacraments to transform our lives,
not only in our hearts but also in our bodies,
not only in what we feel about God, but also in what we do.
May the grace of this sacrament open our ears and our eyes
to hear and read the teachings of Christ
presented to us by His Mystical body, the Church,
through it’s Scripture and Tradition
handed down from the apostles and their successors.
May it give us the wisdom and faith
to never be confused by lies that attack these teachings,
lies that blaspheme the truth about the reality
of Christ’s real human life, death and resurrection,
lies that demean the human body,
the apostolic church, and the sacraments,
whether these lies are found in ancient heretical books,
or popular in philosophies and ideologies
or in our schools or media.
And by the grace imparted from the Cross and Resurrection
through the sacrament of his Body
may we always love the Lord with all our hearts, minds, souls and bodies,
and show in our bodies that we accept truth of Christ’s resurrection
and obey His instruction given to the doubting St. Thomas:
“do not be unbelieving, but believe!”