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Homily - Divine Mercy Sunday - Bishop McKeown


Sunday, 16 April 2023

For the last week, we have been announcing that Jesus is Risen. And now the liturgy begins to move us on from the encounters with the Risen Jesus to the mission that Jesus give to those who meet him. This responsibility was given, not just to the apostles but to the church in every generation. What can we learn today?

Firstly, the Easter stories are about breaking in and bursting out. Jesus has burst out of the tomb and in today's Gospel he comes into the room where the disciples are locked away, afraid of the crowd. Jesus never wanted his disciples to hide away, imprisoned in their own fears and by their low expectations. They were to proclaim the outrageous message of Christ's resurrection. Jesus had come to take upon himself the sins of the world and to conquer the power of evil. That changes everything about how we see the world. Jesus even spoke about those who become one of his followers as being 'born again'. The news of the Resurrection remains a message that bursts to our one-dimensional world. It invites us to see everything in a new light. Thus, any attempt to water down the Christian message, to make it palatable to a one-dimensional consumerist worldview is not only doomed to failure, but it is also unfaithful to Jesus. The Church will be re-energised when it embraces the radical message about who we are and what God's grace can do for people. Martyrs and missionaries were motivated by the love of God and not by the temptation to stay locked in am upper room. As Thomas shows us in the Gospel, faith in the risen Jesus calls us to make a leap of faith. A church that seeks comfort in pampering itself with power is going nowhere. It certainly will not bear witness to the daring message of the Risen Jesus.

Secondly, this is Divine Mercy Sunday. We live in a world where merciless conflict and public discourse without mercy tend to dominate. The culture tends to love looking on those who have made mistakes and to condemning. But condemnation gives no hope. It merely highlights where someone has gone astray. Jesus never denies the past of any individual but always offer a new way to live. He brings mercy to Peter and Thomas, to the tax collectors and to the well-known sinners. Mercy acknowledges the sin but recognises that we are capable of something better. Mercy sees where we have been but points to where we can go through divine forgiveness. Divine Mercy Sunday is not some intrusion into the Easter message. As we heard in today's Gospel, forgiveness of sin through Jesus is the core of what the early church had to proclaim. Indeed, that ministry of forgiveness appears to have been structurally built into the mission of the early church.

But it is important to note that such a ministry of forgiveness is not to be locked up behind the doors of our churches, available to those who come across our thresholds. Proclaiming that divine mercy means going out to the streets where people need to see the face of the Father's mercy. Jesus walked the roads of Galilee and the streets of Jerusalem. For fear of rejection, clergy sometimes can be tempted to retreat to the sanctuary. That is where the devil is happy for us to stay. But Jesus says to his disciples in every generation Peace be with you. 'As the Father sent me, so am I sending you.' As clergy, we cannot complain that people do not come to us if we have not first left the locked upper room and brought divine mercy to them. Condemnation without mercy reflects the priorities of the Pharisees not of Jesus.

Thirdly, the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles gives a picture of the priorities of the early Jerusalem community. They were faithful to the teaching about Jesus, to being a part of the community, to the Eucharist and regular prayer. Synodal conversations have thrown up many issues that need to be dealt with. But unless we actually measure ourselves against the priorities of the church since the beginning, we end up giving birth to cuckoo thoughts born from eggs that others have laid in parts of Christ's nest. Today's reading tells us that we need to know what Jesus taught about crucial issues and not assume that we know better than he did. It involves building local communities where we share resources and our faith journey with people who are different from us. We have to gather to be nourished by the breaking of bread, as Jesus commanded us to do. And there is no faith journey without a life of regular prayer. That was the lifestyle of the early church that bore witness to the resurrection by what it taught and by how it lived together. Unless people can see that the resurrection makes a difference to how we live our individual and parish lives, there is limited value in merely talking about Christ's new life. Faith will be handed on in families, schools and parishes only when those who talk about Jesus live as if they believed that he was truly risen. A frightened, angry church bears witness only to death and not to hope.

Over the next weeks until Pentecost we will hear how the early church lived and grew from Jerusalem to Rome, often despite its own limited imagination. It did not play down the reality of having to learn hard lessons nor the reality of fierce opposition. But they knew that, just as many wanted to keep Jesus locked away in the cold tomb and to keep the early Christians too frightened to leave their locked upper room, so too those who talk about sin and divine mercy risk being shouted down and rejected. But that is no reason for not knowing that we are sent by Jesus through the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus was sent by the Father. What kept St Peter going in our second reading was not his popularity but the hope and the joy that he had, despite being plagued by all sorts of trials, some internal to the church and some from outsiders. Faith, he tells his readers, is more precious that gold which is tested in fire. This is the leap of faith, hope and loves that keeps Christ's disciples on fire with love of the mercy of God and love of those most in need of his mercy. The Divine Mercy Novena went from Good Friday till today. We celebrate the Cross and the Resurrection, without separating them. For we believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and believing this we trust that we we will have life through his name.

+ Donal McKeown

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