Not Afraid to Open Our Hearts to Mercy, Catholic Online Year of Faith Homily Series, October 22, 2013

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Catholic Online Homily Series for the Year of Faith
October 22, 2013

The purpose of the Year of Faith that will draw to a close next month is to help us to learn to live by faith. When we are living by faith we are awake, alert and excited to God’s action and we have a desire to respond promptly.

That’s what Jesus is trying to stress in the Gospel today, when he tells us, “Gird your loins and light your lamps and be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival.”

There is a clear application of Jesus’ words to how we should always be ready in faith to meet him when he comes at the end of life. To light a lamp is always a clear sign of readiness and expectation. To gird one’s loins — that is, to tuck one’s long flowing robes up within his belt — indicates that one is ready to work and to move. Jesus is calling us to keep the light’s own for his arrival and to be ready to serve and accompany him. If he finds us ready in this way, he says, his happiness will be so great that he will do for us eternally what he did for the apostles during the Last Supper: He’ll gird his own loins and proceed to serve us.

It’s important for us during this Year of Faith not just to learn how to live with faith but to learn how to prepare for death with the type of readiness and response that Jesus indicates, so that we may be able to pass to the place where faith will pass and only love remain.

Today as we celebrate the liturgical memorial of Blessed John Paul II, we can recall his readiness to pass from the apostolic palace to the Father’s house on April 2, 2005. The lights in his bedroom remained on as the Mass for Divine Mercy was celebrated and he received the Lord in viaticum who was about to come for him. St. Peter’s Square was filled with the lights of tens of thousands of Catholic faithful praying in unison. John Paul II waited for the Lord whose light he reflected and in whose service he had worked so hard for so many years. He who showed the whole world how to live with Christ also showed us how to die with Christ.

But there’s also a more immediate application. The same Bridegroom who will come at the end of time comes routinely throughout the day. To use Jesus’ words from the Book of Revelation, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” Jesus is constantly knocking and seeking companionship (literally “breaking bread”) and communion with us. In faith we’re called to await his gentle knock with candles of longing lit and loins for following girt.

One of the ways Jesus knocks is through our conscience, helping us to see whether we are living in faithful union with him in the choices we have made or are preparing to make. When we have sinned, he knocks with merciful love. Unfortunately, rather than longing for this grace and readiness to follow Jesus on the path of forgiveness, there are many who have turned off the lights of conscience and just let soiled garments hang unkempt.

Jesus, however, doesn’t give up. St. Paul describes him in today’s first reading from the fifth chapter of his Letter to the Romans as the one who rights the wrong of Adam. Just as through Adam sin and death entered the world, so through Christ mercy and life returned. “Where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more,” St. Paul declares. In response to sin and the death to which it leads, Christ bestows the grace of his mercy so that it might lead to eternal life — life with him — in this world and in the next.

The question for us in this Year of Faith is whether and how promptly we respond to Christ whose mercy superabounds human misery.

During his 26 year and 7 month pontificate, Blessed John Paul II tried to help the entire Church believe ever more in Christ’s merciful love. He wrote a beautiful encyclical on God who is Rich in Mercy and an apostolic exhortation on the Sacrament of God’s mercy. He beatified and canonized St. Faustina Kowalska, the Lord’s chosen “secretary” to reveal the depths of his merciful love to the world. And he instituted Divine Mercy Sunday as the dramatic exclamation point to the Easter Octave.

That’s why it’s fitting that in God’s providence where there are no coincidences, John Paul II was called home on that feast which, in response to the Lord’s request, he had begun. It’s fitting that he was beatified on the Feast of Divine Mercy in 2011. And it’s fitting that he will be canonized on the Feast of Divine Mercy next year.

The prayer that the Church will say throughout the day in the Liturgy of the Hours and the Mass highlights this aspect of Blessed John Paul II and mercy and would be the best way for us to celebrate his feast day: “O God, who are rich in mercy 
and who willed that the blessed John Paul II 
should preside as Pope over your universal Church, 
grant, we pray, that instructed by his teaching, 
we may open our hearts to the saving grace of Christ, 
the sole Redeemer of mankind.”

Christ is knocking on the door of our hearts seeking to give us his saving grace.

If John Paul II could still speak to us all, he would doubtless say us what he never tired of saying during his Pontificate, “Be not afraid to open the doors of your heart to Christ!”

He would encourage us to follow his example and with lamps lit and loins girt open wide those doors to the embrace of divine mercy in this world so that one day we may be ready to follow John Paul II to the Father’s House where the saints will sing of his mercy forever.