Divine Mercy Sunday:
(April 8, 2018; this homily is from April 7, 2002)
By Deacon Lawrence N. Kaas April 8, 2018 (originally April 7, 2002)
20 years ago we wanted to dedicate our community to the Mercy of God. The story of which is far too long to share with you this morning. But you need to know that we asked our Bishop Speltz to conduct the dedication but were told, ‘no he can’t come because of confirmations.. Just days before the dedication, he personally called and said that it was too important for him not to be here and so changed appointments to be with us. At one point he said, he saw this as a way to get the Sacred Heart enthroned in every home and saw this was a means to fulfill that because The Divine Mercy image fits perfectly with the Sacred Heart – as well it should. Now what does he do? Not only does he dedicate our community, but dedicates the whole Diocese to The Mercy of God: to the great joy of all who were aware of what was really going on. So we have, for the Diocese, the [devotion to The Divine Mercy] right here in Sauk Centre. Again there is a whole realm of stories around this that time won’t permit retelling.
This whole revelation, and I use the word revelation deliberately, of the Divine Mercy is not new but old teaching of the Church that had either been lost or ignored. So this little Polish Nun with hardly a third grade education, but obedient to God, became the Secretary of Jesus and writes what He tells her. And for only one purpose: and that to build Trust in the Infinite Mercy of God. Here again more stories could be told.
For 18 some years we have been praying and waiting for the time when, foretold by Sister Faustina, she would be declared Saint and that Mercy Sunday would be declared for the Universal Church: and that happened fully a year ago. Now the Catholic calendar lists this day as Divine Mercy Sunday. What a Glorious Blessing for our Church.
So fitting is this Feast that none of the Reading or Prayers of the Sacramentary had to be changed. In other words, the Mercy Feast was there all the time but not recognized as such. All that was needed is that the Church would once again declare it. I think I could even say with little fear of over statement that this day is the Climax of Easter, not a falling off or low point, as the name for this Sunday, it used to be called Low Sunday, seemed to say. But now this Sunday is built up to the Most wonderful Truths of Divine Mercy.
I wasn’t going to tell you this story because of time but, not only is it a little cute, but also so “church.” Sister had written in her diary that the greatest attribute of God is His Mercy. Some learned men got a hold of it and said no, no: All God’s attributes are Infinite, so her diary can’t be accepted, and for almost 20 years was not allowed to be spread. Our present Pope, then a Cardinal, caused her diary to be once again looked at and finally someone remembers what the early Church Fathers taught was that the greatest attribute of God is His Mercy. Plus it said in the Old Testament the chief attribute of God is His Hesed, His loving Kindness or Mercy. 6 months after her diary was approved, this same Cardinal became Pope.
Now finally we get to the reading for today. The key word is ALIVE. In the first reading we hear people being healed by the shadow of Peter. In other words, brought back to a fullness of LIVING. In the second reading we hear Jesus say, “Once I was dead but now I LIVE.” In the Gospel we hear two times that Jesus appears through the door and proclaims, “Peace be with you!” Even as Thomas comes onto the scene, we are amazed at the reality of the presence of Jesus, not a ghost, ‘feel me, touch me.. Can’t you almost hear Jesus wanting to say, ‘I’M ALIVE, I’M ALIVE, It’s really Me.. The background to this is to me one of the most amazing of going stories in all scripture.
It is not possible to fully appreciate this Gospel reading until you get a feel for the Old Testament counterpart, and that is the Feast of the Atonement as is found in Leviticus 16. Here it tells how once a year the high priest would offer sacrifice for the sake of all the people: and how he did that was a very drawn-out and exacting ceremony from the offering of two male goats and one ram for a holocaust. From the sprinkling of blood to the sending out of the Scapegoat upon whom the sins of the people was placed and sent into the wilderness. How Aaron was to wash was also a part of this protracted day of Atonement. What became key to the Israelites and also for us is the fact Aaron the high priest most go into the Holy of Holies to make an offering to God by a very precise formula. So tough was this to fulfill that two sons of Aaron died in the Holy of Holies because they had offered unholy fire. From that day, any time the high priest had to enter the Holy of Holies they would tie a rope around one leg so that if he died in there they could draw him out without any risk to themselves. But it had to be done to fulfill the ordinances of the Lord and so that the sins of the people could be expiated.
Now! Here is the result of all this. If the high priest died in the Holy of Holies the sins of the people remain. If the high priest comes through the veil from the Holy of Holies ALIVE, can you hear the shout of the people, he’s alive, he’s alive. God has accepted the atonement made and the sins of the people are forgiven.
Somehow this feast of the Atonement was imperfect, otherwise there would have been no need to reenact it time after time, year after year. What was missing? The feast of Atonement of Leviticus 16 couldn’t open heaven, the blood of sheep and goats could not do what the blood of the Eternal Lamb, Jesus Christ could do. The blood of goats lacks the perfection of the Son of God, who, because He is equal to the Father, could once for all open the gates of heaven, closed because of the sin of our first parents. So even though the people were cleansed from sin, they had to wait until that time in human history when Jesus came on the scene to make a perfect Sacrificial Atonement that they, and us, could in the Infinite Mercy of God attain Eternal Life. How do we know this? Twice in our Gospel reading for today Jesus appears through the door of the upper room and, yes, he greets them saying, “Peace be with you.” But there is a resounding reality proclaimed by Jesus and confirmed by the Apostles, ‘I’m ALIVE,. He’s ALIVE, He’s ALIVE.
God has accepted the Sacrifice of His Only Son, heaven is opened. Part of this image shows that Jesus in coming from someplace. He’s come from the Father after releasing the Old Testament people from the place of the dead: and now to make ready that we too may follow. We are now ready to take part fully in the Inheritance that belongs to the Son by hereditary right. What belongs to the Father belongs to the Son. That is why the Hebrew people made such a big issue of the hereditary right of the first born son to inherit everything that belongs to his father. This once again sets the stage to confirm that same hereditary right that Jesus has to inherit everything that belongs to His Father. I asked that question of my 7th grade last week and they answered, everything, everything. Then one student said, heaven (right on!). Eternal life is everything the Father has, which now belongs to the Son. Jesus. own words confirm that when he said the Father and I are ONE.
Are you beginning to get an image of what OUR GOD has done for us? In all of human history has any god done more for the people then our God has done for us? An Infinitely Merciful God sends His only Son as Mercy to save a sinful world. In sister’s diary she says that in all of eternity we will not be able to fathom the Infinite Mercy of God. When you were Baptized, symbolized by the white rays, you were Baptized into Christ Jesus and therefore now have everything that belongs to Jesus, making us not slaves but friends. In His Mercy and knowing human nature as it is, knew sin would still be a part of out lives and so He set up, in the Church He founded, a means by which we can confess our sins in sorrow and receive absolution and do a penance to make things right with God, but there seems to be a temporal effect still lingering that must be satisfied. That brings us back to this day as stated in Sister’s diary, to Confess our sins and to go to Communion on THIS DAY, all punishment due to sin is not only mitigated but wiped clean as if you are newly Baptized. It is not totally clear how close to this day you must go to confession but it seems to be that as close as possible is all that is asked. In other words, sincerely do the best you can and God will take care of the rest.
This brings us to the point of the red rays on the image, which stand for the Eucharist. Many homilies could be preached and not be able to exhaust the subject. The point I want to make for today’s feast is that the Eucharist is alive. When the priest hold the Host high, can’t you hear Jesus saying, Peace, be with you. I’m alive, it is really me. Likewise the Chalice held high, ‘Peace, be with you,. almost a silent scream, ‘I’m alive, it is really me.. We respond as did Thomas, “My Lord and My God.”
What a joy it is for me to share this message with you, in this parish, where by the way, the carved image of Divine Mercy was first displayed. What a Glorious account of the Mercy of God. What return can we make to a God so Merciful to us? One priest I know answered that question by saying we are to be Merciful to Mercy. Meaning to live out the fullness of Mercy granted us in a way that is pleasing to God and inspiring to all those we meet. After all, it is in God’s Mercy that we are what we are and in His Providence who we are, that His kingdom may be made present on earth as we pray in the Our father, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
(‘Thank you’ to Deacon Kaas, for letting me post his reflection here — Brian H. Gill.)
Reason for hope: