Photo: Felix Carroll
'A Double Blessing'
The following is the Divine Mercy Sunday 2012 homily of Most Rev. Timothy McDonnell, Bishop of Springfield, Mass.:
"Peace be with you." "Peace be with you." Twice Jesus had to repeat it to the disciples on that first Easter for they were unable to believe either their eyes or their ears. They were huddled in the upper room, fearful for their lives, frightened that what had happened on Friday might be their fate as well: that they would be arrested, condemned and executed. They were afraid. And then he comes and stands in their midst, and tells them: "Peace be with you."
From a distance of 2,000 years it's not easy to put ourselves in the place of the disciples, but as we reflect on all that had occurred in Jerusalem back then between Holy Thursday and Easter Sunday night, we begin to get some inkling of what that greeting meant: "Peace be with you."
Just a few short days before they were gathered with Jesus in that same upper room, and there, two amazing events had taken place. He, their Lord and Master, their Teacher, their hoped for Messiah, had gotten down on His hands and feet and washed their feet as the most menial servant might have done. He had given them an example of how they were to serve one another. And then He had taken bread, blessed it, broken it and given it to them and told them "This is My Body." He did the same with a cup of wine — "This is My Blood." He had told them they were to do the same — in memory of Him. There was no doubt that He was fulfilling what He had promised, that He would give them His own flesh to eat. Slowly then they began to understand the wonder of the gift He was bestowing on them.
The Gospels tell us they went out from the supper singing hymns and psalms. But His mood was more somber. As He entered the garden and there prayed to the Father, they could not overcome their drowsiness, could not keep watch even one hour with Him. Totally without human support, He prayed the most human of prayers: "Father, if its possible, let this chalice pass from Me. But, then, at last, not without struggle within Himself for He was human like us in all things but sin, He uttered that most difficult of prayers: "Father, not My will but Yours be done."
The betrayer had done his work. The soldiers came. They immediately arrested Him. Suddenly the disciples found themselves sheep without a shepherd and they scattered, scattered in fear, fear for their own lives. Two of them came back — John and Peter — to stand in the courtyard of the house where he was being placed on trial. It is there that Peter three times denies any connection with Him, while the perjured testimony, the kangaroo court, the handing over to the Roman authorities, all follow.
Next comes the torture and the mockery, and the sentence of death, and immediately the carrying of the cross and the crucifixion. And then those words that echo down the ages. For, despite all that had happened — the betrayal, the abandonment, the perjury, the mockery, the torture, the slow and exorable death — He looked out from the cross and prayed: "Father, forgive them, they don't know what they're doing."
Now, that same Lord and Master who on Friday had offered forgiveness from the cross to those responsible for His death, was alive and standing before the disciples who had abandoned Him, offering them that same mercy, that same forgiveness, "Peace be with you." The peace He was giving them was not as the world gives peace. It was that peace that comes from God. It is the peace not simply of mind and heart but the peace of soul where grace enters in, and the life of the Risen Lord is shared in the disciple who accepts Him as Savior.
The Gospel makes that clear in the story of Thomas, Thomas, the only disciple who was not present, Thomas who cannot believe what they tell him, who will not accept the word of another but must see for himself, Thomas — the doubting Thomas — who the following week is confronted by the reality of the Risen Jesus and who makes that leap of faith in which, for the first time in the Gospels, the divinity of Christ is acknowledged by one of His disciples "My Lord and my God." And Jesus' response: "Thomas, have you come to believe because you've seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed."
Jesus is talking about you, gathered here on this Divine Mercy Sunday. Jesus is talking about me. Jesus is talking about all those generations through the ages who have not seen but have come to believe that He is our Lord and our God. We believe because we have heard the Good News. We believe because we have experienced the peace that Christ gives. We believe because we have been showered with His Mercy.
Isn't it interesting that the first gift that Jesus gives His followers is the gift of peace and that He perpetuates that gift of peace by saying to those poor, frightened men there in that upper room, those who so shortly before had abandoned Him, those whose weakness He well knew, to them He says: "Receive the Holy Spirit, whose sins you forgive are forgiven."
The first gift He provides us with following His resurrection is what we now call the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the Sacrament of Penance, Confession. He gives to those poor, weak human men the divine power to forgive sins so that souls may know God's mercy, that souls may know the peace that He wishes to share with them by giving them a part in His risen life — what we call grace.
This Divine Mercy Sunday serves to remind the whole world of God's mercy, God's readiness to forgive us, God's desire that we should confess our sins, repent and believe in the love He has for each one of us. This Divine Mercy Sunday is a sign to all the world that greater love no one has than Christ who laid down His life and considers all of us His friends. That mercy reaches out to embrace the saint and the sinner, and all in between. It's meant for every human being. It's meant to touch our hearts and turn us from evil and bring us home into the bosom of the Lord.
The arms of Christ outstretched on the cross embrace the whole world as His voice makes supplication: "Father, forgive them for they don't know what they do." The Divine Mercy is showered down in the words of the Risen Lord "Peace be with you." A peace which is given not as the world gives but a peace that is deeper and stronger than anything, a peace that reaches the innermost fibers of our being, God's peace, where we are at one with Him and with each other.
And how do we manifest that peace? We manifest it very simply. We each have our personal relationship with God, the vertical — from God to us and us to God, and we each have the horizontal — our personal relationship with one another as part of a great church community. When the vertical and horizontal are brought together they form the cross and what's at the heart of the cross — Jesus, the Lord who, at the Last Supper gave Himself to us in the Eucharist; the Lord who on Calvary offered us forgiveness because "we know not what we do"; the Lord who on Easter offered mercy, "Peace be with you."
It was that same Lord who at the beginning of his public life had presented His vision of how he wanted his followers to live. At the heart of the Beatitudes, Jesus tells us: "Blessed are the merciful, for mercy shall be theirs." In today's Easter gospel reading, He Himself shows us the extent of His divine mercy.
Down through the ages, the impact of Christ's teaching on mercy has changed lives. The idea of peace and mercy walking hand in hand within the souls of people has resonated over and over. It has been spoken about, written about and meditated upon in different times in different ways. William Shakespeare, in the Merchant of Venice, put these words about mercy on Portia's lips:
The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown.
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings.
But mercy is above this sceptered sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings;
It is an attribute of God himself;
And earthly power doth then show like God's
When mercy seasons justice.
Mercy is a double blessing — it bless both the giver and the receiver. Mercy has greater force than kingly power or awesomeness or majesty, for
mercy is an attribute of God Himself, an attribute shown by Christ on the cross, an attribute reinforced in His Resurrection on Easter, an attribute still available to us today through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, an attribute that on this Divine Mercy Sunday we celebrate with gratitude for there is not a one of us who doesn't need God's mercy in our lives.
Let us repeat then the request we made at the very beginning of this Mass: Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy, Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy. Peace be with you.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.