God's mercy is truly infinite! Alleluia! He is Risen!
Homily: 2nd Sunday of Easter – Cycle A
Back when I was a deacon, I spent the summer getting pastoral experience in Anderson. One of the things that I did while I was there was to try and get the young adult Catholics to connect with one another. And so I organized a weekly gathering - much like the Theology on Tap events here - to discuss a topic of faith or an issue that is important in their lives.
I had met Jennifer a few weeks before as she and her parents were walking out of mass. She was a college student home for the summer and so I invited her to come to our weekly meetings. She didn't come the first week, but the second or third she did. I think that night I presented a little thing on the saints and devotion to them, but then opened the table up to any other questions or discussion that the folks wanted to have. After a little bit of general conversation I heard Rebecca (the youth and young adult minister at the time) say, "I think that would be an excellent question for the Deacon!"
"Ok," I thought, "I guess that means that I'm on." Jennifer, a little bit shy to ask, said "but what if you struggle to believe that the Eucharist is really the body and blood of Jesus?" Now, I've heard this question asked before, but never in a direct way to me. In other words, I've always heard it in terms of someone else saying to me "well, I was talking to this person and they said that they don't believe in the Real Presence, but I wasn't sure what to tell them." Now I was that person receiving the challenge to explain/defend this belief.
At first, I tried to explain it reasonably. I explained how the Scriptures record Jesus giving his disciples not only the instruction to eat his flesh and drink his blood, but also the manner in which we would do just that when he said "this is my body" and "this is my blood". And I explained how our reasoning can only take us so far and that eventually we need to make a step in the dark to get to the place of complete faith (making the proverbial "leap of faith"). But then it struck me that this was not enough; and I believe, then, that the Holy Spirit inspired me with another idea.
"Bottom line, Jennifer," I said to her, "is that Jesus wants you to know the truth about all of this. He loves you and and he doesn't want you to be in the dark about it. So go to him in prayer and ask him with a sincere heart to reveal to you the truth about the Eucharist: ask him, 'If it truly is your Body and Blood, then help me to know that. If it isn't, then help me to know that, too.' I promise you," I said to her, "Jesus will not fail to answer that prayer." I know that must have been inspired, because it was something that she took to heart and she agreed to give it a try.
I didn't hear anything more about this from her until a few weeks later when we were at the annual Frassati Society Young Adult Conference. On Saturday morning, after the morning Mass, Jennifer came up to me and said, "I got it!" "Got what?" I was thinking. "It happened at Mass," she said. "I had been praying, like you suggested, and today, when the priest raised up the host during the consecration, I looked up and suddenly I knew in my heart that it was Jesus really present there!" Now in my head my first thought was, "Holy cow, that really worked!" But in the moment I, of course, praised God and shared in her joy with her.
Now, I share this story with you today because today, the Octave Day of Easter, is also celebrated as Divine Mercy Sunday, and I think that this story is a great example of how God continues to meet us in his Mercy. Just as Jesus returned to appear to the disciples locked in the upper room so as to dispel the doubts of Thomas, Jesus also mercifully made himself known to Jennifer, a disciple with doubts, so as to dispel her unbelief.
This story is also a great example of the continuing power of personal witness and support that the Christian community must provide to bring others to faith. In the account from the Acts of the Apostles, we read how the first community of believers met daily for prayer and the breaking of the bread and that they enjoyed favor among all the people; and that, through this witness, every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. As a small community of believers (young adults), we gathered to break bread together and by our sharing in sincerity the truth of God's mercy, Jennifer came to a personal encounter with it when the Lord revealed himself to her in the Eucharist.
Further still, this story is an example of the living presence of Jesus Christ in our midst. Such an experience of the Risen Christ would not have been possible for Thomas had Jesus not risen from the dead. Neither would such a convicted experience of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist have been possible for Jennifer without the Resurrection. The passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the Son of God, is the fullest measure of God's mercy poured out for us and is the central tenet of our faith. So powerful is it that we celebrate it for eight days straight.
My brothers and sisters, everything that we do as Church must be centered around this truth and the joy that comes from it: that we have been saved from eternal death by the death and rising from the dead of the Son of God, Jesus our Lord. For through him, in God's mercy, we have been "given a new birth to a living hope..." A hope we must share with others so that "every day the Lord will add to our number those who are being saved."
In this weekend that we are also celebrating the historic "weekend of four popes" as it is being called (for we have Pope Francis, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, and the canonization of the Popes John XXIII and John Paul II), I think that it is fitting that we also recall what Pope Francis has taken for his papal motto "miserando atque eligendo" - "looking with mercy on him, he chose him." My brothers and sisters, it was in mercy that we were chosen to be born again into this living hope of the Risen Jesus Christ and it is in mercy that we are given the grace of faith. Let us not fail to live that faith "with exultation and sincerity of heart," like the first Christians, so that all may find the joy of God's mercy in the waters of baptism and in the blood poured out from this table: the very water and blood that flowed out from Jesus' side on the cross - the living fount of mercy poured out for us.
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – April 26th & 27th, 2014