The Triumph of Paschal Grace and Divine Mercy
April 29, 2014
Archbishop Augustine Di Noia preached at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., on the Sunday of Divine Mercy, at which the canonizations of St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II were also commemorated. He has graciously allowed the text of his homily to be published here. Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we have two new saints: Pope St. John XXIII and Pope St. John Paul II. Their canonization has fittingly taken place on the Octave Day of Easter on which we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday: their holy lives manifest the triumph of the divine mercy over sin and death, as does all holiness in human beings—not to mention the heroic virtue of canonized saints. We see at work in the lives of these two new saints the particular paschal grace, won for us by the passion, death and resurrection of Christ, by which we are reconciled with the Father and made partakers of the divine life of the Blessed Trinity. We see as well the pouring forth of the divine mercy by which the sins of those who truly repent are forgiven and a share in the divine holiness is bestowed on us. Without this paschal grace and the abundant divine mercy it unlocks, there would be no saints, canonized or otherwise. The holiness of these two great saints is manifest to the whole world—Pope John XXIII whom the Italians called “il Papa Buono” and Pope John Paul II at whose funeral Mass the crowd shouted “santo subito!” This is not the time or the place to recount the details of their lives, the rough lines of which we are all in any case more or less familiar with. Rather at this Holy Mass we want to give fervent thanks to God for granting us the example and teaching of these extraordinary popes whose heroic virtue was today recognized and proclaimed by Pope Francis who therewith calls us “to rejoice with the entire community of believers in the certainty that thanks to the solemn Pontifical proclamation, … [they have] attained God’s glory” (Benedict XVI, Address, 19 December 2009). To be sure, we want to honor Pope St. John and Pope St. John Paul today. But if either of them were standing in this pulpit this noon, without question, they would entreat us rather to give glory to God who caused his Easter grace and his divine mercy to blossom in such a stunning way in their lives of perfect love. What is more, they would remind us that this grace and mercy are at work in our lives as well. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you who by the power of God are safeguarded through faith, to a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the final time” (1 Peter 1:3). Our new saints would want me to remind ourselves of this today. In one of his greatest encyclicals, Veritatis Splendor, St. John Paul wrote that the “vocation to perfect love is not restricted to a small group of individuals” (§18) but to all the followers of Christ. The heroic virtue and outstanding holiness of these and other saints—our admiration of their goodness, our desire to venerate them properly, our dependence on their intercession and help, our reliance on their wise teachings—must never deflect our attention from the universal call to holiness. We make statues of the saints, and build niches for them in our churches and set aside shelves for them in our homes. All well and good. But we must avoid the temptation to, as it were, “shelve” our vocation to holiness at the same time, as if holiness were beyond us. The saints are given to us not only for our veneration but also and all the more so for our imitation. While most of us feel that our virtue is far from heroic and our holiness anything but outstanding, we must remember that God wants us all to be saints. His Easter grace and his abundant mercy are at work in the souls of each one of us here, drawing us to that “single and indivisible charity, which spontaneously tends towards that perfection whose measure is God alone” (ibid.). If we dare to look at our lives the way that God sees them, we must acknowledge that we can discern many instances of His grace and mercy at work within us. When we avoid the pull of a powerful temptation, when we resist the urge to utter a harsh word, when we contain the anger that wells up in us from time to time, when we share our bounty with the poor or needy, when we inconvenience ourselves to help a friend, when we repent sincerely and confess our sins in the Sacrament of Penance—in these and countless other moments of our lives, the Easter grace and the divine mercy that flows from it are at work moving us steadily on the path to holiness and the perfection of charity. The vocation to perfect charity—“to be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48)—is that to which God calls each one of us, not just the canonized saints but every follower of Christ. No matter how imperfect we may seem to be in our own judgment, God sees us on the way to perfect union with Him and with one another in Him. This is what God wants for all of us. It is no exaggeration to say that no one has ever wanted anything as much as God desires to share with us the perfect love of His own Trinitarian life. To be sure, God does not need our company. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are supremely content, we might say, with their own company. Their divine personal communion is complete, perfect and happy. In more than one passage of his great work Against Heresies, St. Irenaeus makes this point very clearly: “God has no need of man” (Against Heresies, Book IV). And again: “God who has no need of anyone gives communion with himself to those who need him” (ibid). This is a great mystery: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit—despite being perfectly content with their own company—in their superabundant mercy, want to create a space in their communion for us, for creaturely persons. Listen again to St. Irenaeus: “These gifts make man glorious, giving him what he lacks: friendship with God.” (ibid). This “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” destiny Christ has revealed to us, and we believe Him. As He says to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed” (Jn 20:30). But not only has He revealed it to us, He makes it possible for us to attain this destiny. Only he, the only-begotten Son participates in this communion of Trinitarian life “by nature.” Already, by Baptism, He draws us into the divine life by adoption: through our transformation in his image, Christ makes us capable of sharing in the divine life of the Trinity. “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called children of God” (1 Jn 3:1). With His own body and blood as our food and drink in the Eucharist, he shares the communion of His life with us, and makes us one with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Not for nothing does the Church call this sacramental participation in the Body and Blood of Christ “holy communion.” But this is not all. “The heralds of the truth and ministers of divine grace, who have explained to us from the beginning right down to our own time each in his own day the saving will of God, say that nothing is so dear and loved by him as when men turn to him with true repentance” (St. Maximus the Confessor, Letter 11, Liturgy of the Hours Readings Wed 4th week of Lent). Through the obedience and sacrificial death of his only begotten Son, God in his great mercy overcame the disobedience and corruption that would have prevented us from enjoying the holy life of the Blessed Trinity. In Penance and the Holy Eucharist, our repentance makes us partakers in the sacrificial offering that redeems us from our sins and reconciles us to God. My dear friends in Christ, the Easter grace and divine mercy that triumphed in the lives of St. John XXIII and St. John Paul will be victorious in us as well and will make us saints. Unbelievable? I don’t think so. “Although you have not seen him you love him; even though you do not see him now yet believe in him, you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, as you attain the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:9).