FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 2nd SUNDAY OF EASTER, DIVINE MERCY, April 11, 2021:
In 2016, on Palm Sunday, the world was shocked as the Coptic Catholic churches in Egypt were attacked. It was another of those moments of violence and terror that have become a too-regular part of our lives over the last few decades. But in the midst of that tragedy, there was also a great witness of faith.
Following the attacks, a reporter interviewed the widow of Naseem Faheem. Naseem was a security guard at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria. On that Palm Sunday morning, he encountered a man behaving suspiciously. Naseem stopped him outside the church to question him and seconds later, that man detonated a bomb, blowing himself up and killing Naseem. Naseem, a man of faith, saved dozens of lives just by doing his job, and he was hailed as a hero and a martyr.
Days later, his widow was asked in a TV interview for her thoughts about what had happened to her husband. She answered in a way no one expected. She said, “I’m not angry at the one who did this.” Addressing her husband’s killer she said, “Believe me, we forgive you. You put my husband in a place I couldn’t have dreamed of. May God forgive you, and we also forgive you.”
The camera then turned to a stunned anchorman, one of the most popular TV personalities in Egypt, and, a Muslim. Deeply moved, he struggled to find the words. Finally, he said, “The Christians of Egypt are made of steel. How great is this forgiveness! This is their faith!”
This is their faith. And my friends, this is our faith. It has been one week since we celebrated the great feast of Easter – this great feast that teaches us something almost too amazing to be believed – that death has no power over us. Jesus rises, and through our own baptisms, we will also rise with Him. John’s Gospel today tells us of this powerful moment when the disciples are still locked in the upper room. They are confused and filled with fear. All their hopes have been dashed, and the world no longer makes sense. And, what is the first thing that the Risen Jesus says to them? He says, “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” His first words to the disciples are words of forgiveness and mercy. This is our faith.
Today, we celebrate the Second Sunday of Easter, a Sunday that St. John Paul II also named Divine Mercy Sunday for the universal church. The message of this day is the message of Easter – the great fruit of the resurrection of Jesus is the gift of mercy. With His death and resurrection, Jesus reopens the gates of Heaven, gates that were closed by our sin beginning with Adam and Eve. In fact, one of the most powerful Easter icons depicts the Risen Jesus grasping the hands of Adam and Eve and lifting them from the grave. Adam and Eve are then the first to experience the mercy that was won for us in Christ.
Just look at how this message of mercy has been affirmed each day during this Octave of Easter. Each day has been a day of mercy and forgiveness as Jesus encounters His own disciples who betrayed Him, denied Him, and abandoned Him. The first thing that the Risen Jesus does is to seek them out, show them His mercy, forgive their sins, and reconcile them. Mercy is the great fruit of the resurrection.
St. John Paul made this a special day for the universal church because of his own devotion to God’s divine mercy. In 2001, he said, “Jesus said to St. Faustina: ‘Humanity will never find peace until it turns with trust to God’s Divine Mercy’. Divine Mercy is the Easter gift that the Church receives from the risen Christ and offers to humanity.”
And, we have no greater promoter of mercy than our current Pope, Francis. His whole life has been formed, shaped, and directed by God’s mercy. For example, Pope Francis repeatedly tells a story which he says was the source of his vocation and spirituality. As the story goes, when he was a young man of 17, he was heading to the train in Buenos Aires one day for his school’s annual picnic and his plan that day was to propose marriage to his girlfriend at the picnic. But, as he passed by the local church, he decided to pop in to say a prayer. There he met a young, friendly priest and decided to go to confession to him. Something happened in that confession which Pope Francis describes as an encounter with God who had been waiting for him. In that encounter he experienced unmistakably and powerfully what he described as the mercy of God for him and for all people. He knew from that moment that the only meaning his life could have would be to show everyone the mercy of God. In that moment, he felt called and he discovered his special vocation of mercy. That day, he never caught that train. He didn’t go to the picnic; and he never proposed to his girlfriend. His life and its course was completely changed in that single, extraordinary moment of mercy. And, he tells us that because of that experience more than 60 years ago he adopted the motto that he has used as bishop, archbishop, cardinal, and pope “miserando atque eligendo” which translates as, “having been shown mercy and chosen to show mercy.”
Mercy is the fruit of the resurrection. In an Angelus message devoted to the topic of mercy, Pope Francis said, “I think we are the people who, on the one hand, want to listen to Jesus, but on the other hand, at times, like to find a stick to beat others with, to condemn others. And Jesus has this message for us: mercy. I think — and I say it with humility — that this is the Lord's most powerful message: mercy.”
And just as in the Eucharist there is an exchange – we become what we receive; so too with mercy. We receive this mercy that we do not deserve and could never earn; and then are called to extend that same mercy to all those we encounter. The Pope said, “It is not easy to entrust oneself to God's mercy, because it is deep beyond our comprehension. But we must! We might say, ‘Oh, I am a great sinner!’ All the better! Go to Jesus: He likes you to tell him these things! He has a very special capacity for forgetting. He forgets, He kisses you, He embraces you and He simply says to you: ‘Neither do I condemn you; go, and sin no more.’ Jesus' attitude is striking: we do not hear the words of scorn, we do not hear words of condemnation, but only words of love, of mercy, which are an invitation to conversation. ‘Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.’ Brothers and Sisters, God's face is the face of a merciful father who is always patient. Have you thought about God's patience, the patience He has with each one of us? God understands us, He waits for us, He does not tire of forgiving us. ‘Great is God's mercy.’”
Today, my friends, let us receive the gift of God’s mercy. A gift that He showers on us. It is limitless, powerful, overwhelming. And then, let us bear the fruit of that mercy by bringing it into all the broken places in our lives – the broken relationships, the persistent sins, the words spoken that we wish we could take back. All that mercy to bear fruit in your life and the lives of others. Pope Francis said, “Feeling mercy changes everything. This is the best thing we can feel: it changes the world. A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just. This mercy is beautiful. “God's mercy can make even the driest land become a garden, can restore life to dry bones. Let us be renewed by God's mercy, let us be loved by Jesus, let us enable the power of his love to transform our lives too; and let us become agents of this mercy, channels through which God can water the earth, protect all creation and make justice and peace flourish.”
My friends, feeling mercy changes everything. Offering mercy changes everything. Let us bring life to the dry bones around us by being agents of God’s mercy. “I have given you an example. As I have done, so too, you must do.”
May the Lord give you peace.
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