Sunday, April 23, 2017

No mercy without the Resurrection (Sunday homily)

Today is Divine Mercy Sunday – 
a designation that Pope Saint John Paul II gave it a few years ago, 
based on the messages Saint Faustina Kowalska received from Jesus; 
so you would expect me to talk about that. 

But it is also the second Sunday of Easter, 
which means it’s about the Resurrection. 
So let’s start there, and come back to Divine Mercy 
and what that means.

They aren’t exactly separate things; 
because the mercy that we look for from Jesus Christ is only possible, 
it is only real, if the Resurrection is real. 

You might say, but I thought the mercy of Christ 
flows from the Crucifixion, from his death on the Cross? 
And that’s true; but if Jesus did not rise from the dead, 
then why would you believe his death would in any way save you?

If you say, well, because Jesus said so, my answer is, yes – 
and, he said that he would rise from the grave on the third day. 
So again, if that didn’t happen, why believe anything he promised?

So this is one reason why the Resurrection matters: 
because it gives us ground for believing Jesus is who he said he is, 
and will do what he said you will do. 
Or, to quote something Saint Paul said 
in his first letter to the Corinthians, 
“if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; 
you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17). 
The second thing to notice about the Resurrection
is that this reminds us that our Christian Faith 
isn’t simply a collection of ideas. 
In our time, it is very common to treat matters of religion and faith 
as if they belong in a box, over here, 
way, way apart from the box we label, “facts,” 
or the box we label “science,” or the box we label “reality.” 

Not only do non-believers 
try to separate Christianity from science and facts, 
so do many Christians – 
although they may not realize that is what they are doing.

So, for example, more than once 
I’ve been asked by some of our young people this question: 
do we, as Catholics, have to accept the theory of evolution? 
And my answer is that God is supreme over all things, 
and whatever scientists discover 
about the origins of life and the age of the universe, 
and the development of life on earth, 
they are simply discovering more and more 
about the marvelous “how” of God’s creative work. 
You and I have no reason to fear or discourage scientific pursuit; 
on the contrary, we welcome it, 
because the result has always been 
to discover how even more wonderful God’s ways are. 

So back to the Resurrection. 
This is a reminder that we Christians propose a faith 
not only of ideas, but of facts. 
God became man at a certain time, in a certain place; 
that God-Man walked the earth in Palestine, 
he said things people wrote down, and then, at a certain point, 
he was arrested, beaten, tried, executed…
and on the third day, he rose again. 

That is, his body came back to life, 
and left the grave where it had been laid. 
These are bold claims of fact, which – if they are not true, 
then Christianity is false, 
and you should all find something else to do on Sundays.

Now, there are some remarkable things 
to say about the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

One is this: why would the early Christians even make the claim? 
That is, if it didn’t happen, why invent it? 

And if you say, well, but Jesus predicted it – and that’s true. 
But if that failed to happen, then you have three options. 
First, stop following Jesus, because he proved not to be the Messiah. 
Second, if you have to fudge some facts, 
would fudging over those predictions be a lot easier, 
than fudging over the problem of him not rising from the dead? 

But what we’re to believe is that those early followers of Jesus 
chose the most difficult and least promising option: 
they pretended Jesus had been raised from the dead!

Another remarkable thing: 
the Apostles themselves didn’t believe it – 
as we see in today’s Gospel. 

Now, Thomas’ reaction makes perfect sense. 
Wouldn’t we react similarly, 
if we were told that someone we knew had died, 
had later risen from the dead? 
He said what we would say. 
And Mark’s Gospel tells us that the other Apostles also doubted. 

This doubt is entirely reasonable. 
These people, in other words, weren’t credulous pushovers; 
they were sensible people; fishermen, farmers, construction workers, 
business owners – people not so different from us.

And yet they came to believe; 
and they staked everything on that belief, 
many of them accepting painful deaths, 
rather than deny what they saw and heard.

There’s one more point to make about Resurrection, and it is this: 
what Jesus shows us in his risen, glorified body isn’t mainly about him; it’s about us. 
He shows what you and I can look forward to with confidence.

Jesus not only promised to rise from the dead himself; 
he promised to call us back to life as well. 

You and I will experience the very same – the exact same – resurrection as Jesus. 

Our bodies will, one day, come back to life, 
and our souls and bodies will be reunited. We will live forever. 
And this will either be in the happiness of heaven, or the pains of hell.

You and I will no longer be subject 
to the limitations and frailties that we know in this present life. 
So fear not: when we get our bodies back, 
they will be “new and improved.” 
No more eyeglasses, no more braces, 
no more crutches and pain pills and all the rest!

So when we talk about the mercy 
God wants us to experience and trust in, this is the WHY of it. 

God wants you and me to live in hope. 
He wants us to know what great hope lies ahead. 
It all fits together. 
Jesus came to give us life, and that more abundantly. 
Jesus died so that we would know and have confidence 
that our sins are forgiven – 
so that we would return to him and know that abundant life. 
And he rose from the dead, not only to prove his word was true, 
but also, to SHOW us what that abundant life was like.

This is why we love the words Saint Faustina 
includes on her image of Divine Mercy, and we make them our own:
“Jesus, I trust in thee!” 

No comments: