Second Sunday of Easter: Divine Mercy Sunday, April 27, 2014
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Today we celebrate the 8th day of Easter,
continuing to celebrate the Resurrection in the flesh of Jesus Christ,
and His Divine Mercy poured out through His victory over sin and death
and his offer to all of us to share in his own eternal divine life.
But as today’s readings remind us,
the Resurrection is not merely an historical event of the past,
and certainly not merely the triumphant ending to Jesus’ mission on earth.
No, right from that first Easter this mystery has been understood
not as an ending but as a beginning:
the beginning of the Church established by Jesus Christ
and entrusted to the care of the Apostles
to proclaim the Gospel of his life, death and resurrection
to the whole world.
As he told them: “as the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
Today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles
captures this very succinctly,
as it describes the life of the very first members of the Church,
It begins by telling us:
“They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles…”
After Christ himself and His grace,
the thing most essential to the life of the Church,
is the teaching of the apostles:
this is how the faith is transmitted to us,
this is how we know the truth about the Risen Christ.
Then it goes on to say that they were also devoted,
“to the communal life, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.”
“The communal life”: the life of the one body of Christ,
one Church with all her members living in Communion together in Christ.
And then the “breaking of the bread”
—the Eucharist, the sacrament of Communion with Christ,
and his enduring sacramental presence in the Church.
And then “the prayers”
—the common prayers prayed together as a Church,
which today we call “the liturgy.”
That was the Church 2000 years ago,
and that was the Church for last 2000 years,
and that is the Church today:
we remain devoted to the apostolic teaching,
the common life as one Church,
and to the Eucharist and the liturgy.
Now, as beautiful as all this is, it also presents a challenge.
Because as we all know, times change,
and the people and places the Church goes to
to proclaim the Gospel change.
And so, while remaining devoted to her unchanging essentials,
the Church must also adapt herself
to effectively communicate our tradition
to the men and women of those times and places.
That has always been so,
and it was especially so in the middle of the last century.
In 1958 the world was lifting itself out of the devastation of World War II
and facing all the changes that followed
—social, cultural, economic, scientific, governmental, etc….
And so God sent a man, a successor to the apostle Peter,
to help the Church proclaim the Gospel
—the one gospel taught by the apostles—to the modern age.
A man who called himself John—Pope John XXIII.
He was a simple and a gentle man,
a career diplomat who never forgot his father had been a sharecropper.
More a grandfather than a prince.
And he loved to smile, and he loved people.
And so the people loved him, and called him “Good Pope John.”
And this “Good Pope” felt compelled to convene all the Bishops around the world
—all the successors of the apostles—
to come together to figure a way to teach the modern world
the ancient truths of Christ’s one Church.
And so in 1958 he called for the convening of the Second Vatican Council,
or what many call “Vatican II.”
Sadly, by the time the Council opened in late 1962,
the Good Pope was dying of stomach cancer,
and would die even before the council released
the first of its authoritative documents or decrees.
His successor, the new Pope Paul VI, took over the Council,
but as often happens in the transition of leadership,
some confusion took hold in the Church,
confusion about the Council and what it was doing.
And that confusion became even worse after the Council,
as people began to implement changes in the Church
never envisioned by the Council,
and especially never envisioned by Good Pope John XXIII.
For example, when he called the Council,
Pope John specifically said no doctrinal issues would be addressed,
because, he said, we all agree on what Catholic doctrine is.
The council, he said would only be about how to present those set doctrines
to the modern world: how to teach, not what to teach.
And that’s really exactly what the council did: no doctrinal changes.
Like the early Church,
“They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles,”
that had been handed down and protected for generations.
And yet the years after the council were filled with people insisting
that all sorts of doctrines had changed:
“we don’t believe this or that anymore.”
This is only one example.
We could also go back and see how both Pope John and the Council
defended the Church’s ancient doctrine on things like
papal authority, the Eucharist, contraception and sexuality,
and yet after the council so many claimed that the Pope and Council
had changed those and other doctrines.
We could look at the liturgy and see the same contrast
between the changes Pope John and the Councils called for,
and the changes that many people made in their names.
We could go on and on, but the point is clear:
there was much confusion after the Council about
the very things that the Church had been devoted to from the beginning:
“the teaching of the apostles…the communal life…
the breaking of bread and…the prayers.”
Now, Pope Paul was a good man,
but for various reasons the confusion continued to mount,
as he himself acknowledged in homily in 1972, when he said:
“the smoke of Satan has entered the temple of God.”
So that when he died in 1978 an almost insurmountable challenge
awaited his successor.
Now, his immediate successor was another smiling pope,
an Italian cardinal who took the name “John Paul.”
But the Good Lord had other plans,
as Pope John Paul the First died after only 33 days in office.
And we soon found out his plans,
as he raised up an amazing man to the chair of St. Peter:
a polish cardinal named Karol Wojtyla,
the first non-Italian in 450 years,
who took the name John Paul II.
He came with a keen and powerful intellect,
with two doctorates, one in theology and one in philosophy.
For decades he’d been a University professor, a world class scholar
—a true intellectual.
But he was also a man of love:
as a professor he loved his students and they loved him,
as did students and millions of other young people all over the world
when he became pope:
he spoke the truth to them in love, and they loved him for it.
And it wasn’t just the youth: wherever he went the crowds shouted:
“John Paul Two, we love you!”
And it wasn’t just when he was young and energetic,
as the four million people gathered in Rome for his funeral
shouted with love
so that a billion more people watching on television could hear:
“Santo Subito!” “He is a Saint right now!”
And he was a man of deep and mystical prayer.
He would wake early every morning to pray for two hours
before his 7am Mass,
and his aides say they would often find him in the morning
lying prostrate before the tabernacle,
having spent the whole night in prayer.
And his Mass was truly a devout prayer from beginning to end,
said with such reverence and love that it awed all who saw it.
And he was also a pastor.
For a decade he had served as a chaplain at the university.
And for 2 decades he served as a bishop and archbishop of Krakow
where his people saw him as a self-sacrificing shepherd,
who constantly defended his sheep from the Communist wolves
who tried to tear them away from the flock.
And he was charismatic.
He had been trained as an actor,
and although he was never acting, he knew how to capture an audience,
to use his voice and his mannerisms, to use timing and symbol,
to disarm his listeners so they could focus on what he had to say to them.
And he was a masculine man brimming with strength and courage,
the true epitome of the words of Christ he would quote so often:
“be not afraid.”
Even after an assassin’s bullet almost killed in in 1981,
he kept up his public schedule and went on to boldly travel
to 129 different countries, exposing himself to constant danger.
And, finally, like Pope John before him, he was a man of Vatican II.
Unlike most of his critics, Karol Wojtyla, was actually present at the Council
and actively participated in the discussions,
and actually helped write several of the decrees.
He knew what the Council taught and meant,
so that as pope he could begin to end the confusion.
He was a teacher, explaining doctrine so beautifully you couldn’t help but listen.
He was a pastor, defending his sheep against the wolves in shepherd’s clothing.
He was theologian, beating the dissenting theologians at their own game.
He was a man of prayer,
showing us how to encounter Christ in prayer and in the Holy Mass.
He was man of love, showing us how to love God and our neighbor,
He was a man of courage, not afraid to tell us the truth in love
He was an extraordinary Pope, truly one of the greatest.
Now, let me clear: today is the feast of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ,
not the feast of Pope John or Pope John Paul.
And we celebrate in special way God’s Divine Mercy,
not the papal mercy of John and John Paul.
But in His Divine Mercy, Christ sent these two men to His Church
to help us to bring Him to the modern world
—and we praise Him for these wonderful gifts.
And this morning in Rome Pope Francis
proclaimed the man they call “the Good Pope John,”
and the man they call “the Great Pope John Paul”
to be surely Saints of God,
sharing in the eternal glory of the Risen Christ in heaven.
So, in the light and joy of the Resurrection,
let us turn to them today,
asking them to intercede for us before the throne of God
that in His Mercy He may grant us the grace to effectively proclaim
the Gospel of the Risen Jesus to the modern world.
Not to become part of the world or to be changed by the world,
but to live in the world with Jesus Christ,
that by His grace we might change the world
by helping all peoples to believe in Him.
And as we enter more deeply into this Liturgy of the Eucharist,
in communion with St. John and St. John Paul
and all the saints in heaven,
and the whole Church throughout the world,
let us beg Our Risen Lord,
that we may follow the heroic example of these 2 great Saints
and always remain,
“devoted ….to the teaching of the apostles…
the communal life, the breaking of bread
and to the prayers.”