St Eugene’s Cathedral
Francis Street, Derry
BT48 9AP | Tel: 028 7126 2302
Firstly, sin and mercy are at the heart of Jesus' ministry. The early meetings between Jesus and his first followers began with John the Baptist's description of Jesus as the 'Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world' (Jn 1:29). Then Jesus invites the first two disciples to 'come and see' who he is and where he lives (Jn 1:39). In today's Gospel Jesus immediately speaks about the forgiveness of sins - and he invites Thomas to look and touch his wounds so that he can see who Jesus is. Sin is serious. There is a modern temptation in an individualist, consumerist culture to make myself the measure of right and wrong. I should obey my thirst and do whatever makes me feel good. That should be fine with God. Just like our first parents, we are tempted to assume that we know better than God. But Jesus says that sin is real and destructive. Right from Adam and Eve, the biblical message portrays sin as an ever-present temptation that we can dismissively rationalise away when it suits our perceived perfectly reasonable short-term interests. But the Garden of Eden story shows how sin – especially when we don't want to recognise it - can have long-term consequences. We are not God and author of truth.
That is not a welcome story today. Blindness to sin and the equally strong love of condemning sin in others are both evil. Thus, is not surprising that the first mission of Jesus to his apostles on Easter evening is to forgive sins. Such forgiveness is a divine action, driven by the Holy Spirit. Jesus was sent by the Father in the power of the Spirit, and now Jesus sends the apostles in his name to break the power of sin over human lives and hearts. Divine Mercy is not a new idea. Sr Faustina simply pointed to the fact that mercy is at the heart of the Gospel mission. Pope Francis simply re-echoed a core truth when he described Jesus as the face of the Father's mercy.
Secondly, there is a desperate modern need for message of divine mercy. Like the rest of the world, Ireland is full of hurting people. We have come through centuries of poverty and oppression, abuse of power and abuse of people on the margins of power. Understandably, there are so many calls for inquiries and compensation in order to deal with the pain of loss. Truth and cash may help many people to feel vindicated. But Jesus is clear that healing ultimately comes from finding peace with the full truth of our story, no matter how painful that past may have been. Jesus in today's Gospel is not a bitter Jesus, angry at the political and religious establishment or vindictive at the apostles for their lack of courage and faith. As ever, his focus is on the world's need to be healed. Just as the spirit of God is described as hovering over the waters at Creation, so now the world can be recreated by the forgiving power of the Sprit. Just as Jesus still bears the wounds of his crucifixion and death, we are all scarred by the hurts that we have suffered. But, through the power of the Resurrection those wounds are no longer raw, bleedings sores that will not go away. The scars of the past are part of Jesus' story – but they do not define who he is and who we can become in him. In a world marked by so much merciless conflict and bitter words, there is a need for divine mercy. Despite the nightmares of past sins, can we help hurting people to know mercy? If not, we are failing Jesus in his first words after Resurrection.
Thirdly, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is a key part of that mission of forgiveness. For recovering addicts, one of the elements of healing is hearing about the hurt that they have caused to those closest to them. That is terribly difficult but ultimately liberating. The truth alone sets you free (Jn 8:32). Our society is torn between the dogma that nobody can tell me what to do – and the deep suppressed awareness that I have done wrong. That culture ends up seeing evil in others but unable to accept responsibility for my own sins. The reality of others' sins is not excuse for self-serving blindness to one's own sin. Thomas in today's Gospel has to take the leap of faith. This entails believing both that Jesus is risen and that that divine mercy is abundantly available. Thus, any rediscovery of the Sacrament of Reconciliation entails not just a childish repetition of life-long faults but a profound engagement with the roots and effects of my sin. Forgiveness and divine mercy are an invitation to be adults rather than playing childish games with ourselves and others. Unless divine mercy leads to a growth in missionary faith, it is not the liberating Spirit-filled encounter that the apostles had with Jesus on Easter night and eight days later.
Over the next weeks, we will follow the history of the early Church as it seeks to let the Holy Spirit guide it in all its uncertainty. They don't know how or what to preach. They are not sure what structures are needed to support the mission of mercy. As we come out of lockdowns, much of society is waiting to come back to life. The challenge for Church is never to be frightened and locked in our upper room. At his first homily as Pope in 1978, St John Paul II cried our Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ.In 2001, he called the church 'to put out into the deep'. That remains the call to all our parishes. It is a call to both let Jesus in, so that he can reshape our ministry – and a call to let Jesus and his mercy flow out over our hurting society. A church dominated by fear of society and fear of the future is not anointed with the Holy Spirit. A navel-gazing church preoccupied with itself is not the Church of Jesus. A church dreaming of divine retribution rather than of divine mercy is on the road to nowhere.Divine Mercy Sunday stands at the start of our mission and identity as Church. Are we brave enough to start out again on that mission of mercy?
+ Donal McKeown