Sunday, April 15, 2012

Divine Mercy and the Porta Fidei

(Divine Mercy Sunday, 2nd Sunday of Easter-Year B; This homily was given on 14 & 15 April, 2012 at Holy Apostles Church in Cranston, R.I.  and St. Timothy's Church in Warwick, R.I.  See John 20: 19-31)

C.S. Lewis and The Chronicles of Narnia.  Leonardo DiCaprio in the film Inception.  Matt Damon in The Adjustment Bureau.  
What do all these have in common?  If you have read those books or seen the movies, then you know the characters in those stories are able to pass through a doorway into another reality, an entirely different dimension.  
The children in Lewis’ “Chronicles” go through the wardrobe and enter into the magical land of Narnia; for Inception, it is the realm of the subconscious and the world of dreams that they are able to enter; Matt Damon’s character in The Adjustment Bureau is able to walk through a door in Manhattan and suddenly find himself halfway across New York City.
Perhaps the reason why these stories are so compelling and attractive is that, in a certain sense, we go through the doorway with those characters and escape from reality for a few hours, or a couple of weeks if we encounter a really good book.  But, of course, once the film or book is over we must come back to reality and face all the challenges, complexities and difficulties that remain ever inescapable.
But what if you could walk through a doorway into a reality that was just as complex and difficult as the one you experience everyday, but one also filled with joy, wonder and peace?  What if walking through that doorway started you off on a journey that would end, eventually, in eternal bliss and eternal life?  Would you walk through it?  Of course you would!
A few short months ago our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, wrote an Apostolic Letter for the Church called Porta Fidei, Latin for “The Door of Faith,”  and he described faith as that doorway into a life of communion with God.  “To enter that door,”  he says, “is to set out on a journey that lasts a lifetime.  It begins with baptism (cf. Rom. 6:4), through which we can address God as Father, and it ends with the passage through death to eternal life.”
Every one of us present at the Eucharist this day has walked through the Porta Fidei.  We made a decision to come here, expecting and anticipating to enter into communion with the living God, and so it is.  We gather here around this altar and receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ, we share in communion with God and with each other.  What a remarkable gift faith is!
Yet there are many who do not walk through that door.  Many people in the world today, and sadly also many in the Church, are experiencing a crisis of faith, which is precisely why Pope Benedict wrote Porta Fidei; it is why he has initiated the coming year as the “Year of Faith,”  beginning October 11, 2012, in order to focus on that virtue and its necessity for a life of human fulfillment and salvation.
You may have seen the internationally broadcast event this past Monday which showed the debate between Cardinal Pell from Sydney Australia and the well know biologist and self-proclaimed atheist Richard Dawkins.  Dawkins is the author of the bestselling book The God Delusion. It is his contention that those who believe in a personal God are deluded, that such a God does not exist.  Some of the arguments he offered during the the debate were intelligent and carefully reasoned, and others were much less so.  In all of them, sadly, he was wrong.  There are very few people in the world who believe as strongly as Richard Dawkins that God is nonexistent and people of faith are deluded.
Nonetheless, there are a great many people who fit the description of “practical atheists.”  They are people who certainly believe that God exists; they perhaps believe even in the Church and in the efficacy of the Sacraments.  Yet they live as if neither God nor the Church exist; they live as if there will be no rendering of an account at a final judgement and no eternal life that follows this one.  Does that sound familiar to you?
How many of our pews are empty, how many friends and members of our families have ceased to practice their faith?  
Some of these are the result of apathy or spiritual malaise, people who have succumbed to a secular culture that has become expert in distracting us from the essential matters of worship, true relationship and virtue.   Still, many have left the Church and the practice of their faith because of people within the Church!  They have been hurt by something which was said or done to them, and now they are standing outside the Porta Fidei.  Or perhaps something happened to them, or to someone they love; maybe it was cancer, some terrible tragedy, some inexplicable circumstance; somewhere along the way they simply made a decision to not follow a God that would allow that to happen.  These things are not uncommon in the world we live in.  Therefore it should come as no surprise for us to see them happening to St. Thomas the Apostle in our Gospel this weekend.
We often refer to him as Doubting Thomas, but lest we forget, Thomas is also a Saint, an Apostle and a man who would soon become a martyr specifically for his faith in Jesus Christ.  Thomas had seen a lot in his brief time with the Lord.  He had watched Christ heal the sick and raise the dead; he saw Christ preach to thousands and win the favor of the multitudes.  But then he had seen Christ arrested and beaten.  He had stood by in numbed silence while Christ was convicted and then executed.  After having placed all his hopes and trust in Jesus of Nazareth, he had suddenly come up empty and his faith was shaken to the core.  The disciples come to him and share how they have seen the Risen Lord, how He has appeared to them!  But Thomas will hear none of it:
“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.”
-John 20:25
He is with those same disciples this weekend, in the upper room.  The doors of that place are locked, literally but also figuratively for Thomas.  He has closed himself off from a life of faith, the Porta Fidei is shut tight!  But Jesus Christ walks right into that room anyway, through the locked door, and confronts St. Thomas directly:  
“Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side.”
-John 20:27
Jesus Christ has no problem at all with those who demand evidence and want to see things for what they are in the material world. Nonetheless, he also demands that such rigorous inquiry be accompanied by faith:  “Do not be unbelieving, but believe” (John 20:27).  
Our Lord challenges us to embrace that same faith in this coming “Year of Faith.”  How comforting to know that, even in our doubts, amidst our own fears, disappointments and darkest days, and perhaps even especially in those moments, He is able to enter into our lives and inspire us to walk through the Porta Fidei.
I mentioned at the beginning of this homily the Christian author, C.S. Lewis.  His stories, books and essays are among the finest and most faith-filled works of this past century.  And yet Lewis himself was a staunch atheist for decades.  He quips about how he would be very careful to avoid particular conversations, never to read certain articles or books, lest they should suddenly shatter his facade.  In his autobiography, Surprised By Joy, he writes about how something, or rather, Someone, eventually broke through the locked door of his private study and how his entire atheistic house of cards finally came crashing down:
You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I desired so earnestly not to meet.  That which I had greatly feared had at last come upon me.  In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.  I did not then see what is now the most shining and obvious thing; the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms.  The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet.  But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape?  The words compelle entrare, compel them to come in, have been so abused by wicked men that we shudder at them; but, properly understood, they plumb the depth of Divine mercy.
-C.S. Lewis, Surprised By Joy
P. 228-229, Harcourt Inc.
Compelle entrare, compel them to come in.  Lewis writes that this compulsion for us to enter into a life of faith plumbs the depth of God’s mercy.  This weekend we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday, and God is compelling all of us to adore and gives thanks anew for His great mercy and the forgiveness and grace we are given in Christ.  How is He also compelling us to enter more completely though the Porta Fidei this weekend, and in this coming year?  
Perhaps more importantly, how are each of us called to compelle entrare, to compel those in our families, among our friends and those we encounter each day, to enter into the doorway of faith, the Porta Fidei, so that they can share in communion with God and discover anew this Divine Mercy, this Jesus who is forever our Resurrection and our Life.