Homilies for April 2020

For Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday, and April 26.

Note: Most of these sample homilies, besides Palm Sunday and Easter, were written before the Coronavirus (COVID-19) issue, and attendant changes to everyday and liturgical life, had emerged. You may want to reflect on how and whether to bring that topic into your preaching.

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion – April 5, 2020

  Readings: Mt 21:1–11 • Is 50:4–7 • Ps 22:8–9, 17–20, 23–24 • Phil 2:6–11 • Mt 26:14—27:66 (or 27:11–54)
  usccb.org/bible/readings/040520.cfm

Palm Sunday without the palms. Without the Mass. Without the Eucharist. It seems so empty.

When I was a child, I dreaded going to Mass on Palm Sunday. It was so long. Two Gospel readings, and one of them felt like it was the entire New Testament. I would silently pray that the priest would give a mercifully short homily, but more often than not they just went on and on as though it were a normal Mass.

Even as a deacon serving at the altar, Palm Sunday Mass can seem very long. Serving two or three Masses that day is like a full shift at Flint Assembly.

What I wouldn’t give to experience it now . . .

This Palm Sunday is a tremendous reminder of just how much the Church and everything she offers really means. I don’t say that in a scolding or negative way. I say it in a reflective way. It’s like my first Father’s Day after my dad passed away, or like my first few weeks in an empty house after my children all went away to college. It makes me realize that the things that we take for granted in life are so often the very threads of the fabric which define who we are and how we live.

Do I need palms to realize that Jesus went up to Jerusalem to die for me? No, I don’t. But do palms help make that truth more of a tangible reality to me? Yes, they do.

I ask you to take some time on this Palm Sunday to picture yourself placing your palm on the ground before the Lord as he came into Jerusalem to die for us.

I ask you to also picture yourself placing your palm on the sidewalk leading up to a hospital where so many health care workers are working tremendous hours and risking their own lives to help us. Or on the sidewalk leading up to your house where delivery men and women are working overtime to bring us the things we need to get by. Or in the path of any of the dedicated men and women who are sacrificing for our benefit in these troubled times.

I most certainly do not wish to downplay the love and respect that we have for our Lord on this most sacred day, when we commemorate his march toward his crucifixion. Not at all. This is our main focus today and we must reflect upon it.

But God is present in you, and in me, and in all who are working to end this pandemic. We are all created in the image and likeness of God, and we all need to see the face of God in everyone around us. Even if that face is covered with a mask and the person is six feet or more away from us.

Praised be Jesus Christ on this Palm Sunday, even if we have no palms. And thank you, Lord, for giving us the people who are so dedicated and committed to helping us live to see Palm Sunday next year, in Church, with palms in hand.

Pearl

Words can never express the loneliness that we experience in the heart.

Holy Thursday – Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper – April 9, 2020

  Readings: Ex 12:1–8, 11–14 • Ps 116:12–13, 15–18 • 1 Cor 11:23–26 • Jn 13:1–15
  usccb.org/bible/readings/040920-lord-s-supper.cfm

Imagine, if you will, the simple man who made the bread which Jesus used for that first Eucharist on Holy Thursday, the night before his death, the anniversary of which we commemorate on this very night. He wasn’t a perfect man. He wasn’t a sinless man. He likely had no idea that the end result of his work that day would wind up being used by the Second Person of the Trinity to initiate the source and summit of our Catholic faith.

But when Jesus did ultimately take into his hands the fruit of that man’s labor and transform it into his very body, a tremendous miracle occurred, and the greatest of all sacraments was initiated. From the simple came the sacred; from the ordinary came the heavenly.

Tonight we celebrate the initiation of this great sacrament, as we simultaneously lament and grieve over what followed the Last Supper. It is a great irony that the gift of the Eucharist was given to us at one of the darkest hours of Jesus’s life on earth. But it is a beautiful irony as well in that it speaks to the very essence of a life of faith: all of us who follow the Lord must pick up our cross and carry it, for when we do, we triumphantly live out the faith that we profess.

Indeed, a life of faith is grounded in irony. Out of the depths of sorrow come the greatest of our prayers. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. There is no Resurrection without the Cross. And the list goes on.

There is another sacrament which was initiated on that most sacred of nights, and that is the sacrament of Holy Orders. At the last supper, Jesus commissioned his priests to “do this in remembrance of me.” This they have done for 2,000 years.

And so tonight, in addition to our commemoration of the initiation of the Eucharist, we commemorate as well the initiation of the priesthood.

Were these first priests who were with Jesus at the Last Supper perfect men? No. Were they sinless men? No. In fact, their leader was just hours away from denying that he even knew the Lord. These men were far from perfect, and they would prove that time and again after Jesus’s resurrection and ascension. But despite their imperfections, Jesus created for them something which is also beautiful and sacred: the Catholic priesthood.

Like the imperfect bread which becomes the living presence of the perfect Eucharist, so many imperfect men have become the living presence of the sacramental priesthood.

Of late, our priests have taken quite a bit of criticism. And to be candid, it is not without merit that they do. A small portion of them have done terrible things which are coming to light, and it is troubling for all of us.

While we never want to see this kind of thing happen to our priests, it should not come as a complete surprise. They are simple, imperfect men who make mistakes. Remember that when Jesus asked that his priests do this in remembrance of him, Judas was still at the table.

But tonight I think it appropriate to pause and reflect upon the goodness of the priesthood, and the goodness of the men who have given their lives to it. This is not to ignore or brush away the problems, but rather to recognize that for every priest who abuses his power and authority there are many, many others who do not.

The priest has given his entire life in service of the Lord and his Church. This is profoundly countercultural today. Our society is all about doing what is best for me, but a priest must abandon that and adopt instead a philosophy of doing what is best for Him and for His Church.

The priest gives up the ability to have his own family. Those of us who are mothers and fathers cannot even imagine what it would mean to forgo this most profound of blessings. To give up the ability to have a family is to admit that you are the end of the line; that you will have no offspring to proudly watch as you grow old.

The priest is the one who brings the sacraments to his parish. It is in the sacraments that we come closest to God. Without the sacraments we would languish. We must remember that it is only because of the priest that we are able to celebrate them.

The priest is a man of humility. He has no aspirations of moving up the corporate ladder or of becoming wealthy. His role is to serve, and tonight he will demonstrate that for his congregation by washing feet. This is one of the highest honors he has as a priest — to wash feet. For many of us, this would be an insult. But for the priest it is done on this holy night to help him always remember that he is first called to serve.

Who is the first person to be called to the hospital or accident scene in the middle of the night? The priest. Who unselfishly prays for his congregation each and every day while rarely asking for prayers for himself in return? The priest. Who gives the joy of absolution to others in exchange for carrying the burden of their sins in his heart, never to be discussed or revealed? The priest.

The irony of initiating the Eucharist in one of Jesus’s darkest hours is echoed by the irony of initiating the priesthood at the same time. There was no pomp and circumstance in the upper room when it happened. Most likely there was little more than fear. And in the crucible of that fear was forged the iron foundation of the priesthood, the very thing to which we turn when we ourselves are in fear.

May we all pause tonight, on this commemoration of the initiation of the priesthood, to give thanks for our priests and to pray for them in their priesthood.

Pearl

“The priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus. When you see a priest, think of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
–St. John Vianney, patron saint of parish priests.

Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion – April 10, 2020

  Readings: Is 52:13—53:12 • Ps 31:2, 6, 12–13, 15–17, 25 • Heb 4:14–16; 5:7–9 • Jn 18:1—19:42
  usccb.org/bible/readings/041020.cfm

Just a few months ago, I had the honor of being on a pilgrimage in the Holy Land. We started our journey in Tiberias, a city on the Sea of Galilee near which our Lord spent much of his three years in public ministry.

The final days of our journey were spent in Jerusalem, and most certainly the pinnacle of our pilgrimage — and indeed of our life of faith — was contained in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It is there that we find Calvary, where our Lord was crucified. It is there that we also find the stone of anointing upon which his body was laid afterward to be prepared for burial. And, most importantly, it is there that we find the tomb in which he was laid and from which he rose from the dead.

What I found so incredibly striking about the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was the close proximity of these three most holy landmarks to one another. Calvary is no more than a couple of hundred feet from the tomb, and the stone is between the two. One can walk from Calvary, past the stone, and up to the tomb in a matter of a minute or less.

In the plane on our return home, I began unpacking some of what we had seen and experienced. And so it was that while reflecting on this tremendously powerful but very small plot of land in the Holy Sepulchre, I saw a microcosm of the experience of faith in our world today. Our world is divided — often strongly and angrily — in our appreciation of the Faith, and these three sites stand as symbols of that division.

Some in our world stand joyfully at the foot of the Cross, cheering and longing for Jesus to die in our society. He is an inconvenience, a troublemaker, offensive, and not politically correct. He must be done away with so that the world can live without the influence of religion. These people remain forever at the foot of the Cross, hurling insults and antagonizing our Lord and his disciples, dreaming of a day when his impact is no longer of any significance.

Others stand by the stone upon which his body was prepared for burial, feeling sorrow that he has been unjustly crucified, but nonetheless finding themselves unwilling to journey to the tomb with him where he will be laid to rest for three days before his glorious resurrection. They are the modern-day Pontius Pilates. They feel badly about the fact that some stand at the foot of the Cross and seek to kill the Faith in society, but they are unwilling to do anything about it. And so they remain at the stone, silently lamenting our Lord but offering no help to build his Church.

And some are courageous enough to travel just a few feet further to the tomb, where they embrace his suffering as well as his resurrection. These are those who are true disciples. They were with Jesus at the foot of the Cross, suffering with him. They were with Jesus at the stone, gently washing his body and preparing him for burial. And they now stand by him as his body is laid in the tomb. But they know beyond a shadow of a doubt that his suffering and death were for our salvation, and that he will rise on the third day to fulfill the prophecies and prove his divinity beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Those who work their way to the tomb eventually leave the Holy Sepulchre, where they will bring the Good News to others outside of the four walls of the Church. They will go and make disciples. They will tell the world that the sinless Lamb of God was killed so that our sins may be forgiven, and that he rose from the dead to triumph over death.

On this Good Friday, we who are disciples of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ move with him to the tomb. It is there that the Passover lamb reveals his greatest sorrow, and eventually his greatest triumph. Join me at the tomb on this Good Friday, that we may celebrate together his resurrection at Easter.

Pearl

The short distance between Calvary and the tomb in the Holy Sepulchre is a journey too long for some in our world to traverse.

Easter Sunday – Mass of Easter Day – April 12, 2020

  Readings: Acts 10:34a, 37–43 • Ps 118:1–2, 16–17, 22–23 • Col 3:1–4 (or 1 Cor 5:6b–8) • Jn 20:1–9
  usccb.org/bible/readings/041220.cfm

Note: The first homily is a “shallow entry point,” intended to appeal to those who may not be regulars at our church. Let us celebrate them joining us at Mass, and let us pray that the Good News will bring joy to their hearts on this Easter Sunday! There is another below that takes as its starting point the pandemic and its effects.

 

“He saw and believed.”

What a tremendous act of faith on the part of the other disciple who ran with Peter to the tomb. If only we could all have such strong faith on this blessed Easter Day!

What did he see which caused him to believe? He saw the burial cloths of our Lord rolled up and neatly placed off to the side of the rock upon which our Lord’s body had rested after his crucifixion. That was all that he needed to know that Jesus the Christ had risen from the dead. And this despite the fact that this Bible passage tells us that they did not yet understand that Jesus had to rise from the dead.

For many of us, we hear this beautiful Gospel passage with joy on this Easter morning, but in truth we may not fully comprehend what has happened. Who is this Jesus Christ, the son of Mary and of Joseph the simple carpenter? How is it that he is God, and why did he die on the Cross? And, most importantly, how can we have faith in him like that of the other disciple from today’s Gospel?

So let me tell you the story of Jesus of Nazareth. After all, it is very good news indeed.

Let’s start from the beginning. God has existed for all time. In fact, God existed before time. You see, God created time, and he created space, and he created you and me and everything around us. God could have created us to be drones who love him and worship him day and night, but he didn’t do that. No, he gave us all free will. He loves us so much that he decided to let us determine for ourselves what we like and what we dislike, what we believe and what we don’t believe. All he asked in return is that we love him for being our Creator, and that we follow the rules that he laid out for us. And if we did these things, he promised us that he will reward us with eternal happiness and joy.

But our first parents Adam and Eve were deceived by the devil into sinning against God, and when they did, they offended him. He had given them everything they ever wanted or needed, but they chose to defy him. And so, sin entered the world.

As a consequence of our sin, we were separated from God. But God promised us that he would fix that for us. He promised us that he would send us a Messiah, a Savior, who would save us from our sins and redeem us so that we can enjoy paradise when we die if we but accept and love him again.

Many years passed before God acted on that promise. Some 2,000 years ago, he sent his only Son, Jesus Christ, into our world. Jesus became incarnate through the Virgin Mary. His incarnation is one of the most significant things that has ever happened in the history of mankind. It is so significant that we define our very understanding of time by it. The years before his birth are known as B.C. — Before Christ — and those after are known as A.D. — Anno Domini, or “in the year of our Lord.”

But Jesus did more than just come and walk among us. Much more. He allowed himself to be crucified for our sins. That’s right, when you look at the crucifix in this Church and in Churches all over the world, you see that we have captured that most holy moment in time. Jesus hung on that Cross with our sins about his shoulders. Everyone’s sins, including yours and mine. He carried our sins with him to the Cross so that by his wounds we may be healed.

But if his death were the end of the story, you and I probably wouldn’t be here at Church today. Jesus would have been an interesting character in history, but he would have been nothing more than a sentence or two in ancient history books. Instead, because of what came next, his followers grew in leaps and bounds. In fact, today there are more than two billion Christians in the world. That’s about one-third of all of the people on the face of our planet.

So what did Jesus do next? He rose from the dead! In so doing, he proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is indeed God. And he showed us that by his Cross and resurrection, he has redeemed the entire world and set us free from our sins. He has given us all a path back to paradise if we but believe.

Being a Christian means embracing this great mystery of our faith every single day. But in a very special way, we celebrate his resurrection even more intentionally on Easter Day each year, when we re-tell the story of his life, death, and resurrection, and reflect upon what it means to us as Christians.

What is most important today, however, is that we realize that this is not just a story. It is real, factual, historical, and of course spiritual. Faith in Jesus Christ as the Risen Lord is not something that we can be wishy-washy about. All of us are called to embrace the great mystery of faith that we celebrate today, and to believe it like the disciple in today’s Gospel who saw and believed. But this is not easy to do in a world that seems to want to erase Jesus from the public square. In fact, it can be downright hard. And so the question we must all ask ourselves on this Easter day is this: do you own your faith, or are you simply renting it?

Today is a wonderful day to ponder your own faith in Jesus Christ. Pray about it here at Mass, pray about it in the week ahead. If you are a committed disciple, then the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ is already in your heart and you have reason to rejoice at the salvation that he offers to you.

If you are perhaps a bit unsure, if you have an inkling toward discipleship but perhaps live a life that does not reflect well your faith in Jesus Christ, then the Good News of our Lord is even more readily applicable to you! Rejoice and be glad, for Jesus died and rose for you personally! He loves you, and he wants you to love him back with all your heart. There is no better day than this Easter Sunday to ask him to enter your heart more fully, to ask for his forgiveness and mercy in your life, and to commit yourself to establishing a more firm relationship with this very Church, a Church which he himself formed, and which he himself still leads.

Happy Easter to you all! May the infinite love of our Risen Lord give us all reason to embrace the mystery of faith and to leave this Church today firmly committed to being his disciples in all that we do.

Pearl

Rejoice and be glad for the Lord is risen today!

Alternate Homily for Streaming Mass

I miss so many of the things that make Easter special. I miss the Church filled with people, the joyful music, the beautiful flowers, the pastel decorations, the babies with goofy Easter outfits who have no idea why people are smiling at them. I miss things that I never even thought I cared about before, but now that I’m stuck in my home, adhering to a stay-at-home order, and social distancing from the people I love, the things I miss jump out at me.

So many of us are feeling the stress of illness and death, of being laid off or trying to work from home while our children run around and disrupt us, or of impatiently trying to homeschool our children to get them through the end of the semester. It can feel quite burdensome.

Why must it be this way? When will it end? This Coronavirus has turned our world upside down to be sure, but now it has even left its mark on Easter. Somehow it just doesn’t seem fair.

How can I celebrate the joy of our Savior’s resurrection in a house that’s overcrowded, filled with dirty laundry, and desperately short on toilet paper because so many people are hoarding it?

But then I think back to that very first Easter which we heard about in today’s Gospel, and it sheds some light on my dilemma. How did the early Church come to celebrate the joy of Easter? It’s obvious when we read from the conclusions of the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, and the epistles that these were people who were overjoyed at the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Did they have grand and beautifully decorated Churches? No, they often gathered in people’s houses to celebrate the Mass, houses which probably were overcrowded, filled with dirty laundry, and quite frankly I don’t even know if they had toilet paper back then.

Did they have beautiful decorations and joyful music? Perhaps, but it didn’t take very long before those things had to be removed from public view as the Church came under persecution.

Of course, I assume that they probably did in fact have cute babies.

But if they lacked the trimmings and trappings that make up our celebration of Easter, how did they find the joy of the resurrection?

They found it in their hearts. They found it in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. They found it in the sheer joy of knowing that there something special about them: they were a disciple of the risen Jesus Christ.

On this Easter Sunday, despite all of the distractions that want to pull away our joy, we must remember that our faith is bigger than life, and that our God is bigger than death. We are called to find our joy for the resurrection of Jesus Christ in our hearts. We are called to welcome that same Holy Spirit into our hearts so that we too can live in the joy of the greatest event in all of history — the resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Savior and our Messiah.

It is there, in the depths of the heart, that we come to know the Lord and to appreciate his resurrection. It is there, in the depths of the heart, that we embrace his love and come to a conversion experience. It is there, in the depths of the heart, that the risen Lord speaks to us of his great love and mercy.

Easter joy does not require a Church filled with people, joyful music, beautiful flowers, pastel decorations, or even babies. Easter joy comes from the sheer exuberance we feel from knowing that Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, loved me enough to suffer and die for my sins, and to rise from the dead for my salvation. Easter joy comes from an inner conviction that my life is special and worth living because I am a disciple of the Lord, and that he loves me more than I could ever imagine.

On this most unusual of Easter Sundays, we have more reason than ever to exclaim, “Alleluia! He is risen!” We have more reason than ever because this virus which plagues our world has caused us to think more deeply about the value and the meaning of life, and it is there that we find the deeper truths about what it means to have a Savior. About what it means to have eternal life. And about what it means to know that we are so loved by our creator that he gave his life so that we can have eternal life.

As painful as this pandemic has been, it has brought some lessons with it that we do well to remember. Lessons like the fact that doctors, nurses, delivery people, janitors, and the like are much more heroic than our sports stars. Lessons like the fact that it’s not all that bad to be stuck inside as a family having dinner together and playing board games. Lessons like the fact that we appreciate our friends and loved ones a whole lot more when we are suddenly afraid of losing them.

But, most importantly, lessons like the fact that Easter is not about what happens around us, or what entertains us. Easter is about giving thanks for our Savior who gave literally everything he had to us from the goodness of his sacred heart, so that we can embrace him in the depths of our own heart.

He is indeed risen! Happy Easter to all!

Pearl

Easter is an action of the heart, not an experience of the senses.

Sunday of Divine Mercy – April 19, 2020

  Readings: Acts 2:42–47 • Ps 118:2–4, 13–15, 22–24 • 1 Pt 1:3–9 • Jn 20:19–31
  usccb.org/bible/readings/041920.cfm

Note: There is another homily for this day below that takes as its starting point the pandemic and its effects.

 

In Saint Faustina’s now famous Diary, she attributes these words to our Lord:

“Encourage souls to place great trust in My fathomless mercy. Let the weak, sinful soul have no fear to approach Me, for even if it had more sins than there are grains of sand in the world, all will be drowned in the immeasurable depths of My mercy.”

Our Psalm today as well speaks to the endless mercy of God:

Let the house of Israel say,
“His mercy endures forever.”
Let the house of Aaron say,
“His mercy endures forever.”
Let those who fear the LORD say,
“His mercy endures forever.”

It is comforting indeed to all of us who are sinners to know that God’s mercy is beyond anything that we could ever comprehend this side of heaven. But simply understanding that this is true is not always enough for us to embrace it and believe it in our heart. So often in matters of faith, we struggle to fully accept what we cannot fully comprehend with our limited abilities.

Do we not see this dilemma played out in our belief regarding the real presence in the Eucharist? We know from our Lord that it is true, and we learn from his Church that it is true, but many struggle to fully believe and accept it because we cannot comprehend it with our human limitations.

This is why the story of St. Thomas the Apostle is so appropriate on this Divine Mercy Sunday. The words of Thomas speak to us of a journey of faith, a journey that reaches its apex in the endless mercy of our Lord.

Although Thomas was one of the twelve apostles of Jesus, we don’t know very much about his life outside of the traditions that have been passed down. Tradition says that at some point after Jesus’s resurrection Thomas traveled to India, where he converted many people to Christianity.

Thomas speaks just four times in the Gospels. But if we take his four quotes in sequence, they speak volumes about what it means to come to the Faith. And so let us look at the four quotes of Thomas.

The first time we hear from Thomas in the Bible is when Jesus tells the Apostles that Lazarus has died and that he wants to go to Judea to be with him. The problem is that Jesus and his disciples had just left Judea, and the people there had previously threatened to stone him. For this reason, Thomas was not very excited about going back. Thomas responds to Jesus in frustration, saying, “Let us go also to die with him.”

The second quote from Thomas comes after Jesus says that he is going to the Father and that his Apostles know the way. Thomas responds, “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” This response is one of questioning.

The third and fourth lines from Thomas are found in today’s Gospel. First he says, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” He is seeking proof before he will put his trust in what he has heard.

And the final words of Thomas come when he responds with unconditional surrender, “My Lord and my God.”

Four quotes punctuated by four emotions that depict so well a journey of faith: frustration, questioning, seeking proof, and unconditional surrender. Is this not the pattern that is followed in coming to a life of faith? Our frustration comes when we as non-believers (or lukewarm believers) hear others speaking of their love for Christ, but it makes no sense to us. But if we are willing to open our hearts to the Lord’s will in some small way, we begin to question. Can it be real? That questioning so often leads to doubt: I have not yet felt him in my life and so I find it hard to believe. I need proof. And ultimately the Lord in his goodness gives us the proof we need through confirmation in prayer, or wonderful signs that speak to us in our unique circumstances, or a warm sense of his love that fills our heart and makes his presence real to us.

But we must always remember that it is only because of his divine mercy that the sequence continues. Indeed, as was true for dear Thomas, in a journey of faith it is often not we who relentlessly pursue the Lord, but rather the Lord who relentlessly pursues us. We Christians have a unique aspect to our faith that no other faith has — at least none that I am aware of. We have a God who mercifully seeks us out, whereas in most other faiths their god — or whatever higher source is contemplated — must be pursued by us.

This is a tremendous confirmation of his mercy: he does not give up on us when we are frustrated, when we question, and when we seek proof. Rather, he continues to pursue us until he can ultimately win us over. Of course, there is action needed on our part in that we must make the decision to welcome him in, but his divine mercy is the thread that ties it all together. His mercy is so great that no sin can overcome it, and for this we give thanks today on this Divine Mercy Sunday.

May the great mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ give us all the courage to say in our own lives, “My Lord and my God.”

For the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.

Pearl

God’s divine mercy is manifest in his continual pursuit of you and me, regardless of where we are in our journey of faith.

Alternate Homily for Streaming Mass

To many, it may seem ironic that we celebrate the divine mercy of God amidst this pandemic which has caused so much chaos and death. Where is the mercy, you may ask? All I see are pain and suffering.

This is understandable in some regard, but it speaks to a bit of a misunderstanding of what divine mercy is and how it is revealed in our world. Fortunately for us, there is a glimpse of how we can reconcile this seeming irony by looking just a bit deeper than what we might see at the surface.

Consider today’s Gospel. We begin with the disciples cowering behind locked doors for fear of the Jews. Why were they afraid? Did they not know of Jesus’s resurrection? They had likely not yet seen him in person since he had risen from the dead, but just prior to this passage in John we hear that the disciples had received a first-hand account from Mary of Magdala that she had seen the risen Lord. In fact, he told her to “go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” And this she did.

One can imagine that perhaps they were unable or unwilling to accept her testimony and needed proof, as did Thomas. (Unfortunately for Thomas, he was ultimately the only one who would earn the label “doubting.”) But, for whatever reason, they were afraid.

And then Jesus came and stood in their midst and offered them peace. Not only was this a traditional greeting of his time, it was also a connection back to the last supper when he told them, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”

One would think that his disciples would not only have feared the Jews, but that they would also have had reason to fear Jesus himself. Here he was standing before them, clearly resurrected and clearly divine, and the last time they were with him, all but John abandoned him. Jesus had good reason to rebuke them, but instead in his great mercy he offered them peace. This was more than human mercy; it was mercy from the divine. It was, in fact, divine mercy. This divine mercy goes far beyond anything that we as his simple creation can ever fully understand or appreciate. These men had betrayed God in the flesh and left him to die, but Jesus loved them so much that he had only mercy for them when he was reunited with them for the first time.

But there is something else going on here which gives us insight into what divine mercy is really about. Notice that in his resurrected state Jesus still bore the wounds of his crucifixion. Could they have been healed in his glorified body? Of course they could have been, if that were his desire, but they were not. Why did he still bear these wounds?

Much has been said about this. It seems that his wounds showed both the victory of his resurrection and the fact that he is forever fixed in the act of love in which he died. A love that was poured out for you — and for me. A love that was manifested in his crucifixion, which ultimately proved his divine mercy for each and every one of us. It was only through a mercy beyond our comprehension that the Creator would give his life for his sinful creation.

When we consider this in light of our current plight, his wounds speak to the fact that his mercy does not in some way seek to cover up or gloss over the harsh realities of our life as disciples. The reality of suffering, of pain, of death, and, yes, even of this pandemic is not something that divine mercy will eliminate. Rather, it is something that divine mercy will give us the strength to navigate with the knowledge and conviction that we are loved, and that regardless of what we may experience here on earth, there are better days ahead for all who believe.

Divine mercy is not a naïve mercy that seeks to make everything right. If it were, when Jesus rose from the dead he could have ended all pain and suffering. But this would have also come with an end to our free will. Rather, divine mercy is a mercy of salvation.

Divine mercy does not stop the ship from hitting the iceberg. Divine mercy is the lifeboat that saves us once the ship begins to sink.

The pandemic we face is very real and it causes us to hide behind locked doors like the disciples. We don’t hide for fear of the Jews as the disciples did, but rather for fear of an invisible enemy. But is there really much difference? In both cases the ultimate fear is death, whether our own or that of someone we love.

But Jesus reaches out to us in this pandemic with his divine mercy to say, “Peace be with you.” He reaches out with hands that bear the nail marks of his crucifixion, and he grasps our hands and pulls us out of our fear. “Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”

And so the apparent irony of celebrating divine mercy amidst the realities of this pandemic is not so ironic after all. It presents a challenge to be sure, but it calls us to the very root of what it means to be a disciple of the Lord. Divine mercy does not shield us from the harsh realities of our life here on earth. Rather, it gives us the courage to know that our Savior loves us so much that he died for us despite our sins and shortcomings, and that in this we can find peace and comfort no matter what happens. His mercy is beyond anything we can understand, and it is far greater than anything the world can throw at us, including the coronavirus.

Pearl

Divine mercy does not stop the ship from hitting the iceberg. Divine mercy is the lifeboat that saves us once the ship begins to sink.

3rd Sunday of Easter – April 26, 2020

  Readings: Acts 2:14, 22–33 • Ps 16:1–2, 5, 7–11 • 1 Pt 1:17–21 • Lk 24:13–35
  usccb.org/bible/readings/042620.cfm

Why doesn’t God just go ahead and openly reveal himself to the world so that everyone can believe? Why doesn’t he just peel back the clouds one day and say a few profound words so that everyone, everywhere would be convinced that he is real. If he did this, having faith would never be an issue for anyone because people would have proof. Not like today, where faith takes effort because we seemingly lack solid evidence.

This is the argument that has been thrown out time and again as people contemplate the existence of God. If God is real, why doesn’t he just show himself? And at first blush it seems like a fairly logical argument, doesn’t it? If God would just prove his existence, then people everywhere would believe. Churches would be full, and there would be peace and harmony across the globe as people come to realize that God is real and that heaven and hell do in fact exist.

The trouble with this argument is that it doesn’t quite hold water. And we have the historical events surrounding that first Easter as proof.

Look back at the past three weeks of Gospels, all of which dealt with the day of or the few days shortly after the resurrection of Jesus Christ. On Easter Day we heard about Peter and the other disciple racing to the tomb, and when they found the tomb empty and the burial clothes rolled up neatly, the other disciple (John) immediately believed in the resurrection, while Peter was not so sure.

Last week we heard about Thomas, the doubting one who refused to believe his brother and sister disciples when they told him that they had seen the Lord. He wanted physical proof, which he did in fact get a week later.

And now this week we hear about the two disciples who were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus, discussing and debating all that had happened. These two, at least for me, really take the cake. They heard other people speaking about the resurrected Christ and yet they decided to leave Jerusalem. They were disciples of the Lord! They couldn’t just stick around to check out what they had heard?

The amazing thing about these past three Gospel stories — and so many others surrounding the resurrection of Jesus — is that they tell us about people who knew Jesus personally, who heard him talk about his death and resurrection, and yet refused to believe when presented with evidence that what Christ said was true. How, you may ask, could they possibly not have believed?

But this is the story of faith. Faith is fragile, often slow to build, and very easily put to the test. This was true even for the people who knew Jesus personally. And this is the story that we hear in today’s Gospel.

So let’s look again at today’s Gospel. How did the two on the road to Emmaus eventually come to faith? First, they heard the scriptures explained to them, and then they came to know Jesus in the breaking of the bread. Hopefully this sounds familiar. It is exactly what we do in Mass. We hear the scriptures proclaimed and have them explained to us in the Liturgy of the Word, and then we ourselves come to know Jesus in the breaking of the bread in the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

Despite their lack of faith when confronted with the actual events of the resurrection, they came to believe through their personal Liturgy of the Word and Liturgy of the Eucharist, that is, their own personal Mass.

But let’s jump back to the original question raised about why God doesn’t just reveal himself to us. Clearly we see in the past three weeks’ Gospels that even when he did, people refused to believe. And if his own apostles and disciples were slow to believe, can you imagine how others who didn’t know him or who disliked him must have reacted? The simple fact is that even when people are hit upside the head with the truth of Jesus Christ, they often don’t come to faith.

And we don’t need to look back 2,000 years to see this point made. We can see it playing out in more recent times. Here are just a few examples.

In 1917, God revealed himself in the miracle of the sun at Fatima. Several tens of thousands of people saw it and came to believe. But how many believe because of it today?

Look to the Eucharistic Miracle of Buenos Aires in 1996, which is still able to be seen today. A discarded Eucharistic host turned to flesh and blood in a way that could be nothing less than a miracle. But how many people believe because of it today?

Look to the tremendous mysteries surrounding the Shroud of Turin. It cannot be explained by conventional science. But how many people believe because of it today?

And what about the Tilma of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a miracle which continues to reveal itself every time it is studied in greater detail? How many people have faith because of it today?

The truth is that if God did peel back the clouds to our world and say a few profound words, those whose hearts are closed to faith would deny it or disagree about its meaning. As the saying goes, those who have no faith say that the reason Jesus walked on water was because he was unable to swim.

So why doesn’t God simply reveal himself? The answer is that he does, and has done so countless times. He revealed himself most profoundly in the incarnation, passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He reveals himself in the many miracles that have occurred right under our noses. He reveals himself in the Eucharist. He reveals himself every time a new life is created in the womb. And yet people refuse to believe.

Let it be our prayer today that we have the wisdom to see the proof of his existence and take it to heart that we might believe more fully! The resurrection is still fresh in our minds; the season of Easter is moving along toward its conclusion at Pentecost. May we all take to heart the message of the empty tomb that we, like Thomas, may proclaim with joy, “My Lord and my God!”

Pearl

Even those who have proof — as the disciples did in Jesus’s time and as we do today — struggle to fully believe in the divinity of Jesus. Let us pray for the wisdom and faith to believe without apprehension.

Deacon Mike Houghton About Deacon Mike Houghton

Deacon Mike Houghton was ordained a deacon in October of 2012. For the past seven years he has served as deacon at St. John Vianney in Shelby Township, Michigan, a parish in the Archdiocese of Detroit. Deacon Mike retired from General Motors after a 35 year career and is currently the Director of Missionary Strategic Plans for the Archdiocese of Detroit. In addition to his diaconal studies at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Deacon Mike has a Bachelor’s Degree in Electrical Engineering from Wayne State University, a Master’s Degree in Industrial Engineering from Purdue University, and an MBA from Oakland University. He has published homilies for the Homiletic & Pastoral Review, and his homilies are published weekly on his Facebook page, facebook.com/deaconmikehoughton.

Comments

  1. Avatar John Shiha says:

    Thank you, Deacon, for this wonderful reflection. Much to think about and I may borrow your flow of thought for my own preaching tomorrow as me and my pastor offer mass on Facebook for your parishioners. The mass must go on!
    God bless you.
    Deacon John Shiha

  2. Avatar Deacon Rudy Villarreal says:

    Excellent Palm Sunday reflection, Deacon! You captured the essence of the sacred and brought it home for the average person on the pew. Much to consider, which is perfect! Many thanks!

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