2nd Sunday of Easter – Divine Mercy Sunday
April 19, 2020
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Last Sunday was, of course, Easter Sunday,
but following the ancient custom of the Church,
we’ve treated the last 8 as if they were one long Easter Sunday.
And now we come to this last day of the Octave we remember
the great events of Good Friday and Easter,
but also look forward and consider the effects of those events on the world,
most especially on us.
In particular, today we consider how Christ’s Death and Resurrection
is the font of Divine Mercy poured out on the world,
for the forgiveness of sins and our salvation.
And so this 8th day of Easter, this Second Easter Sunday,
is also called “Divine Mercy Sunday.”
But what exactly is “divine mercy”?
In fact, what is “mercy”?
Unfortunately, nowadays, a lot of people misunderstand this term,
mainly because our society has often warped its meaning
—as it has warped and redefined the meaning of so many words today.
A short Catholic definition of mercy, at least as it applies to men, is
a virtue that flows from love or charity
and moves us to have compassion
for another’s misfortune or suffering
and to try to alleviate it.
This human mercy is patterned after divine mercy, and so
“divine mercy” is something like this, especially in Christ:
he sees our suffering, and is moved in love to alleviate it.
There are many ways that God shows His mercy to alleviate our sufferings.
But He recognizes that our most important suffering and misfortune
is the result of sin: our sins and the sins of others.
Remember, sin is an act which is contrary to the way God made us,
especially the way He made us to love.
So when we sin it not only offends God and others, but it offends us
—distorts us, it injures us
because we’ve done something we’re not made to do.
On a physical level, it’d be like,
if I visit a coronavirus patient in the ICU and give them a big hug
without putting on any personal protective equipment.
My body is not designed for that,
so I would not only get sick,
but I would be in terrible in pain, and I might even die.
Certainly I can do it, but my body was not made for that.
In a similar way, God sees the suffering that sin causes, and so in his Mercy
He dies on the Cross to destroy sin
and the spiritual pain, illness and death it brings
and then rises on Easter to ease our pain, heal us and restore us to life.
So we can say, in a sense, that at the heart of the Paschal Mystery
—the Cross and Resurrection—
is divine mercy.
And we see this in a particular way in today’s gospel,
that records Jesus’ final appearance on that first Easter Sunday,
which is why we read it on the final day of the Easter Octave.
This text is sort of the culmination of Easter,
as after revealing Himself to St. Mary Magdalene, St. Peter,
and two disciples on the road to Emmaus,
he finally appears in the upper room to all the apostles (except Thomas).
And when He does this, almost the first thing He does is give them
the power to extend the healing and life restoring Mercy
that flows from the Cross and Resurrection
to the people of every time and place:
He gives them a share of His own power and authority
to forgive sins.
“As the Father has sent me, so I send you…..Receive the Holy Spirit.
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
and whose sins you retain are retained.”
But, again, what does it mean for God to “forgive sin”?
It’s nothing less an outpouring of His mercy to alleviate our suffering,
and not just by taking away feelings of guilt
but by restoring us to grace, to a life of holiness.
Again, using a physical analogy,
if I hugged that patient with the coronavirus
when I got sick the doctor wouldn’t just give me a Tylenol and go away.
No, he’d give me antivirals and antibiotics, put me on an IV to hydrate me,
maybe give me oxygen, maybe put me on a ventilator,
maybe try some experimental treatments, that are out there.
Whatever was needed not simply to mask the pain, but
to heal the entire illness, to save my life, to make me whole again.
On a spiritual level God’s mercy poured out in forgiveness
takes away the pain of the guilt of sin, but it also makes us whole,
restoring us to the spiritual perfection we had at our baptism.
And not only that, it gives us the strength to continue to live in this state,
to overcome temptation and even our bad habits—vices—
that lead us to sin.
This is amazing.
And this is the gift of divine mercy that flows from the forgiveness of sins
through the authority given to the first priests, the Apostles,
on that Easter night,
and exercised for 2000 years by priests in the sacrament of Penance.
What amazing gifts.
But sadly, all too often these gifts are either ignored, taken for granted
or altogether abused by us sinners.
In particular, nowadays people tend to think that God’s mercy
involves sort of a one-way street:
they think, God has mercy on us by forgiving our sins,
and we don’t have to do anything ourselves.
But, again, God’s mercy is directed not only to take away the suffering
but to heal the thing causing the suffering to continue.
In other words, the purpose of Divine mercy is to change us.
But we can’t be changed against our will—if we don’t cooperate in some way.
God gave us our free will and He will not override it.
So God’s gift of mercy requires a response on our part.
And that response is summed up in the very first word Jesus said
when He began his public preaching: “Repent!”
When God offers us His mercy we must respond by repenting,
or the mercy does no good
—if we don’t repent, the mercy is given, but we reject it.
It’s as if the doctor arrives to heal us from our illness
and we won’t even let him treat us.
Now, repenting begins by acknowledging that we need God’s mercy,
that we have sins that need to be forgiven.
But it also involves a desire
to be healed of the wounds our sins have inflicted on us,
including the behavior that causes the wound.
Which means a desire to change—to amend my life.
All too often Catholics today ignore this:
they want to receive God’s mercy and forgiveness,
but won’t even admit their sins
and refuse to even try to change their sinful lives.
We all do this, in small ways and large ways.
But we also see it in sort of massive ways, reported by the media.
nowadays so many Catholics are demanding that the Church
change her ancient teaching about all kinds of sins,
adultery, fornication, contraception, homosexual acts, on and on.
They call for this, and say that God’s mercy requires this change.
But in doing this they think that when God pours out His Mercy
it’s not so much that He forgives sins, or even ignores them,
but that He forgets that they are sins altogether:
that what is bad for us is actually bad for us.
But that’s like saying that for a doctor to be merciful
he should pretend that the coronavirus isn’t really a bad thing
—just hide the pain with Tylenol
and celebrate the diversity of my new symptoms,
as if not being able to breathe is just an “alternative lifestyle.”
We sinners do the same thing when we refuse to call a sin a sin,
and refuse to recognize the harm it does us
and refuse to accept Christ’s mercy poured out in forgiveness.
Jesus did not die and rise for this:
to leave us in our sins that truly harm us
and even kill our souls.
Jesus loves us, and this love flows out in His mercy,
his desire and effort to alleviate our suffering and misfortune.
This is what we celebrate in His death and resurrection:
His mercy poured out to forgive and heal us—to change us.
So that when we deny our need to repent, to change,
we also deny His mercy,
and we mock the Cross and Resurrection.
We really become no better than the Pharisee who stood at the foot of the Cross
yelling to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”
The Pharisee didn’t understand the Cross
and thought he knew what the true son of God should do.
How are we any better when
we reject the meaning of the Cross and Resurrection—and Christ’s mercy?
It’s as if we say,
“If you are the son of God,
don’t make me change and give up my sins that are bad for me,
but instead you change, Jesus,…
If you are the Son of God you can do anything,
so change bad things and make them good for me.”
Now, some today think that talking about sin and repentance
shows a lack of mercy.
But is a doctor not merciful
when he tells a person with coronavirus they’re very sick?
Was Jesus not merciful when He told His apostles, not only
“Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,”
but also: “and whose sins you retain are retained”?
The Lord Himself—on Easter Day—was reminding His first priests
that mercy demands a response,
and those who choose not to respond with repentance and change
are themselves rejecting His mercy,
so that priests are powerless to forgive them
—and so their sins are retained.
Was Jesus not being merciful, in telling the truth?
Others might think we shouldn’t talk about repentance today,
after all that’s what we do in Lent, and Lent is over
—it’s Easter now, and we should be joyful.
And I get that.
The thing is, though, the repentance of Lent prepares us to live life after Lent
and after Easter,
by being constantly prepared to accept and respond to
the Mercy of the Risen Lord.
What good is Lent if we put all the lessons we learned there aside,
and if it doesn’t prepare us to live the life that Easter promises?
How can we fully experience the Joy of Easter
if we have refused to fully experience the Mercy of Easter?
Today, on this final day of the Octave of Easter we rejoice in the Divine Mercy
that pours forth from the Cross and radiates from the Risen Christ.
As we enter more deeply into the mystery of the Cross and Resurrection
presented here on this altar in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist,
let us ask our Merciful Lord to grant us the grace to recognize and rejoice
in the immensity and magnificence of His Divine mercy,
and to respond to that mercy with humble and contrite hearts.
And let us pray that just as He never denies us His mercy,
may we never reject that mercy by denying Him our repentance.