Sunday, March 30, 2008

Divine Mercy and the Body of Christ

(Divine Mercy Sunday-Year A; This homily was given on 29 & 30 March, 2008 at St. Mary's Church, Cranston, R.I.; See 1 Peter 1:3-9 and John 20:19-31)

Today throughout the universal Church we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday. Our feast provides a great opportunity to reflect upon just what we believe about the mercy of God, because we do not believe that God is merciful in some general or abstract way. The mercy of God is quite specific and completely intentional.

We believe that the mercy of God comes to us through the body of Christ.

It is through the crucified and risen body of Jesus Christ that God’s mercy is poured out into this world for the forgiveness of sins and the hope of eternal life. As St. Peter proclaims in the second reading this week:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great MERCY gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
—1 Peter 1:3

It is through the body of Christ that God reveals His unfathomable mercy. Jesus Christ walks into the room where the disciples are in our gospel this weekend, and addresses them all, saying: "Peace be with you."

Then he does something very intentional and peculiar: He shows them His hands and His side. He shows them His body and the wounds of the crucifixion, and He repeats that same greeting: "Peace be with you." Our peace, our forgiveness, and the very mercy of God come to us through the crucified and risen body of Christ.

But then Christ goes on to do something that is significant for every one of us today: He breathes on them, and tells them to receive the Holy Spirit. He says to them: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:19-21).

Jesus intends to continue this ministry and mission of Divine Mercy through the apostles and disciples gathered together in that place. He determines to maintain that ministry of reconciliation and mercy through His body, the Church.

Certainly it is through the apostles and their successors, the bishops, that this manifestation of God’s mercy will remain. In a particular way, through the Sacraments, especially Baptism, the Eucharist and Reconciliation, God will continue to pour out His mercy in the world we live in.

Yet it is not only through the apostles and their successors that God continues this ministry of mercy in the world. We are all members of His body; we are the Church. God fully intends that all of us be ministers of His mercy. That is the message of Divine Mercy that we celebrate this weekend. It is the message entrusted to St. Faustina Kowalska, a simple and humble nun living in Poland at the turn of the 20th century.

Christ appeared to St. Faustina and called her to be an apostle and “secretary” of His mercy; she was chosen by God to be an ambassador and messenger of the Divine Mercy. That message is not a complicated one. In fact it is quite simple.

The message of Divine Mercy consists of two things:

Trust in God (the words, “Jesus, I trust in you,” are found at the base of the image of Divine Mercy that Christ asked St. Faustina to promote).

Secondly, the message of Divine Mercy is fulfilled through an active and fruitful love for one’s neighbor (deeds of mercy).

Perhaps the greatest example and model for this message of Divine Mercy is found in St. Faustina herself. God entrusted her with much! She experienced countless struggles and, at times, seemingly insurmountable obstacles, yet through it all she trusted in Jesus Christ and in all that He was asking of her.

One Christmas, while still in the seminary, I had the opportunity to visit Krakow, Poland and to see the convent where St. Faustina lived and the Shrine of Divine Mercy dedicated to that beautiful devotion. There was a devout nun there, one of the Our Lady of Mercy Sisters; she was giving a tour of all the significant areas in that convent and church where St. Faustina was so deeply touched by Christ. At one point the sister turned to us and told us specifically of the things that Jesus had asked of St. Faustina:

How he wanted the Divine Mercy Chaplet to be prayed throughout the world.

How He wanted the image of the Divine Mercy venerated everywhere, especially on the Feast of Divine Mercy.

How He wanted the Second Sunday of Easter to be celebrated throughout the entire Church as Divine Mercy Sunday.

Then the sister gently folded her hands, sighed, and said with great sympathy:

“It was too much for her.”

Indeed! That would be too much for anyone! Yet St. Faustina trusted in what Christ was doing in her life. She trusted in the will of God and the promises of God. Now, some seventy five years later, the Divine Mercy chaplet is prayed throughout the world, especially in this week leading up to the Feast of Divine Mercy; the Divine Mercy image is venerated in churches everywhere, and this Second Sunday of Easter is observed in the universal Church as Divine Mercy Sunday.

Jesus, I trust I you! How is Christ challenging us, in our own lives, to trust in His mercy? How are we called to place our trust in His mercy, His grace and His providence, perhaps especially in those areas where it seems like it is “too much” for us? And how are we, then, to move outside of ourselves and reach out to others with that same mercy and compassion we receive from God?

There is a beautiful story about a vision that St. Faustina received in which Jesus appeared to her holding a ciborium filled with hosts. They were spilling over as He stood before her. She could not grasp the significance of the encounter.

Jesus said to her, “This ciborium and these hosts represent your works of mercy done for the sake of others. Each host represents one soul that you helped along the way to heaven by your prayers, deeds and sacrifices.”

In a moment, we will come forward and receive the Eucharist from a ciborium very much like the one that St. Faustina saw in her vision, held by the Risen Christ. We can ask ourselves today:

If Jesus were to offer me a ciborium at the end of my life, how many hosts would it have in it? How many souls would I have helped on their way to heaven by my prayers, my sacrifices, and my works of mercy?