Sunday, April 23, 2017

Divine Mercy Sunday 2017

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio

In April of year 2000, Pope John Paul II proclaimed today, the 2nd Sunday of Easter, “Divine Mercy” Sunday. He was inspired by a young nun, Sr. Maria Faustina Kowalska, who lived in Cracow Poland in the 1930’s. Sr. Faustina received extraordinary revelations from Jesus. These revelations were compiled in notebooks – known today as the diary of St. Faustina Kowalska. Pope John Paul II, both in his teaching and personal life, strove to live and teach the message of Divine Mercy – he exhorted us to personally experience God's mercy. Sister Faustina was canonized on April 30th, 2000.

 Today’s Easter story is a story of divine mercy. It is a story of how Jesus interacts with his Church – then and today.

Today’s gospel reading begins on the evening of that first day – Resurrection Day. The disciples have no understanding – they have not yet grasped the significance of what just happened. Jesus their Lord, their friend, has been crucified – he is dead. Maybe they will receive the same fate. They are huddled in fear and terror in an “upper room” with locked doors.  Like those first disciples, we too experience “the upper room”– where we lock our doors – keeping those out who we don’t understand who we don’t like – where we despair at our failures and betrayals; where we fear about what might come next – most especially the fear of death. We all wrestle with doubts and fears - waiting for God to show us what the resurrected life of Christ means for our earthly existence. 

Jesus now comes in his mercy, and though the doors are locked, he stands in the midst of the disciples.  

Jesus, still the embodiment of humanity – he now lives on a new level – a new pitch of existence – the disciples experience the glorified body of Jesus – as was anticipated by the sign given to Peter, James and John at the Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor. Brothers and sisters, this risen Christ has stood in the midst of his followers up and down the ages. 

For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Jesus stands with us today. When Father says “The Lord be with you”, we acknowledge the presence of the risen Christ among us. We encounter Him in the community, in the Eucharist, in the word of God, in the stranger, in our woundedness, in the act of forgiving. 

Bearing the message of divine mercy – Jesus entrusts its ministry to the disciples as He says,” “Peace be with you.” Soon we will share the sign of peace. Here Jesus takes the initiative. Let us offer each other a sign of (His) peace. Jesus speaks peace be with us – shalom. The Peace God wants us to have - is the peace that the world cannot give.  Jesus’ peace is beyond the fear of death. His peace is the mercy that endures forever.

When Jesus said this, he showed the disciples his hands - and his side. Here we see the whole drama of Christianity on display. Jesus wounds received during His Passion - are part of the price for our salvation: "By His wounds you were healed" (1 Peter 2:24).
Jesus conquered death - by going through it - to the other side. This is the path of radical love - so different from the mindset of our society. Jesus commands us to a kind of love that is all-embracing and limitless. In her diary, Sister Faustina shares a revelation she received from Jesus, “I demand from you - deeds of mercy, which are to arise out of love for Me. You are to show mercy to your neighbors always and everywhere. You must not shrink from this - or try to excuse or absolve yourself from it.” Jesus calls us to love people whom, we would really rather not – to love those who hate us – those who we would rather leave as faceless and nameless. Christ commands us to give them an incredible love.

As the Father has sent me, so I send you. No one in all of scripture is given a vision experience of God without being sent on mission - no exception.  Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, all….. The Father sends the Son into the world on a mission of love – so he sends you and me. We are commissioned to be bearers of the divine life to the world. The word Mass comes from the Latin word Missa….to be sent. With all the graces we receive at Mass, from hearing the Word of God and most importantly, by partaking of the Eucharist, we will have the strength to “go out” and preach the good news to the world – in a manner of saving love and mercy.

Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

We recall in the Book of Genesis, “God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, - and the man became a living being.” Now the Son of God breathes the spiritual life into his disciples, who are the Church. This breath, in Hebrew, Ruah, is the life breathed out between the Father and Son; Christ gives us a share in the divine life that we lost through sin. To save us from sin, Jesus breathes into the disciples, the Church, and gives the Church the power to forgive sins – an abundant mercy.

Now Thomas was not in the “upper room” with the disciples at the first appearance of the Risen Christ – so – he doubted. When Jesus returns to the upper room - with Thomas there, he tells Thomas to place his finger and hands in his wounds.
Thomas then gives voice to the most impressive confession of faith in the entire Bible - “My Lord and my God.” Thomas became a great beacon of light – from doubter to believer.

Thomas and those first disciples received a wonderful gift – seeing Jesus – embracing Jesus – touching the wounds of Jesus – in his human persona – one of us. In a few minutes - we will see - and receive - that same Jesus – in a small white consecrated host. And just like those first disciples, we love him – believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy.

On every Feast of Divine Mercy - let us echo the words of Thomas "My Lord and My God" and through the intercession of Saint Faustina, let us ask the Lord of Mercy for the grace to become true messengers of Mercy in our own age. Amen.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter Sunday Reflection, Thomas Merton

Lent has summoned us to change our hearts, to effect in ourselves the Christian metanoia. But at the same time Lent has reminded us perhaps all too clearly of our own powerlessness to change our lives in any way. Lent in the liturgical year plays the role of the Law, the pedagogue, who convinces us of sin and inflicts upon us the crushing evidence of our own nothingness. Hence it disquiets and sobers us, awakening in us perhaps some sense of that existential “dread” of the creature whose freedom suspends him over an abyss which may be an infinite meaninglessness, an unbounded despair. This is the fruit of that Law which judges our freedom together with its powerlessness to impose full meaning on our lives merely by conforming to a moral code. Is there nothing more than this?

But now the power of Easter has burst upon us with the resurrection of Christ. Now we find in ourselves a strength which is not our own, and which is freely given to us whenever we need it, raising us above the Law, giving us a new law which is hidden in Christ: the law of His merciful love for us. Now we no longer strive to be good because we have to, because it is a duty, but because our joy is to please Him who has given all His love to us! Now our life is full of meaning!

Easter is the hour of our own deliverance— from what? Precisely from Lent and from its hard Law which accuses and judges our infirmity. We are no longer under the Law. We are delivered from the harsh judgment! Here is all the greatness and all the unimaginable splendor of the Easter mystery— here is the “grace” of Easter which we fail to lay hands on because we are afraid to understand its full meaning. To understand Easter and live it, we must renounce our dread of newness and of freedom!

Death exercises a twofold power in our lives: it holds us by sin, and it holds us by the Law. To die to death and live a new life in Christ we must die not only to sin but also to the Law.

Every Christian knows that he must die to sin. But the great truth that St Paul exhausted himself to preach in season and out is a truth that we Christians have barely grasped, a truth that has got away from us, that constantly eludes us and has continued to do so for twenty centuries. We cannot get it into our heads what it means to be no longer slaves of the Law. And the reason is that we do not have the courage to face this truth which contains in itself the crucial challenge of our Christian faith, the great reality that makes Christianity different from every other religion.

In all other religions men seek justification, salvation, escape from “the wheel of birth and death” by ritual acts, or by religious observances, or by ascetic and contemplative techniques. These are means devised by men to enable them to liberate and justify themselves. All the other religions impose upon man rigid and complicated laws, subject him more or less completely to prescribed exterior forms, or to what St Paul calls “elementary notions.”

But Christianity is precisely a liberation from every rigid legal and religious system. This is asserted with such categorical force by St Paul, that we cease to be Christians the moment our religion becomes slavery to “the Law” rather than a free personal adherence by loving faith, to the risen and living Christ; “Do you seek justification by the Law . . . you are fallen from grace . . . In fact, in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor its absence is of any avail. What counts is faith that expresses itself in love” (Gal. 5: 4,6).

. . . This gift, this mercy, this unbounded love of God for us has been lavished upon us as a result of Christ’s victory. To taste this love is to share in His victory. To realize our freedom, to exult in our liberation from death, from sin and from the Law, is to sing the Alleluia which truly glorifies God in this world and in the world to come.

This joy in God, this freedom which raises us in faith and in hope above the bitter struggle that is the lot of man caught between the flesh and the Law, this is the new canticle in which we join with the blessed angels and the saints in praising God.

God who is rich in mercy, was moved by the intense love with which he loved us, and when we were dead by reason of our transgressions, he made us live with the life of Christ . . . Together with Christ Jesus and in him he raised us up and enthroned us in the heavenly realm . . . It is by grace that you have been saved through faith; it is the gift of God, it is not the result of anything you did, so that no one has any grounds for boasting. (Eph. 2: 4– 9)

Let us not then darken the joy of Christ’s victory by remaining in captivity and in darkness, but let us declare His power, by living as free men who have been called by Him out of darkness into his admirable light.

Seasons of Celebration, Thomas Merton

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Palm Sunday 2017

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran theologian who died at the hands of Hitler in 1945, understood discipleship. He understood how following Jesus can lead to being persecuted, even being put to death by hanging. Yet, knowing all this, he never stopped following and challenging others to follow. He said,” When Christ calls a person, Christ bids him come and die.” When we reflect upon the disciples of Jesus, those most intimately acquainted with our Lord, the overwhelming majority of the twelve died as martyrs because of their allegiance and faith to Christ. The day of Bonhoeffer’s hanging, a witness captured his actions and wrote: “I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer… kneeling on the floor praying fervently to God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the few steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.”

 As we move through the season of Lent, this last week of Jesus’ life will stand out as being important.  Today, Palm Sunday, we hear great cries of, “Hosanna.”!, by Holy Thursday the mood will shift to great sadness - as Jesus marches up Golgotha to face death.

Discipleship is costly. It calls for great sacrifice and commitment. The season of Lent challenges us to follow Jesus. We may be called to follow Him even in death. Amen.