Homily for Divine Mercy Sunday
April 4, 2016
Divine Mercy Sunday 2016 Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington, DC Archbishop Augustine Di Noia, O.P. Acts 5:12-16 / Rv 1:9-11a, 12-13, 17-19 / Jn 20:19-31 Dear brothers and sisters in Christ. This year marks the fifteenth anniversary of the first universal celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday by Pope St. John Paul II in 2001. “Divine Mercy!” he exclaimed that morning in St. Peter’s Square, “Divine Mercy! This is the Easter gift that the Church receives from the risen Christ and offers to humanity at the dawn of the third millennium” (Homily, 22 April 2001). In these years, we have come to experience the final day of the Octave of Easter—the Second Sunday of Easter—as a day particularly well-suited to the solemn celebration of gift of divine mercy. For, as Pope John Paul declared, divine mercy is truly an Easter gift to the Church. What happens on the very day when Christ rose from the dead, in his very first appearance to the disciples: what are his first words to them? “Peace be with you,” he says twice. And then? “As the Father has sent me, so I send you. When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” Pope John Paul could say that divine mercy is an Easter gift because the risen Christ’s first concrete action is to establish the holy Sacrament of Mercy. Christ gives to his disciples the power to forgive sins. This first gift of Easter is itself an act of mercy. God has given a sacramental and thus tangible form to the bestowal of His mercy. He fits his gift of mercy to our human nature. Not only can we express our need for divine mercy in private prayer—hoping that it will be heard—but God has instituted a sacramental form through which to impart His mercy so that, by a sacred ritual comprised of words and gestures, we may speak to Him with unqualified assurance and, very importantly, He can speak to us. In the Sacrament of Penance Christ presents himself sacramentally to us in the person of the priest confessor who speaks and acts, as the Church declares, in persona Christi. It is to Christ that we confess our sins, and it is from Christ that we receive mercy and pardon. Just as the gift of faith is imparted to Thomas in the context of a direct personal encounter with Christ, so is the gift of divine mercy granted to us in a sacramental encounter with Christ who, hearing our sins, our sorrow for them, and our firm purpose of amendment, forgives and fortifies us in his grace. Recall that Thomas was absent when Jesus first appeared to the apostles, and he refused to believe their report of this visit. But the following week, when Christ again appears to the disciples, he speaks directly to Thomas: “‘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.’ Thomas answered and said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’” Our Lord confronted Thomas’s reluctance to believe very directly. He presented himself, indeed his very body—the nail marks in his hands and the wound in his side—so that Thomas could actually touch them. Confession is just like this. As Christ meets Thomas’s unbelief head-on by presenting himself to him in person, so he wants to encounter us directly when we seek his mercy. Pope St. John Paul wrote that in “the practice of individual confession, with a personal act of sorrow and the intention to amend and make satisfaction, the Church is…defending…man’s right to a more personal encounter with the crucified forgiving Christ, with Christ saying, through the minister of the sacrament of Reconciliation: ‘Your sins are forgiven’; ‘Go, and do not sin again’” (Redemptor Hominis, 20). Not only has the penitent the right to encounter Christ and receive the divine mercy directly from him. But, Pope John Paul continued, it is also Christ’s right “to meet each one of us in that key moment in the soul’s life constituted by the moment of conversion and forgiveness” (ibid.). Just as Christ desires to address Thomas’s unbelief directly to bestow upon him the gift of faith, so he desires to meet us to grant the great gift of his forgiveness and mercy in the Sacrament of Penance. Sometimes, though, rather than seek out the grace of the Sacrament of Mercy, we may prefer to remain behind locked doors. As Pope Francis said in his homily on Ash Wednesday this year: “There may be a few obstacles, which close the door of the heart. There is the temptation to lock the doors, or to live with our sin, minimizing it, always justifying it, thinking we are no worse than others; this, however, is how the locks of the soul are closed and we remain shut inside, prisoners of evil. Another obstacle is the shame of opening the secret door of the heart….There is a third pitfall, that of distancing ourselves from the door: it happens when we hide in our misery, when we ruminate constantly, connecting it to negative things, until sinking into the darkest repositories of the soul” (Homily, 10 February 2016). But locked doors do not restrict Christ’s entry into our hearts. “Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, ‘Peace be with you.’” To quote Pope Francis again: “The Lord’s grace alone frees us. Therefore let us be reconciled, let us listen to Jesus who says to those who are weary and oppressed: ‘Come to me’ (Mt 11:28). Not to dwell within themselves, but to go to him! Comfort and peace are there” (ibid.) The Sacrament of Divine Mercy—won for us by the passion, death and resurrection of Christ that we have celebrated in this Easter Season—is the concrete expression in space and time of the condescension and forbearance by which God looks with merciful forgiveness on our sins and the sins of the whole world. The fifteenth anniversary of the universal celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday falls this year during the Jubilee of Mercy. We must resolve to take advantage of the great Sacrament of Mercy during this year of grace, giving thanks “to the Lord for He is good, for His mercy endures forever.” Amen.
Image: Lawrence Lew, O.P., stained glass window from the Catholic University in Lille