Entering into the Easter Joy of God’s Mercy, Divine Mercy Sunday, April 12, 2015

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Church of the Holy Family, New York, NY
Divine Mercy Sunday
April 12, 2015
Acts 2:42-47, Ps 118, Jn 5:1-6, Jn 20:19-31

 

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 

 

The following text guided today’s homily: 

The Path to the Joy and Peace Jesus Came to Bring

Last Sunday, united with Christians all over the world, we celebrated with fitting joy the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus, as he himself told us during the Last Supper, had come into the world to give us his joy and make our joy complete (Jn 15:11) and today, as we conclude the Easter Octave, we see one of the most important ways Jesus established for us to enter into his risen joy: it’s through the experience of his merciful love that he gives us in the Sacrament of his Merciful Love.

In the moving Gospel we just heard, we witness what Jesus did on the evening of the day he triumphantly rose from the dead. He walked through the closed doors of the Upper Room where the apostles were huddling together out of fear and he said to them, “Shalom!,” “Peace be with you!” Jesus had come down from heaven to earth and had sacrificed his life to give us peace, but it was a special kind of peace, one the world can’t give or take away. “Not as the world gives peace do I give it,” Jesus had said during the Last Supper. The peace Jesus leaves and gives us is not the mere absence of war or conflict, but harmony with God through the forgiveness of sins. Without this type of peace, no other form can endure, because it is sin that destroys interior peace, the peace of the home, the peace of friendship, the peace of communities, the peace of nations. And so Jesus, wasting absolutely no time to set the next stage of his peace plan in motion, on the night of his resurrection divinely empowered the apostles as his peacemakers to bring that gift, and the joy to which it leads, to the ends of the earth.

The Apologetics of the Sacrament of Mercy

It’s important for us to pay close attention to the various steps Jesus took in today’s Gospel so that we can understand better the divine foundation of the Sacrament of his Mercy, so that we can take better advantage of it and also explain it better to all those, Protestants and some Catholics alike, who say that they can confess their sins to God alone without the Sacrament. Jesus began by saying to the apostles, “Just as the Father sent me, so I send you!” We know that the Father had sent Jesus as the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world and Jesus was sending his apostles to continue that saving mission of mercy. Since we know that only God can forgive sins against Him (see Mk 2:7), however, Jesus needed to impart to the apostles that divine power. So he breathed on them as he said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” He gave them God the Holy Spirit so that they might forgive sins in God’s name, just as we hear every time the priest pronounces those beautiful words in the Sacrament of Penance, “God, the Father of Mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son, has … sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins.” And then Jesus did something that refers to the essential structure of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. He said, “Those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; those whose sins you retain, they are retained.” Since Jesus didn’t give the apostles the capacity to read hearts and souls, the only way they — and their successors and their priestly collaborators — would be able to know which sins to forgive or to retain would be if people told them. And that’s what happens in the Sacrament of Confession.

Every Reconciliation is a Resurrection

It’s so fitting that Jesus established this Sacrament of his Mercy on Easter Sunday Evening because he wanted to link the joy of his resurrection to the joy of forgiveness. He had pointed to the connection between the two when he gave us the unforgettable Parable of the Prodigal Son. When the lost son returns to the Father to give his rehearsed speech of repentance, the Father erupts with happiness. He covers his son with the finest robe, adorns him with a ring and sandals, and kills the fattened calf. When the jealous older son asked why his dad was pulling out all the stops at the return of his brother, the Father replied, “We must celebrate with joy, because your brother was dead and has come to life again!” This Parable, which is about what happens in the Sacrament of Penance when we come back and say to our Father that we have sinned and he restores us to the full dignity as his beloved sons and daughters, points to the truth that every reconciliation is a resurrection! In every good confession, a son or daughter who was dead comes to life again, healed of sins both mortal and venial, and made fully alive once more in Christ Jesus!

St. Faustina’s Canonization and the Background to the Feast of Mercy

That’s why it’s so fitting today, as we conclude the Easter Octave, that we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday. Back in 2000, St. John Paul II established this feast on the Second Sunday of Easter so that all of us could thank God for the gift of his merciful that led him to stop at nothing in order to save us from our sins and from the eternal death to which our sins lead. St. John Paul announced the establishment of this Feast during the canonization of St. Faustina Kowalska, the humble Polish sister to whom in a series of profound mystical experiences during the 1930s, Jesus revealed the depths of his merciful love for the human race and his desire for all people to recognize our need for his mercy, trust in it, come to receive it, and share it with others.

One of the requests St. Faustina described in her Diary that Jesus made of her was about this Feast. She wrote, “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.”

I was present the day of St. Faustina’s canonization in St. Peter’s Square as a newly ordained priest and it was one of the biggest conversion experiences of my priesthood. I didn’t know much about the devotion to Divine Mercy at the time. I remember saying to myself, more or less, “I’ll use my Rosary beads to pray the Rosary, thank you very much.” But after celebrating Mass inside St. Peter’s Basilica, I went out into the Square to get a good seat and pray my breviary in anticipation of the canonization ceremony. After I had finished morning prayer, a young man, one of the first people to enter the square after the gates were opened at 7:30, approached and asked me in Italian whether I would be able to hear his confession. “Certo,” I replied, as he knelt down on the hard stone of St. Peter’s square in front of me. After I had given him absolution, a young girl came and queried whether I spoke Spanish. I told her that I did, and she asked whether I would be willing to hear her confession, too. For the next two hours and 45 minutes, until literally the opening antiphon of the Mass, I heard confessions non-stop in the back-left corner of the front-right section from people all over the world in multiple languages as they all humbly knelt down on the stones of St. Peter’s Square and poured themselves out. I was blown away by the depth and tearful beauty of their contrition and appreciation for the gift of God’s mercy. As only a priest can see from the “inside” of people’s souls, I witnessed the profound fruits that the devotion to Divine Mercy had produced in Catholics from various countries, cultures and languages, taking ordinary people with “pasts,” restoring them to the great joy of God’s forgiven sons and daughters, and making them ambassadors of Christ’s healing love to others. As Mass began, I thanked the Lord for having moved me to go out to the square that morning and for having used me as his instrument to share his Divine Mercy with so many. During St. John Paul’s homily, I was surprised and thrilled when he said, “It is important then that we accept the whole message [of God’s merciful love] that comes to us from the word of God on this Second Sunday of Easter, which from now on throughout the Church will be called ‘Divine Mercy Sunday.… By this act I intend today to pass this message on to the new millennium.’” I knew that from that point forward, I was being summoned, as all priests were, to be a particular herald of that message. I felt that the experiences of that morning were a gift from God to help me to see the greatness of the interior miracles that the devotion could bring about in people. I remember rejoicing that I would have the opportunity, returning to parish work in Massachusetts, to bring this message and to Divine Mercy Sunday joyfully each year as the culmination of the Easter octave. I rejoice to be able to celebrate it with you today.

The Five Ways to Grow in Appreciative Love of God’s Mercy

What’s the Divine Mercy devotion all about? It’s about doing for Jesus’ love for us in the Sacrament of Confession what Eucharistic adoration has done for Jesus’ love for us in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. With the Eucharistic, it wasn’t enough for Jesus for us merely to know that he is really and substantially present body, blood, soul and divinity in the Eucharist. Jesus himself came into the world, and through appearances to mystics and Eucharistic miracles, made clear his will that he wanted us to celebrate that gift with Eucharistic adoration, with Holy Hours, with processions with Him in the streets and more. Similarly, it’s not enough for us to know that Jesus has the power to forgive us our sins and does so through the Sacrament of Penance. He wants us to express our love and appreciation for it, because then, like with Eucharistic adoration, we will be better able to receive the infinite graces he wishes to give us through it. Toward both the Sacrament of the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Mercy, many Catholics are cold. Many take these sacraments for granted and sadly seldom receive them. Others receive them without passion. Jesus wants more. He wants us to grow in love of him loving us in this way. The Divine Mercy Devotion allows us to show our love and appreciation for this great gift of God’s merciful love and, as we do so, to be transformed by Him so that we might become, like God, rich in mercy and as merciful as our heavenly Father in merciful.

When Jesus appeared to St. Faustina beginning in 1931, he sketched out for her as his “secretary” how he wanted us to trust in his mercy and ask for it, and how he wanted us to share his merciful love with others. Jesus didn’t teach us anything new about his merciful love; he just reiterated what he had taught us in the Gospel. 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 engaging in five practices:

The first is Divine Mercy Sunday, which we’re celebrating today for the 15th time.

  • The second is to prepare for Divine Mercy Sunday by a novena beginning Good Friday. 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.
  • The third is to pray to the image of Divine Mercy — As we see in today’s Gospel, St. Thomas came to touch Christ’s wounds. The Lord revealed to St. Faustina that he desired an image to be made in which the power of his wounds would be prominent: “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 [that we hear about in today’s second reading]. 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.”
  • The fourth is to pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy — This is something that people can pray on Rosary beads. 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.”
  • The last and perhaps most important of all is 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.

Each of these five practices is meant to help us grow in love of the Lord’s mercy, to seek it, receive it, live in it and share it. It’s important for us to take advantage of these means to grow in holy appreciation of the immensity of the gift Jesus gives us. The joy that we have at Easter — and in life — is directly proportional to our entering into this mystery, because it’s through this devotion we become more like Christ and share his love and mercy.

Pope Francis, Mercy and the Upcoming Jubilee

This appreciation for Jesus’ divine mercy has been the central message of Pope Francis since he became our Holy Father 25 months ago. He has been encouraging all of us to open ourselves to those floodgates of God’s tender mercy and trying to get us all courageously to approach that sacred font. In his first Angelus meditation, at which I had the joy to be present, Pope Francis said, “God never tires of forgiving us! Never! … The problem is that we ourselves grow weary of asking for forgiveness. Let us never tire! Let us never tire! He is a loving Father who always pardons, who has that heart of mercy for us all.”

Just yesterday afternoon, in a beautiful ceremony in St. Peter’s Basilica, the Holy Father officially announced an upcoming Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy with the publication of the papal bull, Misericordiae Vultus, referring to Jesus as the Face of the Mercy of God the Father. In that document — which I’d gently encourage you to download from the Vatican’s website and take to your prayer — Pope Francis expresses his hopes for the graces he hopes every Catholic will receive from this Jubilee.

Introducing the upcoming Year of Mercy yesterday afternoon in a Vespers Service in the Vatican, Pope Francis said, “Many question in their hearts: why a Jubilee of Mercy today?  Simply because the Church, in this time of great historical change, is called to offer more evident signs of God’s presence and closeness. …This is a time for the Church to rediscover the meaning of the mission entrusted to her by the Lord on the day of Easter: to be a sign and an instrument of the Father’s mercy (cf. Jn 20:21-23).  For this reason, the Holy Year must keep alive the desire to know how to welcome the numerous signs of the tenderness which God offers to the whole world and, above all, to those who suffer, who are alone and abandoned, without hope of being pardoned or feeling the Father’s love.  A Holy Year to experience strongly within ourselves the joy of having been found by Jesus, the Good Shepherd who has come in search of us because we were lost.  A Jubilee to receive the warmth of his love when he bears us upon his shoulders and brings us back to the Father’s house.  A year in which to be touched by the Lord Jesus and to be transformed by his mercy, so that we may become witnesses to mercy.  Here, then, is the reason for the Jubilee: because this is the time for mercy.  It is the favorable time to heal wounds, a time not to be weary of meeting all those who are waiting to see and to touch with their hands the signs of the closeness of God, a time to offer everyone the way of forgiveness and reconciliation.”

By calling for this special year of grace, Pope Francis is saying that it’s not enough for us to celebrate the Mercy of the Lord with just one Divine Mercy Sunday a year! He wants us to do it for 50 Sundays as we will do together from December 8, 2015 through November 20 in 2016. He wants us to do it in fact for 349 days. Pope Francis wants us to do have this Year precisely so that we can enter more deeply into the joy of Easter that comes from the experience of God’s mercy. Its from the experiencing of mercy that we participate most in God’s joy.

Once, speaking about Jesus’ three parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost sons, Pope Francis said, “All three of these parables speak of the joy of God. … The joy of God is forgiving! The joy of God is forgiving!” he emphasized. “The whole Gospel, all of Christianity, is here!” He added, “Mercy is the true force that can save man and the world. … and this is God’s joy!” Divine Mercy Sunday is meant to be a day of great happiness flowing from our experiencing this saving force of God’s forgiveness! The upcoming Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy is likewise supposed to be a great twelve months of joy. Jesus tells us in the Gospel, “Heaven rejoices more for one sinner who repents” (Lk 15:7). Today’s feast of Divine Mercy and the upcoming Jubilee Year of Mercy are meant to be occasions on which we receive that heavenly gift of joy that the Lord Jesus came to bring into the world so that through his mercy his joy might be in us and our joy complete!

Prayer to the Blessed Trinity

As we, in this Mass, offer the Eternal Father in heaven Jesus’ body, blood, soul and divinity, we ask God Father, who is Rich in Mercy, to grant us the courage never to tire of receiving what He never tires of giving and to come to receive regularly that gift of his love through the hands of those same priests through whom he gives us each day his Son’s body and blood. We ask Jesus, God the Son, for the grace to receive that gift so profoundly that we might, like him, become as “merciful as our Father in heaven is merciful” (Lk 6:36). And as we prepare in just a few minutes to look upon the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” — whom Pope Francis called yesterday “The Face of Mercy,” and St. Faustina described as “Mercy Incarnate” — we ask God the Holy Spirit to help us say with all our mind, heart, soul and strength, “Jesus, I trust in you!”

As we prayed over and over again in today’s Psalm, “God’s mercy endures forever!” His mercy endures forever! And this is what we celebrate today, will celebrate in the upcoming Jubilee Year, and hope to celebrate with God forever!

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 Acts 4:32-35

The community of believers was of one heart and mind,
and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own,
but they had everything in common.
With great power the apostles bore witness
to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus,
and great favor was accorded them all.
There was no needy person among them,
for those who owned property or houses would sell them,
bring the proceeds of the sale,
and put them at the feet of the apostles,
and they were distributed to each according to need.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24

R. (1) Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, his love is everlasting.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Let the house of Israel say,
“His mercy endures forever.”
Let the house of Aaron say,
“His mercy endures forever.”
Let those who fear the LORD say,
“His mercy endures forever.”
R. Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, his love is everlasting.
or:
R. Alleluia.
I was hard pressed and was falling,
but the LORD helped me.
My strength and my courage is the LORD,
and he has been my savior.
The joyful shout of victory
in the tents of the just:
R. Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, his love is everlasting.
or:
R. Alleluia.
The stone which the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
By the LORD has this been done;
it is wonderful in our eyes.
This is the day the LORD has made;
let us be glad and rejoice in it.
R. Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, his love is everlasting.
or:
R. Alleluia.

Reading 2 1 Jn 5:1-6

Beloved:
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is begotten by God,
and everyone who loves the Father
loves also the one begotten by him.
In this way we know that we love the children of God
when we love God and obey his commandments.
For the love of God is this,
that we keep his commandments.
And his commandments are not burdensome,
for whoever is begotten by God conquers the world.
And the victory that conquers the world is our faith.
Who indeed is the victor over the world
but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?This is the one who came through water and blood, Jesus Christ,
not by water alone, but by water and blood.
The Spirit is the one that testifies,
and the Spirit is truth.

Alleluia Jn 20:29

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
You believe in me, Thomas, because you have seen me, says the Lord;
blessed are those who have not seen me, but still believe!
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel Jn 20:19-31

On the evening of that first day of the week,
when the doors were locked, where the disciples were,
for fear of the Jews,
Jesus came and stood in their midst
and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.
The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
And 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.”

Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve,
was not with them when Jesus came.
So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.”
But he said to them,
“Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands
and put my finger into the nailmarks
and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

Now a week later his disciples were again inside
and Thomas was with them.
Jesus came, although the doors were locked,
and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.”
Then he said 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!”
Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples
that are not written in this book.
But these are written that you may come to believe
that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,
and that through this belief you may have life in his name.

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