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Homily - Divine Mercy Sunday - Bishop McKeown


Do we greet the unfamiliar face that we have never seen before? Do we look beyond our circle of friends and greet those who may come from a different racial or social background. Do visitors sense a smile that says, 'peace be with you, whoever you are'?

St Eugene's Cathedral, Derry
Sunday, 8th April 2024

This second Sunday in Easter time can sometimes be seen as dedicated to this particular devotion of Pope John Paul II to Divine Mercy – as if this emphasis could be dropped at will or change over the years. But the entire of mission of Jesus was always directed at bringing mercy where it was most needed. Just look at his teachings and how he responded to people in need. The revelations to Sr Faustina may be very relevant in our merciless culture – but mercy has always been at the heart of the Resurrection message. What do we learn today?

Firstly, we see Jesus as he meets the disciples on the day of the Resurrection. These are the disciples who had abandoned him on Good Friday – and include Peter who had denied that he even knew Jesus. We all know what it is like to meet someone in an embarrassing situation. But Jesus puts their mind at rest. Jesus meets us where we are. He understands what is going on in our hearts – our hopes and disappointments, our life with the plans that are fickle and the problems that do not go away. But he meets us with the same words that he uses to the frightened disciples – peace be with you. He then tells them to go out and to offer forgiveness. They might have thought that they were ill equipped to do that since they had betrayed him. But the message of Jesus is that we all need mercy – and that only those who have known mercy in their own lives can have merciful hearts for others in their distress. Jesus knew too many religious leaders in his own time who loved to see their own merits and to condemn others. Jesus wants followers who know they are forgiven sinners and who can reach out with that peace to others who find it hard to forgive themselves. Divine Mercy Sunday invites us to know where we have experienced the peace of mercy in our own lives – and to believe that we are called to spread it in a harsh world where many people are hurting and crying out to hear the words of Jesus, 'peace be with you'.

Secondly, that free gift of mercy is communicated to doubting Thomas by a personal encounter. Jesus knows the doubts that lie in Thomas' heart, and he addresses them personally. Belief in who Jesus is follows on from the experience of mercy - and not because of an outburst of divine anger or a reprimand. But this Gospel passage already shows that there is also a structured approach to celebrating forgiveness. The disciples are given the gift of the Holy Spirit so that they can celebrate forgiveness in Jesus' name and with hearts full of divine mercy. The prayers of the church are full of references to forgiveness. We begin Mass with the penitential Rite and before Holy Communion, we pray to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The Night Prayer of the Church, celebrated here each weekday evening, begins with calling to mind the failings and the graces of the day that is coming to an end. But, over the centuries the Church has also develop the Sacrament of Reconciliation as the place where we can all name of sins and hearing a solemn proclamation of the mercy that we celebrate each day. Thus, our faith journey is not a question of either personally asking for mercy or doing that in a sacramental context.Our church practice emphasises both. In an age which is full of talking therapies where we acknowledge and name the dark sides of our lives, it would be a crazy idea to say that the Sacrament of Reconciliation was out of date. Parishes without merciful hearts and without regular access to personal confessions are letting their people down. Those places which offer ample access to this sacrament know what their ministry is desperately needed. Those places that try to reach out to young people know that many of them are desperately seeking places where they can deal with pressures and mistakes of a very confused society.

Thirdly, one of the characteristics of the early church that we hear referred to in our first reading is the sense of community. A sense of belonging is not just the context where faith is handed on, community is part of the content of our faith. As we gather around the altar, we share in the one Body of Christ. Therefore, we are constantly challenged by the call to be a community that welcomes. That includes being conscious of where we are divided by man-made barriers – and where we need forgiveness for being unwelcoming or protective of our little comfort zone. Do we greet the unfamiliar face that we have never seen before? Do we look beyond our circle of friends and greet those who may come from a different racial or social background. Do visitors sense a smile that says, 'peace be with you, whoever you are'? Our personal relationship with Jesus does not allow us to be excessively private about our faith. Divine mercy requires outreach as well as reaching into our own hearts.

Today's readings show that divine mercy is not just a nice theoretical concept or devotion. It is experienced in the concrete circumstances of our lives. The disciples come to know it in their confusion and sense of having betrayed Jesus. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is based on the human experience that we need to both name our faults and hear the mercy of God proclaimed on the specific circumstances of our lives. And we are told that parishes are communities of mercy are signs of where divine mercy is lived in word and in deed.Doubting Thomas meets the Risen Jesus who bears the signs of his pierced hand and side, in his wounds which are real, but which have ceased to bleed. Mercy touches our wounds, recognising them but knowing that, because of the Resurrection, they can be places of grace and not merely of disgrace.

Therefore, all our synodal conversations are not merely about tinkering with structures or teachings but about how we can take seriously the merciful Jesus and proclaim that he is alive and active in our scarred communities. We have not always been good at this in the past. But Jesus still says to us, receive the Holy Spirit. We have to decide whether we really want to receive that uncomfortable merciful Spirit.

+ Donal

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