Second Sunday of Easter
April 12, 2015 Homily
Popular imagery places St. Peter at the entrance to heaven to greet us as we move to judgement before Jesus Christ. The imagery comes from the Gospel passage in which Jesus entrusted Peter with the keys more broadly. We understand the keys in a broader sense. When Jesus entrusted Peter with the keys, He was referring to all those tools He gave to the Church so that His followers could enter into eternal happiness. That includes the teaching authority of the Church, the means of sanctification in worship and sacrament and in a particular way the power to forgive (or retain) sins as described in our Gospel today.
Now, imagine if you were the one to stand at the gate to heaven to welcome people as they approached Jesus for judgment and mercy. How would you react when someone who had been very hurtful to you approached, one who never said “I’m sorry” to you? Or maybe it would be someone who created hardship for a loved one, a family member or friend. Or maybe the one approaching you at the heavenly gate was one of the terrorists who recently stormed the college in Kenya, slaughtering young Christians. And you would not simply see the person, you would see, in your head, the images of their real atrocious actions. I think most of us would be appalled and wonder how such people can expect to just waltz into heaven and be granted mercy. Our reaction is natural. It testifies to an innate human sense of justice. Actions have consequences and when one has acted in a way that has hurt other people some punishment seems appropriate. There should be some reparation. We might be less inclined to apply the same justice to our own failures.
An honest and authentic recognition of the demands of justice in response to evil done is necessary in order to appreciate the true significance of divine mercy, the mercy of God. On this second Sunday of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday, we reflect on God’s generous gift of mercy and how it should impact our lives. In Rome Pope Francis will formally declare what was announced a couple of weeks ago, a Holy Year of Mercy. The year will begin next December 8th, and continue to the Solemnity of Christ the King on November 20, 2016.
Each year on this Sunday the Gospel reminds of the special tool of God’s mercy, the gift of the forgiveness of sins through the Church. The special power to forgive (or retain) sins granted to the apostles has been passed on through the Church as it is uniquely celebrated in the sacrament of confession. Personal forgiveness is also attached to every celebration of the Mass wherein we begin with a penitential rite and calling to mind of some specific sin. It is also found in our personal prayer, especially the commended nightly review of the day and the praying of the Confiteor or act of contrition.
Something must be done, in justice, in response to sin and the harm it causes whether we realize it or not. But we know that no punishment is really adequate for the most horrendous of sins. But that is why Jesus endured a uniquely powerful punishment, in spite of His innocence, in order to signify making up in justice for punishment that is due for those who in faith choose to unite themselves to Jesus. When we remind ourselves that it was God almighty, God in human flesh who suffered, the justifying power of Jesus’ suffering and death is all the more intensified.
But something must be done by those who want mercy. In Jesus’ great stories of mercy in the Gospel we get some idea about what. In the story of the Pharisee and the publican, it is the one who acknowledged sin and asked for mercy who went home justified. In the story of the prodigal son, we hear his confession twice, once in preparation and once directly to His father. And the woman spared stoning after being accused of adultery was told to: “Go and sin no more.” Jesus did not pretend that she was innocent. His mercy was to lead her to moral living.
In our second reading today St. John gives us some direction as well. He identifies love of God with fidelity to the commandments. The commandments and their expansion and amplification in the teaching of the Church remain the matter, the stuff, of assessing our need for mercy. Every violation of the commandments does some harm at it injures the human dignity of ourselves or others. What we do comes from faith in Jesus who suffered, died and rose that we might have eternal life. It is a faith that calls for us to humbly acknowledge our shortcomings. It is a faith and humility that trusts that Jesus will forgive our sins so that past sins are replaced by the resolve to greater resist future sin. It is a faith that should nurture our desire to be Jesus’ partners in mercy.
The fruits of authentic acceptance and gratitude for God’s mercy has a threefold affect. It enables us to be and do better. It allows us to approach others with mercy: being patient, giving the benefit of the doubt and not dwelling on the hurts that, while deserving accountability also need mercy. Our grateful embrace of mercy will also strengthen our ability to reach out in compassion to so many around us with so many spiritual, emotional and material needs. Generosity is a by-product of mercy.
It is important to remember that God, that Jesus does not overlook sin. He looks through it. He looks through to see the images of God we were made to be. He looks through to see the redeemed and adopted children of God that we are. He looks through to see all the good He knows we can do. And when we look back at Jesus, like Thomas in the Gospel, we should link the credibility of resurrection with the reminder of Jesus’ wounds. We should not overlook the wounds of Jesus, we should see through them to the most profound expression and commitment of love and mercy for us, over and over again. And when we look at Jesus, wounded and yet glorious and risen, we echo the words of St. Thomas: “My Lord and My God.”