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The Bishop's Homily
The following is the homily delivered Divine Mercy Sunday by the Most Rev. Martin D. Holley, auxiliary bishop of Washington, D.C.:
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus' words in the Gospel today are worth repeating on this Sunday of Divine Mercy. As He said to His disciples, "'Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, so I send you.' Then He breathed on them and said to them. 'Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.'"
Jesus gave His disciples an incredible gift, and at the same time a tremendous responsibility to be instruments of His Divine Mercy through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, of Penance. The words of absolution spoken to us by the priest in this Sacrament of Divine Mercy is like a salve or ointment, meant to heal, renew, and to restore us to excellent spiritual health.
On this Sunday of Divine Mercy, I believe that is important for us to remember the words that Blessed John Paul II spoke to us in his homily during the beatification of four (4) apostles of mercy. Quoting scripture, he said,
"God, rich in mercy." This phrase in a way captures the entire truth about the love of God which has redeemed humanity. "God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ" (Eph 2:4-5). The fullness of this love was revealed in the sacrifice of the Cross. For "greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (Jn 15:13). Here is the measure of God's love! Here is the measure of God's mercy!
Once we recognize this truth, we become aware that Christ's call to love others even as he has loved us calls all of us to that same measure. We feel in some sense impelled to make our lives a daily offering by showing mercy to our brothers and sisters, drawing upon the gift of God's merciful love. We realize that God, in showing us mercy, calls upon us to become witnesses to mercy in today's world.
He goes on to say:
From the beginning of her existence the Church, pointing to the mystery of the Cross and the Resurrection, has preached the mercy of God, a pledge of hope and a source of salvation for man. Nonetheless, it would appear that we today have been particularly called to proclaim this message before the world. We cannot neglect this mission, if God himself has called us to it through the testimony of Saint Faustina.
God has chosen our own times for this purpose. Perhaps because the twentieth century, despite indisputable achievements in many areas, was marked in a particular way by the "mystery of iniquity". With this heritage both of good and of evil, we have entered the new millennium. New prospects of development are opening up before mankind, together with hitherto unheard-of dangers. Frequently man lives as if God did not exist, and even puts himself in God's place. He claims for himself the Creator's right to interfere in the mystery of human life. He wishes to determine human life through genetic manipulation and to establish the limit of death. Rejecting divine law and moral principles, he openly attacks the family. In a variety of ways he attempts to silence the voice of God in human hearts; he wishes to make God the "great absence" in the culture and the conscience of peoples. The "mystery of iniquity" continues to mark the reality of the world.
In experiencing this mystery, man lives in fear of the future, of emptiness, of suffering, of annihilation. Perhaps for this very reason, it is as if Christ, using the testimony of a lowly Sister, entered our time in order to indicate clearly the source of relief and hope found in the eternal mercy of God.
Nowhere is this mystery of iniquity being more manifested today than the attack on the dignity of the human person through the legalization of abortion through all stages of pregnancy, the attempt to redefine the Sacrament of Matrimony by some through legal means, and the unjust means of eliminating religious liberty through an executive mandate.
There can be no doubt that the inspiration and forces of relativism and secularism in our present-day culture bares the appearance of something beyond natural, and may even be considered to some degree as possibly preternatural. And the only antidote for such a condition for the human person is God's Divine Mercy. Sacred Scripture reminds us that God desires that all be saved and come to know the truth.
Today's world distracts people from the reality of eternity and people often can live their lives as though this is all there is and turn their consciences away from God. Divine Mercy teaches that although God is merciful, He does care that we sin. We are called to real repentance. We are required to follow the law of God. Part of God's mercy is that when we experience sorrow for our sins, instead of feeling hopeless, we can receive forgiveness and healing.
Blessed John Paul said:
The message of merciful love needs to resound forcefully anew. The world needs this love. The hour has come to bring Christ's message to everyone: to rulers and the oppressed, to those whose humanity and dignity seem lost in the mysterium iniquitatis. The hour has come when the message of Divine Mercy is able to fill hearts with hope and to become the spark of a new civilization: the civilization of love.
The Church desires tirelessly to proclaim this message, not only by convincing words, but by the ready practice of mercy. This is why she ceaselessly holds up stupendous examples of individuals who out of love for God and for man "went forth and bore fruit."
This Second Sunday of Easter, or the eighth day of the Solemnity of Easter, has a second name "Sunday of Divine Mercy." That is why on this day we remember and proclaim with joy and splendor of Christ's triumphant rising from the dead (Easter proclamation) and the inscrutable mystery of God's love and mercy for humanity. How great is the Father's love for us that He gave us His Son.
Blessed John Paul II made the surprised announcement of this change in his homily at the canonization of St. Faustina on April 30, 2000. There, he declared: "It is important then that we accept the whole message that comes to us from the word of God on this Second Sunday of Easter, which from now on throughout the Church will be called 'Divine Mercy Sunday," or Sunday of Divine Mercy.
The Divine Mercy Sunday directs the hearts of humanity to God's boundless mercy and love manifested in all its richness by Christ, our Risen Lord. On this Sunday the Gospel reminds us how our Lord gave to His apostles the power to forgive sins. The Lord desires to grant through the ministry of the Church the forgiveness of sins to all those who approach Him with contrite hearts through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
The recent inspiration for the restoration and celebration of the Second Sunday of Easter as also a Sunday of Divine Mercy came into the Church through our Lord, who by way of an approved private revelation reminded us of the specialness of this day as a Feast of Mercy.
Saint Faustina recorded in her Diary, "I saw Jesus dressed in a white garment. He held one hand raised in blessing and the other hand was touching his garment at the breast. From under the garment came two rays of light, one red the other pale. Jesus asked that a picture be painted of this image with the words under it: Jesus, I Trust in You. He asked that the pictured be venerated first in the convent chapel and then throughout the whole world. Jesus explained that, "the rays represent the Blood and Water which gushed forth from the depths of my Mercy when my agonizing heart was pierced on the cross. The pale rays symbolize the Water, which cleanses and purifies the world; the red rays represent the Blood, which gives new life to the soul. These rays shield the soul before the justice of my Father."
Saint Faustina wrote: "The Lord permitted me to see the immensity and greatness of His Mercy. If souls could only realize how much God loves them! Write, the greater the sinner, the greater the mercy. Summon all those to confidence in the incomprehensible depth of my mercy for I desire to save all. The well of mercy was opened wide with a lance on the cross for all souls. I do not exclude anyone."
Jesus repeated again and again His appeals to sinners. "Know my daughter that my heart is mercy itself. From this sea of mercy graces pour out upon the whole world. No souls that come to Me depart without being comforted. All misery vanishes in My mercy and every grace, redemptive and sanctifying, stems from this source."
How merciful is our Lord's love for us, as He took upon Himself the guilt of us all, and restored us to grace. It is by His wounds that we are healed, through His sufferings that we are made whole. His victory over sin and death removes the fear of death and destruction; fills us with hope and the consolation of unending life. He is the Life and Resurrection. He is Love and Mercy itself.
By celebrating both mysteries of Christ's dying and rising for us and Christ's absolute love, we experience His merciful love for us, the full truth of the Paschal Mystery is revealed to us. His suffering, dying, and rising was done for us and for our salvation — because He loved us to the end and had merciful regard for our sinful condition.
The Church Fathers attest to this. They celebrated Easter for eight days as a single celebration. Saint Augustine states that the octave was referred to as "days of mercy and pardon" and its concluding day, the Sunday of this Octave of Easter, was called "the summary of the days of mercy."
In the gospel today, we hear that it is Thomas who is absent that first Easter evening when Jesus returned. It is Thomas who replies to the other disciples that he will not believe unless he himself sees and touches the wounds of Jesus. It is Thomas who is present a week later when Jesus returns and is told by Jesus to touch and see His wounded hands and side and then he believes. It is Thomas who finally says to Jesus, "My Lord and My God!" There are times when each one of us feels like Thomas, but doubting Thomas becomes an adorer of the Lord God after experiencing His mercy. A conversion took place in him, which Jesus wants to work in all of us, in accord with our faith in the great power of His mercy.
As front and center as Thomas is to our gospel, on this second Sunday of Easter, Sunday of Divine Mercy, I would like to re-focus the attention back to the Person who is most important to us, and that is Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord. The fact of the matter is that Jesus came back, as He had said He would do, and His disciples had gathered in the locked room out of fear and not out of faith.
Jesus came back to the very ones who had thoroughly disappointed Him, denied Him and deserted Him during His time of greatest need, when He was suffering and dying. Jesus came back to the ones He had handpicked to succeed Him. They had been His traveling companions, who heard His sermons and witnessed Him healing the sick, expelling unclean spirits, forgiving sinners, feeding the hungry, and even raising the dead to life.
They had experienced all these things in Jesus' presence. Jesus came back to the ones He had warned that, He, would be accused, arrested, imprisoned and put to death. Why did Jesus come back to this crew of fearful, desperate, and deserting friends? Because that was His promise! He showed them His Divine Mercy. Jesus came back! And the doors were locked, locked because of fear and not faith.
But perhaps the disciples' real fear was Jesus, the Risen Christ! Maybe, just maybe, His fear-filled followers had locked the doors and huddled together hoping that the Jesus they had deserted and denied would forget them and just go away and leave them with their own fears, shame, and guilt over what they had done.
But Jesus came back and stood in their midst, in spite of the locked doors. For He had told Mary Magdala, "Go to my brothers and tell them, 'I am going to My Father and to your Father, to My God and to your God.'" Jesus wants to remind us that He continues to come to us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, when we are fearful and feel broken by shame and guilt for our sins.
Jesus comes to bring us peace and joy. His first words to His disciples are, "Peace be with you." He repeats this greeting three times to assure His disciples and us that He really means this for us. This is Jesus' Easter greeting which has not changed over the centuries. It is one of His Divine Mercy, and this is how He greets us in every sacrament of Church.
I am sure that many of you who are present here today at Mass and around the world have had your own personal experiences of God's Divine Mercy. I will never forget my own personal experience in March of 2004, as pastor of Little Flower Parish in Pensacola, Fla., while celebrating the 4 p.m. Vigil Mass for Sunday of Divine Mercy. I was standing at the altar that evening, and the sun began to shine so brilliant and bright through the stained-glass window of St. Therese of Lisieux, and it lit up the altar as well as the pulpit nearby, which had a large portrait of the Divine Mercy hanging on it.
At that time, I had to stop momentarily during the Consecration because I could not see the words in the Sacramentary. After a moment, it seemed as if the words in the Sacramentary were lifted off the page, and after distributing Communion, it seemed as if the rays from the heart of the portrait of the Divine Mercy were glistening ever so bright. Even as I genuflected at the end of Mass and glanced over to take another look, it seemed to continue to radiate light. I didn't know what to think of it.
Even the deacon for the Mass that evening, Deacon Steve Wulf, asked me once we were outside of the Church if I had noticed how the Divine Mercy portrait was glistening with light from the rays of the Heart of Jesus. Instead of answering his question, I asked him if that is what he saw, and he said "Yes," and then I said, "Of course, I saw it, but I wanted to make sure that you saw it."
A very holy woman, now deceased, named Bernice Golay came up to me after Mass and asked if I saw the bright rays of light shining from the Heart of the Divine Mercy, and I asked her, "Is that what you saw?" and she said, "Yes, didn't you see it? And I said, "Of course, but I wanted to make sure that you saw it, too!"
One could say that it was coincidental, but by May 18, 2004, I was named by Blessed John Paul II as an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Washington. Three days after returning to Pensacola, after being named an auxiliary bishop, I was sitting on the side of my bed, staring at the crucifix on my wall and asking Jesus, what have I gotten myself into.
Now, I needed to decide on the words for my Coat of Arms, and it seemed as if this tune in my head kept singing, "His Mercy Endures," and it continued as I began to sing along. "His Mercy Endures." Then it began to dawn on me that the scriptures were filled with so many accounts of God's Divine Mercy, especially through His Son, Jesus Christ, Divine Mercy through miracles of healings, and exorcism. It was a new revelation to me, yet old, but now more recognizable.
I went to my chapel and prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet, which became a daily part of my spiritual life. I began to experience how merciful God had been to me, a sinner, and how He truly wanted me to trust in Him, and to extend His mercy to others, especially through the Sacraments of Reconciliation. While I had already been promoting the Divine Mercy Chaplet, my devotion, from that day on, would intensify, because now as a bishop, the Lord was calling me to experience the profound graces of His mercy and to extend His mercy to others.
Our Lord in His Divine Mercy wants to pour out His mercy upon each of us in order that His mercy and love may be known around the world, in order to destroy the presence of so much evil that has presented itself in our world today through reality of the Seven Deadly Sins. They are deadly because they strip the human person of their dignity as a creature of God, made in His image and likeness. Our Lord in His Divine Mercy restores it.
As a matter of fact, as St. Faustina reminds us in her Diary, He wants all of us to learn about His Divine Mercy, to live His mercy and to extend His mercy throughout the whole world. That is why He gave her the Divine Mercy Chaplet. This is what we are celebrating here today. "His Divine Mercy Endures Forever" because we trust in Him.
We know that this devotion was celebrated unofficially in many places for some years, but it was not until Blessed John Paul II canonized St. Faustina and attached the decree of a plenary indulgence that it began to increase significantly.
We know that this message of God's mercy is not something that is new, because when we carefully search the scriptures, we hear so profoundly how merciful God has been to His people by sending His only begotten Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins, and those of the whole world.
The message that St. Faustina received from the Lord and which is recorded in her diary, is old, but yet new for our times in which we live in today, as we are challenged to live out the Culture of Life, in what is often referred to as the Culture of Death, where there is so much lack of mercy, love and compassion.
The Lord of Divine Mercy knows that we are in a spiritual battle for the very salvation of souls, and that is why He sent His only begotten Son into the world, one like us, but without sin, so that through His Divine Mercy, He might save us from sin and death in order that we might gain eternal life.
This is the message of His Divine Mercy to St. Faustina, which He wants to spread throughout the whole world, and it begins with each individual soul, created by God from all eternity, which is made in the image and likeness of God, and which has the capacity to show forth God's Mercy and Love.
This message of Divine Mercy helps us to recognize our own need for God's Mercy in our lives through the Sacrament of Reconciliation and through the Divine Eucharist.
When we fix our gaze upon the image of Jesus in the Divine Mercy portrait, we see that from the very heart of Jesus, the rays of His grace are being poured out upon the whole world, individually and collectively, to each soul which is privileged to receive an abundance of this Mercy which is a free gift from God, who wants us to know that His Mercy Endures.
The red and white rays representing the healing Sacraments of Baptism and Reconciliation whereby we are healed of all our sins; original and personal sins, regardless of what they are and how great a sinner we may be, because it is by the pure mercy of these cleansing rays that burn away the scarlet of our sins and refines us like fire, to help renew, restore and reconcile our souls to its original pristine nature, a worthy dwelling place for Christ.
Let us listen to the soothing words of Jesus in His Divine Mercy when through the absolution given to us through the priest when he says, "God the Father of Mercies, through the Death and Resurrection of His Son, has reconciled the World to Himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of Sins. Through the ministry of the Church, may God give you Pardon and Peace, and I Absolve you from your Sins, In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
How fortunate we are to experience this free gift of God's grace through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, in which He empowers us now to be instruments of His Mercy and Grace to our brothers and sisters in Christ, by the way we live our lives and by the way we treat each other with Mercy, Love and Compassion.
This type of Mercy melts away anything that would separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus. St. Thomas Aquinas calls it the "second perfection of Easter." Then after having received this great gift of His Mercy, it prepares our hearts and indeed our very souls to become fertile soil in order to nourish us with the most precious of all gifts through His Divine Mercy in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, where we are called to become what we receive. Holy as the Lord is Holy.
At the heart of who we are as Catholics and as Christians, and what we are to become is found in the Sacred Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist, where Jesus pours out His Divine Mercy, in the form of the Consecrated Bread and Wine, through the transubstantiation of our gifts of bread and wine on the altar, which truly is the real presence of Jesus' Divine Mercy.
When we hear the words, spoken by the priest over the bread, "Take This, All Of You And Eat Of It, For This Is My Body Which Will Be Given Up For You. And again, Take This, All Of You, And Drink From It, For This Is The Chalice Of My Blood, The Blood Of The New And Eternal Covenant, Which Will Be Poured Out For You And For Many For The Forgivness Of Sins. Do This In Memory Of Me.
Through these words and actions, the floodgates of Jesus' Divine Mercy is poured out upon us, as seen in the red rays of grace, flowing from His Heart, even as it did when Blood and Water flowed from His Heart, as He hung upon the cross on Good Friday.
This was His Promise to His Disciples who struggled to Believe, before, and even after His Resurrection, when He came among them to reassure them of His Mercy and Love, to strengthen their Hope, and to shore up their Faith in what He had said and done, and what they had heard and seen Him do, and now, what He was asking them to do in His name.
Benedict XVI, in his homily to the young people at World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany said, "In Jesus Christ, who allowed His heart to be pierced for us, the true face of God is seen. We will follow Him together with the multitude of those who went before Him. Then will we be traveling the right path."
"...We believe and worship the Jesus who is manifested to us by the Scriptures and who reveals Himself to be alive in the great procession of the faithful called the Church, always alongside us and always before us."
Today, on this Sunday of Divine Mercy, we are also reminded of Blessed John Paul II words spoken to us in his encyclical, "Rich in Mercy', that, "Our own merciful attitude is likewise a preparation. Without deeds of Mercy our devotion would not be real. For Christ does not only reveal the Mercy of God, but at the same time He places before people the demand that they conduct themselves in life with Love and Mercy."
He goes on to say, that, "This requirement constitutes the very heart of the Gospel ethos-it is the commandment of love and the promise:' Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. (Mt 5:7) Let it be a Mercy that is forgiving and true, and universal, with good words, deeds, and prayer for others!"
In the Gospel today, Jesus on three occasions, extends His Peace to His disciples, and showed them His hands and His Side. He sends them, as the Father sent Him. And He breathes on them, the Holy Spirit, giving them the authority to forgive sins.
To Thomas, He invites to examine His hands and side, in order that he may not persist in his unbelief, but believe. Jesus said to him: "You became a believer because you saw me. Blest are they who have not seen and have believed."
Through His Divine Mercy, Jesus invites us to examine His hands and His side and to believe, and to Trust in Him. He invites us to receive His Mercy through the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Holy Eucharist, and to extend Mercy to our brothers and sisters, and even to ourselves, by Trusting in Him, as did His disciples.
For His side is poured out the graces of His Mercy in all of the Sacraments of the Church. He invites you and me; all of us to share in His Divine Mercy. Let our prayer be Today, Tomorrow and Alwayss, "JESUS, I TRUST IN YOU!"
Through the Intercession of Immaculate Heart of Our Blessed Mother Mary, may we make the Divine Mercy along with the chaplet a daily part of our spiritual devotion and be willing to share our stories of Jesus' Divine Mercy with all those we meet on our pilgrimage and sojourn in this life.
As we have been strengthened by the grace and Mercy of the Word of the Lord in the Scriptures today, and as we prepare to be nourished by His Divine Mercy in the Holy Eucharist, may our FAITH, HOPE and LOVE, always be rooted in the firm conviction of our prayer: "JESUS, I TRUST IN YOU!"