Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily on Divine Mercy Sunday April 12.
Last year I concelebrated the most memorable Mass for today’s feast of Divine Mercy of my entire life. Pope Francis was the principal celebrant and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was present. Also present were 150 concelebrating cardinals, 1,000 other bishops — including me — 6,000 priests and 800,000 laypeople from every nation on earth, including 24 heads of state. During this Mass two deceased popes were canonized in a Mass with two living popes, making it the first “Mass of Four Popes” in history. John XXIII who had convened the Second Vatican Council 50 years earlier, and John Paul II, who had established this feast of Divine Mercy on which 14 years later he himself, would be canonized.
During his homily Pope Francis described Saints John XXIII and John Paul II as “men of courage” who bore witness to God’s mercy. He said, “They were priests, bishops and popes of the 20th century. They lived through the tragic events of that century, but were not overwhelmed by them. For them, God was more powerful, faith was more powerful.”
And now a year later, on today’s feast Divine Mercy, Pope Francis has just declared an Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy to begin on Dec. 8, 2015, which is not only the feast of the Immaculate Conception but also the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council, an event through which the Church entered a new phase of our history for the purpose of being able better to proclaim the Good News of God’s mercy in the context of today’s world.
The council began with these words of St. John XXIII, which Pope Francis quotes in his decree calling for this great Jubilee of Mercy: “Now the bride of Christ wishes to use the medicine of mercy rather than taking up the arms of severity ... The Catholic Church, as she holds high the torch of Catholic truth at this Ecumenical Council, wants to show herself a loving mother to all; patient, kind, moved by compassion and goodness toward her separated children.” On Dec. 8, Pope Francis will open the Holy Year “Door of Mercy” at St. Peter in Rome, through which, he reminds us, “anyone who enters will experience the love of God who consoles, pardons and instills hope.” He also calls for the opening of a Door of Mercy at every cathedral throughout the world, which we will certainly do here in Arkansas at St. Andrew Cathedral in Little Rock.
And isn’t that the heart of the message of Jesus Christ, which we celebrate today? In today’s Gospel we see how Jesus intervenes to bring mercy and forgiveness to his disciples, and through them, to us. We also see how once they — and we — have received mercy, they — and we — are obligated to bring that same mercy to others, courageously.
Here we have the disciples locked indoors out of fear. Fear of Jesus’ adversaries. Presumably worried that they too might be arrested and executed like Jesus was. And guilt-driven fear of Jesus himself, whom out of cowardice they had denied and abandoned in his time of greatest need. Fearful, apparently, that the man who appeared to them suddenly despite locked doors might be a ghost come to haunt them and exact vengeance. But what does Jesus say? “Peace be with you” and then he showed them his hands and his side, the wounds of his self-offering in expiation for our sins. And then he says, “Peace be with you” again. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And then breathing on them, he filled them with the Holy Spirit to empower them to bring that same mercy they have received to others. “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”
Our Gospel goes on to tell the story of Thomas, who wasn’t there that first time. Like many people today, he found the Good News of our salvation too good to be true. He demanded more proof and so Jesus intervenes. He knows how we put up all kinds of obstacles because we’re afraid of vulnerability. You know, you have to open your heart to receive mercy, meaning that you have to take ownership for the fact that you need mercy, that you do have brokenness that you know — through bitter experience — that you’re powerless to deal with on your own, inner doubts that lead to outward doubts like those expressed by Thomas. So Jesus intervenes to break through Thomas’ self-defeating defenses. At which point Thomas not only declares, “My Lord and my God” — he also will soon go forth to bring that same Divine Mercy to others. Indeed, we are told that he went farther than all the rest, bringing the Gospel all the way to India.
You have received that same mercy and you too were sent forth empowered by the Holy Spirit on the day of your confirmation. Is there anything getting in the way of you fulfilling this sacred mission that Jesus has now entrusted to you? Look around you and see how many people you know live lives of fear, people whose lives are empty because whatever they appear to possess, they lack the only thing that really matters: a heart healed by the experience of God’s mercy; people who stumble blindly through life because they have no moral compass, no sense that what they do with their life really matters, nothing to live for bigger than themselves and so they resign themselves to an existence of quiet desperation. They need God’s mercy, and Jesus has sent you to bring it to them — and that is what the Holy Father is calling for especially during this upcoming great Jubilee of Mercy.
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