Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Anthony of Padua Church, New Bedford, MA
Divine Mercy Sunday
April 23, 2006
Acts 2:42-47; 1Pet1:3-9; Jn 20:1-9
1) We celebrated last week the most important event in the history of the world, the most crucial event in the history of our personal life: the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. In today’s Gospel, we see what Jesus did the first time he met with his apostles on Easter Sunday evening. Jesus shows us very clearly what he believed his mission to be, what the point of his coming down from heaven was, and what was the first thing he asked of his apostles and therefore of his Church.
2) The ten apostles were huddled together out of fear in the Upper Room where just three days earlier Jesus had given them His Body and Blood for the first time in Holy Communion. Jesus walked through the closed doors and his first words to them — words that he had died to say to them, words he had risen to say to them — were “Peace be with you!” They didn’t get it. Just like they didn’t want to believe Mary Magdalene when she said that she had seen Jesus earlier that morning, just like they were reluctant to believe the disciples from Emmaus earlier that evening, the apostles thought Jesus was a ghost. So he repeated himself, “Peace be with you!” Jesus had come down from heaven and had given his life to give them — to give us — PEACE, a peace the world cannot give and a peace the world cannot take away. He had said before his death, “Not as the world gives peace do I give it.” Peace for Jesus was not the absence of war and international conflict, but peace with God through the forgiveness of sins. Without this peace, no other type of peace is possible, because sin destroys peace.
3) Jesus said to the apostles, “Just as the Father sent me, so I send you!” Why had the Father sent Jesus? He sent him ultimately to save us from our sins — and the consequence of our sins, death — by his life, passion, death and resurrection. “Just as the Father sent me [to forgive sins], so I send you!” In the first thing he did on the day he rose from the dead, Jesus was going to send out the apostles to forgive sins in his name. But no one can forgive sins but God alone (Mk 2:7), so Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” He gave them God the Holy Spirit so that they might forgive sins, just as we hear every time the priest pronounces those beautiful words in confession, “God, the Father of Mercies… has sent His Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins.” And then he said words that point clearly to the sacrament of confession: “Those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; those whose sins you retain, they are retained.” Jesus was making them his ministers, his ambassadors. Just as through them, Jesus himself says, “this is my body, this is the cup of my blood” in the Mass, so through them Jesus was going to say, “Your sins are forgiven; go in peace!” This was going to be the apostles’ most important mission, the mission in which he involved them intimately as his first action upon rising from the dead. The only way that they would know which sins to forgive and which to retain would be if penitents told them their sins in confession.
4) Jesus is saying something very startling to us today, just like he did to the 10 in the Upper Room on the evening of the Resurrection. If we want peace — and each of our hearts cries out for it! — then Jesus gives us the means and wants us to take Him and those means seriously. Jesus says that the most important factor in peace is not the number of diplomats. It’s not the strength of the United Nations. It’s not the capture of Osama bin Laden or the destruction of Al Qaeda, the elimination of Iran’s capacity to make nuclear weapons, or getting the Israelis and the Palestinians to talk again. Jesus says that real peace is based on THE SACRAMENT OF CONFESSION. I’ll repeat it so that no one will miss it: Jesus says that real peace is based on the sacrament of confession he instituted and whether we use it. In other words, the most important person in the world if we want real peace is not President Bush, or Kofi Annan, or Mahmood Ahmadinejad, but a PRIEST, who is God’s instrument to give his mercy to the world.
5) Why is there such a lack of peace in the world? Because the world has not been taking God seriously and going to him to receive his mercy. That’s a startling statement — and it’s meant to be — and one you won’t read in the editorial pages of the New Bedford Standard Times or the Boston Globe. There’s a lack of peace in the world because people have been trying to make themselves God in determining what’s right or wrong, committing all types of sins, and refusing to turn back to him to beg his forgiveness and receive it. The longer we refuse to acknowledge our need for God’s mercy, seek it and share it, the worse it gets.
6) Just ask yourself whether you think the world would be any different if we and others repented and stopped breaking the ten commandments. There would be no murder, no hatred, no broken families, no stealing, no lying, no envy, intergenerational respect, and people would make time to put God first in their lives. There can be no real peace when modern Cains are killing Abels. There can be no peace when there is no peace at the home because of lack of respect or infidelity. There can be no real peace if people cannot trust each other.
7) There’s a bumper sticker that you still see in certain circles that became very popular when I was a young boy. It was taken out of context from a quotation from Pope Paul VI: “If you want peace, work for justice.” But the justice he was talking about primarily was our becoming just with God through the forgiveness of our sins, and our sharing that justice with others. A better motto would be, “If you want peace, go to confession!” “If you want peace, bring others to Christ in confession!” “If you want peace, and you’re a young boy or man, have the guts to ask yourself whether the Lord might be calling you to be a priest,” so that he can send you out, just like he sent the apostles out on Easter Sunday Evening, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to forgive and retain sins in his name. For peace, we have to recognize our need for God’s mercy, ask for and receive that mercy, and then share that mercy with others. There are three steps:
a) To recognize our need for God’s mercy — like the Prodigal Son (Lk 15), we have to realize that we have sinned, and that without God’s forgiveness, we will die in our sins. But God does not desire the death of the sinner, but that the sinner return to him and live, which leads us to the second step:
b) To trust in, ask for and receive God’s mercy — Here in this world, Jesus established only one ordinary way for us to receive this mercy for all the sins we’ve committed after our baptism: the sacrament of reconciliation, confessing our sins to Christ through the priest. There are a lot of people today, including Catholics, who say, “I can confess my sins directly to the Lord!” Out of real love for you, please let be very clear: you can confess your sins to whomever you want — to your best friends, husbands or wives, parents and children, coworkers, social workers, shrinks, bartenders, Oprah Winfrey, or Dr. Phil. But you can’t receive forgiveness there, which is the point. The only means in this world in which we can be SURE that the Lord forgives us is when we confess our sins to a priest, whom Jesus has ordained, and sent out from the Upper Room for this purpose. To believe in the Lord Jesus means to believe that he knew what he was doing, and he established this sacrament on the night he rose from the dead.
c) To share it with others — We’re called to be merciful with others. Jesus said, “Be merciful, as your heavenly Father is merciful… The measure with which you measure will be measured back to you.” In another place, the Lord says, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” The Lord’s point is that the prerequisite for our receiving mercy is our showing mercy to others. After having taught us the Our Father in which we pray, “forgive us our trespasses as we have forgiven those who have trespassed against us,” the Lord warned us, “If you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their sins, neither will your heavenly Father forgive your sins.”
8 ) Over the history of the Church, because so many didn’t get this message of God’s mercy (and our need for repentance) from the Gospel — because so many were not doing any of these three things — Jesus himself came down to us to repeat it. He came down to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in the 1500s with the revelation of His Sacred Heart, which involved all three parts of what he said in the Gospel. The Church listened for a while, but then forgot. Eventually the Lord came down again.
9) Today we celebrate throughout the whole Church “Divine Mercy Sunday.” This feast was instituted by Pope John Paul II in the year 2000, in response to a direct request by the Lord Jesus to a Polish nun, St. Faustina Kowalska, whom Pope John Paul II canonized that year. Beginning in 1931, Jesus began to appear to St. Faustina in her convent in Krakow and asked her to become his “secretary,” and take down what he revealed to her for the good of the Church and the world. He revealed to her the message of his divine, merciful love. She wrote down what the Lord said and it filled in her diary — what turned out to be 689 pages in the English translation. The Lord talked about how he wanted to pour out on the world his mercy, how he wanted people to trust in his mercy and ask for it, and how he wanted them to share his merciful love with others. Jesus didn’t teach us anything new about his merciful love; he just reiterated it. What was new was that the Lord Jesus asked the Church, and that means each one of us, to grow in his Divine Mercy by five practices:
a) Divine Mercy Sunday, which we’re celebrating today for the sixth time — The Lord said, “I want… the first Sunday after Easter … to be the Feast of Mercy. I desire that the Feast of Mercy be a refuge and a 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 are open all the divine floodgates through which graces flow.” Pope John Paul II, six years ago, said, “It is important that we accept in its entirety the message that comes to us from God’s Word on this second Sunday of Easter. From now on, throughout the whole Church, this day will take the name of ‘Divine Mercy Sunday.'” But we have to live it, seek confession within eight days of the feast and properly receive Holy Communion.
b) To pray to the image of Divine Mercy — The Lord revealed to St. Faustina an image that he desired to be made: “One night when I was in my cell, I perceived the presence of the Lord Jesus dressed in a white tunic. One hand was raised in blessing, the other rested on his chest. From an opening in the tunic in the chest, two great rays were coming out, one red and the other clear… After some time, Jesus said to me, “Paint an image in accordance with what you see, with the inscription, “Jesus, I trust in you.” A little later, Our Lord explained to her the meaning of the two rays: “The two rays represent the Blood and the Water. The white ray represents the Water [baptism], that justifies souls; the red ray represents the Blood that is the life of souls [the Eucharist]. Both rays flow from the depths of my Mercy when, on the Cross, my Heart in agony was opened by the lance.”
c) To pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy — This is something that people can pray on Rosary beads. It is a devotion that is happily becoming more and more popular today. St. Faustina heard an interior voice that taught her this prayer. On the larger beads of the Rosary, one says, “Eternal Father, I offer you the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of your dearly beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and for those of the whole world.” On the ten smaller beads, we pray, “For the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.” You pray five “decades” in this way, after which, one prays three times the “Holy, Holy, Holy” from the Good Friday reproaches, “Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One,” “have mercy on us and on the whole world.” What we’re doing in this beautiful prayer is offering Christ’s own sacrifice during the Triduum, to the Father. We’re lifting up the Eucharist — Christ’s body, blood, soul and divinity — and making Christ’s prayer our own. There is no more powerful prayer! Jesus promised, “It pleases me to grant everything they ask of Me by saying the chaplet… if it be compatible with my Will.” This is especially true of the moment of death. Jesus specifically asked priests — and I’m obeying him right now — to “recommend it to sinners as their last hope of salvation. Even if there were a sinner most hardened, if he were to recite this chaplet only once [with an attitude of trust, humility and sorrow for sin], he would receive grace from my infinite mercy.”
d) To pray particularly at three in the afternoon, the time in which Jesus died on the Cross, invoking the Mercy of the Lord — Jesus said to St. Faustina, “At three in the afternoon, implore my Mercy, especially for sinners, or at least briefly reflect on my Passion, especially on the abandonment I felt at the moment of agony. This is the hour of great Mercy for the whole world. I will allow you to penetrate my mortal sadness. In that hour, I will deny nothing to the soul that asks me in the name of my Passion. Jesus gave three indispensable conditions to hear prayers made at the hour of Mercy: the prayer has to be directed to Jesus, take place at three, and invoke the value and merits of his passion.
e) To make a novena between Good Friday and Divine Mercy Sunday to implore divine mercy. He gave St. Faustina an intention for each day of the novena. He said, “I desire that during these nine days you bring souls to the fount of My mercy, that they may draw from there strength and refreshment and whatever graces they need in the hardships of life and, especially, at the hour of death. On each day you will bring to my Heart a different group of souls, and you will immerse them in this ocean of My mercy, and I will bring all these souls into the house of My Father. The groups, for each of the days, are all humanity, especially sinners; priests and religious; the pious and faithful; those who do not believe in Jesus and who don’t yet know him; our separated Christian brothers and sisters; the meek and humble and children; those who venerate the mercy of Jesus; those in Purgatory; and the lukewarm.
10) We obviously don’t have the time to describe in greater detail these practices. But there are booklets now available everywhere describing these practices. There are many websites devoted to Divine Mercy. The Lord wishes for each of us to start more deeply to trust in his mercy, to invoke it, receive it and share it. As Jesus said to St. Faustina, “Humanity will not find peace until it turns trustfully to divine mercy.” We need to turn to him now for the peace our hearts desire, for the peace our world needs.
11) As we, in this Mass, offer the Eternal Father in heaven Jesus’ body, blood, soul and divinity, we ask the Father, who is Rich in Mercy, to grant us this tremendous gift, so that we might become merciful as he is merciful. In response to Jesus’ merciful love shown to us on the Cross, here in the Eucharist, and on Easter Sunday evening when he established the sacrament of his mercy to help us get to heaven, we say, “JESUS, WE TRUST IN YOU.” “Your mercy endures forever!”