Death is Conquered in the Fight

April 10, 2018

On Divine Mercy Sunday, April 8, 2018, Archbishop Augustine Di Noia, O.P. delivered the following homily at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington, DC.

For nearly twenty years now, the Church has celebrated Divine Mercy Sunday on the Second Sunday of Easter. Few people realize that it was Our Lord himself who desired that this should be so. St. Faustina records these words in her diary: “My daughter, tell the whole world about My inconceivable mercy. I desire that the Feast of mercy be a refuge and shelter for all souls, and especially for poor sinners. On that day the very depths of My tender mercy are open. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the fount of My mercy. The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment. On that day all the divine floodgates through which grace flow are opened. Let no soul fear to draw near to Me, even though its sins be as scarlet. My mercy is so great that no mind, be it of man or of angel, will be able to fathom it throughout all eternity. Everything that exists has come forth from the very depths of My most tender mercy. Every soul in its relation to Me will contemplate My love and mercy throughout eternity. The Feast of Mercy emerged from My very depths of tenderness. It is My desire that it be solemnly celebrated on the first Sunday after Easter. Humanity will not have peace until it turns to the Fount of My Mercy” (St. Faustina Kowalska, Diary 699).

In his homily on Divine Mercy Sunday in 2001, Pope St. John Paul II exclaimed: “Divine Mercy! This is the Easter gift that the Church receives from the risen Christ and offers to humanity.” The image of the Divine Mercy is itself in real sense an Easter image. The two rays of light that extend brightly from the heart of Christ, as Faustina’s diary explains, “denote Blood and Water. The pale ray stands for the Water which makes souls righteous. The red ray stands for the Blood which is the life of souls… These two rays issued forth from the very depths of My tender mercy when My Agonized Heart was opened by a lance on the Cross” (ibid. 48).

On Good Friday, after Christ’s side was pierced with a lance, there came forth water and blood (Jn 19:34). “Not without purpose or by chance did these fountains spring forth. Rather, it is because the church consists of these two together. And those who have been initiated know this, being regenerated indeed by water and nourished by blood and flesh. And so, the mysteries take their beginning” (John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of John 85.3). “From the Lord’s pierced Heart proceeds the life-giving stream of the sacraments; the grain of wheat, dying, becomes the new ear, carrying the fruit of the Church forward through the ages” (J. Ratzinger, Behold the Pierced One, 48). This is the one who came through water and blood, Jesus Christ, not by water alone, but by water and blood.

Given the enormous power of the flow of blood and water from the pierced side of Christ, it is even more remarkable that Our Lord should invite Thomas the Apostle to place his hand precisely there: Bring your hand and put it into my side. An ancient Christian poet marvels at this: “Who protected the hand of the disciple which was not melted / At the time that he approached the fiery side of the Lord? How could a right hand of clay have touched / Sufferings which had shaken Heaven and earth?… For, though his hand was perishable…it was not burned / When it touched the side which was like burning flame” (Romanus Melodus, Kontakian on Doubting Thomas, 30.1-3). But it was precisely here that Thomas had to put his hand so that he might believe. It was precisely in this way that the infinite love and mercy of Christ would touch Thomas in the depths of his being.  “Doubting Thomas, who needs to be able to see and touch before he can believe, puts his hand into the Lord’s open side; in touching, he recognizes what is beyond touch and yet does actually touch it; he beholds the invisible and yet really sees it: ‘My Lord and my God’” (Ratzinger, ibid., 53).

The sacramental grace that flows from the Heart of Christ is a gift of the Divine Mercy that comes to us at Easter. “All of us are Thomas unbelieving; but, like him, all of us can touch the exposed Heart of Jesus and thus touch and behold the Logos himself. So, with our hands and eyes fixed upon this Heart, we can attain to the confession of faith. ‘My Lord and My God’” (Ratzinger, ibid., 54). This happens to us through the sacraments.  “The blood and water that flowed from the pierced side of Jesus are types of Baptism and the Eucharist, the sacraments of new life” (CCC, 1225). “So where were you baptized, see where Baptism comes from, if not from the cross of Christ, from his death. There is the whole mystery; he died for you. In him you are redeemed, in him you are saved” (Ambrose, On the Sacraments. 2,2). The Easter grace has come into our hearts as well. And just as he appeared to the apostles, “Christ visits us and appears to us all, both invisibly as God and visibly in the body. He allows us to touch his holy flesh and gives it to us. For through the grace of God we are admitted to partake of the blessed Eucharist, receiving Christ into our hands, to the intent that we may firmly believe that he did in truth raise up the temple of his body” (Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on the Gospel of John 12.1).

The fountain of mercy that flows from the heart of Christ touches every one of us, just as it touched the apostle Thomas and caused him to believe. We must understand that all of us are invited to touch the side of Christ and in turn to be touched in the depths of our being by his grace, just as Thomas was. Christ’s mercy washes us clean, forgives us, feeds us, heals us and restores us. On this feast of the Divine Mercy, we give glory and praise to him. “At the Lamb’s high feast, we sing / Praise to our victorious King / Who has washed us in the tide / Flowing from his pierced side … Where the Paschal blood is poured / Death’s dark angel sheathes his sword… Mighty victim from the sky, / Powers of hell beneath you lie; / Death is conquered in the fight, / You have brought us light and life” (Ambrosian Hymn Writer, At the Lamb’s High Feast We Sing).

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