Sunday, 4/19/2020, Divine Mercy Sunday
Mercy and Forgiveness
First Reading Commentary: Acts 2:42-47
During the very early days of the Church, while it was still being formed, there was no clear distinction between Judaism and Christianity. Christians at the time were known as Followers of the Way and the name of Christians would come at a later time. Followers of the Way broke bread together, prayed together and devoted themselves to the teachings of the Apostles who performed many wonders and signs.
This small amount of information tells us much about the Church and the role of the Apostles. Because there was no clear distinction between Judaism and Christianity, we are reminded that Christianity has its birth in Judaism and most of the first Christians before Paul were Jews. This also reminds us that Christ was born a Jew, lived His life as a Jew, prayed and worshipped as a Jew and He died as a Jew.
Although there are differences in the ways that Jews and Christians practice their faith, there is only one major difference in their theology. Christians accept Christ as the second person of the Trinity but Jews see Christ as a prophet.
The first Christians lived a communal life which means that they stayed together. There are two ways to look at this. First, they avoided having their faith tested by staying away from non-believers. That sounds like a good thing but there is a problem with it which brings about the second way to look at this. By staying to themselves, their evangelization efforts were limited.
However, for the early Christians, their communal life worked because of the unity between them. It also worked because of the ministry of the Apostles which I will speak on later. But consider this: many Christians today practice their faith by going to church and worshipping together. However, once they leave church, they are done with religion until they go to church again. Sadly, some people only go to church once or twice a year.
That is not the way that Jesus meant for it to be. We are called to live our faith every day and we are called to evangelize which means that we are called to share our faith with others. We are called to profess our faith by the way that we live our lives as well as by what we say. We have to mean it and it has to come from the heart. A simple greeting like, “Have a blessed day,” when it comes from the heart is a profound profession of faith. It is also an act of following the Second Greatest Commandment of loving our neighbor as ourselves. What better way is there to obey that commandment than to share your faith?
The Apostles did much more than obey the Second Greatest Commandment. They obeyed all of the commandments and they followed all of the instructions which were given to them by Christ. They were filled with the Holy Spirit and it was the Spirit working through the Apostles which made it possible for them to perform great works. Those great works left the people in awe.
In other words, as the Apostles performed their works, the people were filled with the Holy Spirit who gave them the gift of Fear of the Lord also known as Awe and Wonder of the Lord. This gift strengthened their faith. One of the ways that the early Christians professed their faith was by taking care of each other. They sold their possessions and divided them up according to each one’s needs.
This was not simply an expression of the love of neighbor among themselves. It was a demonstration of their wisdom: another gift of the Holy Spirit. You cannot take care of someone else unless you take care of yourself first. Making sure that each individual in the community had adequate provisions made the community stronger as a whole and that made it easier for the community to reach out to others.
The early Christians also professed their faith in their celebration of the Eucharist which they did by breaking bread together in their homes with exultation and sincerity of heart as they praised God. This tells us that the Apostles not only followed the commandment, “Do this in memory of me” themselves but the Apostles shared this commandment with the early Christians who also obeyed it.
The early Christians shared the Eucharist with each other in their homes because there were no churches. Yes, they went to the temple to pray and worship but remember, Jews who were not Followers of the Way, did not believe in the Eucharist so the sharing of the Eucharist did not take place in the temple.
Up until the time that the formal Liturgy of the Mass was instituted the Eucharist was celebrated by the breaking of bread at meals because Christ instituted the Eucharist at a meal—the Passover Meal. Notice that Acts tells us that the people broke bread with exultation and sincerity from the heart as they praised God.
This is the way that we should receive the Eucharist at Mass. When Catholics receive Communion at Mass, they are not exercising a symbolic act. The receiving of Communion at Mass is an actual reliving of the Last Supper. We are receiving the living Body and Blood of Christ as we join ourselves with Christ in Communion. This is why the early Christians shared the Eucharist with such reverence and we should do the same.
Today’s reading from Acts tells us that every day, the Lord added to the number of early Christians, those who were being saved. Because of their strength as a unified community and the ministry of the Apostles, the early Christian Community continued to grow. But it is the fact that as the community grew, more and more people were saved which is the connection to today’s celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday.
We achieve salvation because of God’s endless mercy and forgiveness. Without it, none of us can be saved. We cannot save ourselves no matter how hard we may try. If God does not forgive us of our sins, they are not forgiven. If our sins are not forgiven, there is no mercy. If there is no mercy, there is no entry into the Kingdom of Heaven.
Today, we remember these facts in a special way as we give praise and honor to God and give thanks for His infinite mercy and forgiveness.
The Heart of Divine Mercy
Second Reading Commentary: 1 Peter 1:3-9
It was the will of Jesus as was revealed to St. Faustina Kowalska that this day which we know as Divine Mercy Sunday be celebrated. In fact, Jesus said to her, “My heart rejoices on account of this feast.” St. Faustina concluded in #998 of her diary, “After these words, I understood that nothing can dispense me from the obligation which the Lord demands of me.”
When St. Faustina was canonized by Pope John Paul II on April 30, 2000, He declared that this day be called Divine Mercy Sunday saying, "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."
In his first letter, St. Peter gets at the heart of what Divine Mercy Sunday is all about. On this day, we celebrate God’s mercy, atonement for our sins and the covenant of mercy.
The word “blessed” means happy and St. Peter begins by saying, “Blessed be the God and Father…who in his great mercy gave us a new birth…” In other words, God is happy to bestow His mercy on us. Because there are three persons in one God, when one person is happy, all three persons are happy. Therefore, what St. Peter said is the same message that Jesus gave to St. Faustina.
In Baptism, we are given a new life without sin and each time that we go to Confession, we are given a new life without sin because of God’s mercy and forgiveness. Mercy: the first thing that we celebrate today.
St. Peter goes on to say that our new birth is, “…a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” We know that Christ died on the cross for our salvation but on this day, we are called to remember and give thanks in a special way that Christ sacrificed Himself to the cross in atonement for our sins. Atonement: the second thing that we celebrate today.
St. Peter tells us that the Resurrection of Christ leads us, “…to an inheritance that is…kept in heaven...” Here, St. Peter is talking about the second coming of Christ and the fulfillment of the promise of the Kingdom of Heaven. Our entry into the Promised Land of the New Jerusalem in God’s Kingdom is our new birth and is the complete fulfillment of God’s covenant of mercy and the third reason why we celebrate today.
This all sounds very nice but unfortunately, the evil one is alive and well. So, St. Peter reminds us that our inheritance is imperishable, undefiled and unfading. St. Peter is referring to what Christ said in Matthew 7:22-23 and Luke 11:34-36. In these gospels, Jesus is telling us that the eye is the light of the body. If we allow darkness to come in, we will be taken over by darkness but if we allow only light to come in, we will be full of light. In other words, if we are to be without sin, we must stay away from sin.
St. Peter tells us that we may have to suffer for a little while through various trials. The time frame of a little while is our life on earth and the trials are the devil’s temptations and our giving into those temptations—our sins. We are all constantly tempted and in our human weakness, we all fall victim sooner or later. But happy are we who put our faith in the Sacrament of Confession taking advantage of God’s endless mercy and forgiveness.
St. Peter says, “…the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
This is a hard sentence to understand but it points to Revelation 8. There we see the seven trumpets and those without faith are destroyed in one way or another by the fires associated with the trumpets. But those with faith, the holy ones, have their prayers joined together and the prayers are lifted up before God in the smoke of the incense. After the sounding of the trumpets, the angel then takes the censor containing the coals of the burning incense and hurls it down to earth.
The bottom line is that our faith must be genuine if we are to be among the holy ones on the last day. Only genuine faith will survive the fires of the last day.
If you think about what St. Peter is telling us while remembering that we are all sinners, it becomes clear that we will not be counted among the holy ones on the last day because we have never sinned. We will be counted among the holy ones because of our faith.
It is that faith which will lead us to God with humility always asking for His mercy. It is our genuine faith that will give us the wisdom, courage and fortitude to confess and repent for our sins and that will achieve for us; God’s mercy.
Priesthood, Confession & Unquestioned Faith
Gospel Commentary John: 20:19-31
Jesus appeared to the disciples while they were locked up in the upper room and said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Then He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”
The first thing that Jesus did was to offer His peace to the disciples and then re-affirmed their priesthood with the words, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When Jesus told the disciples to receive the Holy Spirit, He was strengthening the Holy Spirit within them. This is what happens in the sacrament of Confirmation. Then Jesus gave all of the disciples the authority to absolve sins. This is the second time that Jesus instituted the sacrament of Reconciliation or Confession.
This is not the first time that I have commented that one of the issues that I have with Non-Catholic Christians is that they do not accept this sacrament. The most common objection that I hear is that they don’t see why they should confess their sins to another man. I maintain that if you are going to declare yourself as a true, loyal Christian, you must accept everything that Christ said and everything that Christ did without exception. Christ gave us the sacrament and we should use it.
Christ instituted this sacrament—not once—but twice. The first time was in Matthew 16:18-19 when Jesus gave the power of absolution to Peter. If you reject Confession as a sacrament, you reject both of these two gospels!
Thomas was not with the other disciples when Jesus appeared to them after the Resurrection. When they told Thomas that they had seen Christ, Thomas said, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
Faith, by human nature, is not easy because it is difficult for us to accept anything without having some kind, of tangible proof. Faith requires us to believe something which we may not be able to prove in a physical or tangible way. When we put things into a worldly perspective, this may not be a bad thing. But God is not of this world--God made this world. Faith in God requires us to step out of our comfort zone and that is something which Thomas was not ready to do and often times; neither are we.
Jesus appeared to the disciples again about a week later and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked but Jesus came and said, “Peace be with you.” Consider these two thoughts. 1- Jesus does not need any doors to be opened for Him but we do. We cannot go through any door without it being open even if opening it means breaking it down. So it is that we cannot enter the Kingdom unless we enter by way of the door that Christ has opened for us. 2- Jesus always brings peace because He is peace. We can never be totally at peace in our lives without the peace of Christ.
We all know people who seem to live in a world of absolute chaos. Nothing ever seems to go right for them and they always are full of complaints. It’s no wonder that they are always complaining when you look at the way that they live their lives. Sadly, these people do not have the peace of Christ and many of them never go to church or spend time in prayer.
We also know people who have problems in their lives but never complain. They are always at peace and one may think that they just don’t care or have given up. In some cases, that may be true. But many of these people have learned to give their problems to the Lord in faith. As a result, they do have the peace of Christ and there is a common denominator among them—they do take their religion seriously, they do go to church and they pray.
Jesus said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Thomas answered and said, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus said to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”
There is a powerful lesson for all of us in this gospel. If St. Thomas the Apostle could be taken over by his human nature and have doubt, we too can have doubt. But we must understand where that doubt comes from in order to overcome it. The evil one will do anything to keep us from entering the Kingdom and the best way for him to derail us is by attacking our faith and he uses our human nature as one of his weapons to wage his attack.
When we let him, the devil will con us into thinking of God in a worldly way and that simply does not work. Thomas found that out and we should learn from his mistake.
I am convinced that the devil’s con job on some of us is why there are so many people who say that they do not belong to any organized religion but they are spiritual or new age. I believe that the devil's con job is why there are so many lapsed Catholics and why there are so many Cafeteria Catholics and Cafeteria Christians. These people pick and choose what they want to accept in the bible and reject or ignore the rest. In fact, I believe that the devil's con job is why there are so many religions and false prophets in the world today. Worse yet, I believe that the devil's con job is why there are so many people who do not believe anything. All of this is because in addition to using our human nature as a weapon against us, one of the devil's favorite battle plans is, divide and conquer.
John ends today's gospel by telling us that these things were written so that we might come to believe that Jesus is the Christ and that through our belief, we may have life in His name meaning that we may have eternal life in heaven. It's all about faith! With faith, we can achieve God’s mercy which is what we celebrate today. Without faith, we can only perish.