Fr. Roger J. Landry
Espirito Santo Parish, Fall River, MA
Second Sunday of Easter, 2003
April 27, 2003
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 sin. 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, 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. In the early days of the Church, the confessions were made publicly and penance and absolution was given publicly. Since about the 7th century, the sacrament has been available privately between the sinner and Christ’s ambassador. But the essence of the sacrament goes back to Jesus on Easter Sunday evening.
4) As we talked about last week, Jesus’ resurrection from his public execution on the third day was God’s demonstration that everything Jesus said and did was true. This was the sign of Jonah, the sign given to the whole world to buttress Jesus’ words. It was the eternal confirmation that Jesus is the Truth, who cannot lie, and the clearest call for us to take Jesus literally and seriously. There’s nothing more that’s needed. It’s a call to trust in him. It’s a call to see in him this greatest of all gifts, which is his merciful love. It’s a call to base our whole life on him.
5) It’s very important for us to be crystally clear about what Jesus said on Easter Sunday evening and is saying to us, live, here today. If we want peace — and each one of us does; it’s what our hearts cry for — then he gives us the means. And he wants us take him seriously. What does he say? Is it ultimately dependent on the number of diplomats? No. The number of soldiers? No. The strength of the United Nations? No. The elimination of weapons of Mass destruction? No. 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 Tommy Franks, but a PRIEST, who is God’s instrument to give his mercy to the world.
6) 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 Fall River Herald, the Boston Globe or the New York Times. There’s a lack of peace in the world because people have been trying to make themselves God in determining what’s or wrong, committing all types of sins, and refusing to turn back to him to beg his forgiveness and receive it. And it builds. And it gets worse. And when we look back, we can’t even see how it started or find the way out of it.
[7) For one minute, just think about what has happened since our society said that God was obviously wrong in giving us the sixth commandment regarding our fidelity to him and others in marriage in love. Marriages started to get destroyed through adultery and other types of infidelity. Children, and wider family bonds, started to get wounded. Pornography grew into one of the most profitable businesses in our land. Sex, rather than being looked at as the renewal of marriage vows in the body, was looked at just for pleasure. Married couples started to use contraception. Unmarried people, even kids, started using each other for sexual kicks. Pregnancies out of wedlock grew at astounding rates. Abortion became the “insurance policy” for the anti-child mentality seen in the use of contraception and started to be celebrated as a civil right. Many people no longer even look to get married, but move in together and move out, oftentimes changing partners more than they change oil in their cars. And instead of recognizing that we’re heading down a dead end, we shake our fist at God and basically give him the finger. Is there anyone here who has not been hurt by such sins? We could do a similar analysis for any one of the commandments. And in case someone in this Church today is now mumbling, “Father Landry is naive,” just ask yourself whether you think the world would be any different if we and our fellow citizens repented and stopped breaking the ten commandments. There would be no murder, no hatred, no broken families, no stealing, no lying, no envy, and people would love God and love others, just for starters. Can there ever be world peace if people still commit murder? If there’s still hatred? If people try to take advantage of others? If more and more kids grow up in broken homes?]
8 ) 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, 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, Jerry Springer — to anyone you want. 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. Do you want to tell him that he was wrong? Do you really trust your own ideas more than Jesus and want to risk your eternal salvation on the gut feeling you’re right? It didn’t make sense to Naaman the leper to wash seven times in the Jordan river at the word of Elisha the prophet, but he did and he was cleansed. If you were God and had the chance to establish the means of the forgiveness of sins, you might have done differently than Jesus. But you’re not God — He is — and he set it up this way, so we need to trust in him and learn from the inside why he set it up this way.
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.” We could paraphrase this requirement in a couple of ways, positively or negatively, according to what you might need in a greater way today. “If you want to go to Hell, don’t forgive, for Jesus promises you that neither will you receive His mercy, which you’ll need in order to avoid it.” Or positively, “If you ever hope to come into that incredible kingdom of joy and love which is heaven, where you will see God and become like him, you must respond to his grace to become like Him in this world, being merciful as he is.” Today is the day to choose; every day from this point forward is the day to put that choice into action.
9) Over the course of our lifetime, 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. Today we celebrate throughout the whole Church “Divine Mercy Sunday.” This feast was instituted only three years ago by Pope John Paul II, in response to a direct request by the Lord Jesus to a Polish nun, St. Faustina Kowalska, whom Pope John Paul II canonized in the year 2000. 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 third 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.” The Holy Father, three 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 ways were coming out, one read 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, that justifies souls; the red ray represents the Blood that is the life of souls. 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 Good Friday, “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 praying to the Father, asking his mercy, through the passion of Christ and the Eucharist, in which we receive the Body, Blood, soul and divinity of Christ. What a powerful prayer! Jesus promised, “It pleases me to grant everything they ask of Me by saying the chaplet” and added, “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 agaony. 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 indispensible 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 sinnes; 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. I have put together a small sheet you can pick up in the vestibule. 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. Tomorrow [this] afternoon, at 3 pm here, we will have a bilingual Holy Hour invoking the Lord’s mercy. Please make the effort to come. 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 in response, “Jesus, we trust in you!” “Jesus, we trust in you!” “Jesus, we trust in you!” Amen!