Summary: As preached at 8 a.m. Mass April 15 2012--revised Divine Mercy homily with comment on the accusation that the early Church was communist.
Divine Mercy Sunday 2012 (As preached Sunday a.m.)
Spirit of the Liturgy
Before beginning I would like to respond to the folks who, in the past, have argued from today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles that the early Church practiced communism. It is true that Acts records all of them sharing everything, and selling their property for the benefit of all. But it is also true, as a priest-friend told me, that this so impoverished the Jerusalem church that for the next thirty years they had to rely on the generosity of the churches throughout the empire to survive. We see that in Paul’s letters.
. . .
The dramatic story of Thomas the Apostle so dominates today’s Gospel that we tend to overlook the most important words of Christ we read there, the words that put us in direct contact with the Divine Mercy. Perhaps that’s because we, who believe in Jesus without seeing and touching his hands, feet and side, can feel good hearing the divine compliment–blest are those who believe without seeing.
But the words that give us hope, the words that bring us into direct contact with the redeeming flood of grace flowing from the crucified Lord’s heart, are those directed to His first priests–whose since you shall forgive are forgiven; whose sins you shall retain shall be retained.
Human authors write about the “problem of God” from time to time. “How,” they ask, “can we believe in a God of love when there is so much evil in the world. Earthquakes, floods, tornadoes and tsunamis claim hundreds of thousands of human lives, and destroy property so that survivors are in misery for months or years. Then there are wars and domestic disturbances and everything in between that bring uncounted unhappiness.” “How,” they ask, “could a good God let all that evil happen?”
Pagans worked that out, in the epoch after the fall of man, by simply denying the goodness of God. For them, there were many gods, made in the image of man. They were super powerful and immortal, but bored, so they played with humans like game pieces. The conflicts between the gods were played out on the chessboard of this world, and our misery was their entertainment.
No wonder that some philosophers, like Democritus, decided that the best route to human happiness–or at least a reduction of human misery–was to deny the existence of these gods. Their solution was a radical materialism, where gods don’t exist, where the atom is the only eternal reality, and all we see and experience is merely a rearrangement of these atoms. Their thought gradually took hold after the Renaissance, and now secular humanism is the de facto religion of our land. If you don’t believe it, just try to decorate your public classroom door for Valentine’s Day with a cherub.
But the reality is that the evil that surrounds us is there because of the corruption of the human heart and conscience. The majority of the physical damage we experience is done because of poor moral decisions. These decisions–these sins and crimes–also cause the vast majority of the psychological problems in our lives, and cause each and every one of the spiritual problems we labor under.
The Church understands that, and tells the human tale quite differently from the pagan and secularist. She sings a love story, told best by the prophets Hosea and Ezekiel. God loved us into existence. He even built love and companionship into our operating system–male and female He created us. He gave us a garden of love to tend and to eat from, and some simple rules to follow so that we would become, day by day, more like Him, living in total love. But that wasn’t good enough, or maybe quick enough, for us. We decided to do things the devil’s way. We rebelled, and we lost that original innocence, and those wonderful original gifts. Our rebellion even got in the way of our primary human relationships. Adam blamed Eve, and Eve blamed the serpent, but the responsibility for sin is ours. And we pay the price with every drive-by shooting, every divorce, every abortion chosen by our fellow human beings. Worse, we try to fix the problem by buttoning ourselves into gated communities and double-locked doors, like the frightened apostles in the upper room on Easter day.
But God loves us too much to leave us in that terrified state. By the obedience of a new Adam and a new Eve–Jesus and Mary–we have been granted mercy and redemption. Our Liturgy is full of the words of mercy: Here, each Sunday, we acknowledge our sins and pray for forgiveness and grace–Kyrie eleison; Lord have mercy. We hear God’s word, and are challenged to bear witness to that Word in our lives, in a real sense to become God’s Word to the world. When we offer our collective prayers after the Credo, we pray “Lord, have mercy.” We offer ourselves, the only gift God doesn’t have, and say “yes” to God’s challenge as Mary did, as Jesus did. And God responds by once more becoming man, under the signs of bread and wine. When we break the Bread of Life, the bread that is the tangible sign of God’s mercy in our lives, we ask the Lamb of God to have mercy. Then, despite our unworthiness, like the centurion in the gospel, God mercifully asks us to come forward and eat the Body of the Lord and drink His Blood, sacramentally. This communion is God’s gift in time of the eternal mercy, the mercy promised to our ancestors, to Abraham and his descendants forever. It is this sacrament of mercy that lets us say “Amen” to God’s invitation, gives us the strength to witness to His love during the week, and bring us together as one family.