Second Sunday of Easter / Divine Mercy Sunday

     While Catholicism is by far the largest religion in the United States[1], the second largest religion in our country is sadly fallen away Catholics.[2] As I have watched many friends and loved ones walk out the door of our Catholic churches and into the Protestant mega churches I have tried to understand why. I think the answer is simple; these good people are searching for an encounter with God which, for one reason or another, they are not finding in the Catholic Church.

     I think at times, we as Catholics, forget that “being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”[3] The Catholic faith is not about a set of rules and obligations, but rather about an encounter with the risen Jesus. I think at times all of us come to Mass on Sunday only out of obligation and while this is a good start, it completely misses the point. Coming here every Sunday out of an obligation is kind of like paying our car insurance bill. None of us like to pay the bill, but it’s simply too important to be without since we never know when we might need it. Now, I’m not saying the Catholic Church should get rid of obligations, after all it is these obligations that often serve as a life jacket which keep us afloat when our zeal and enthusiasm for the faith is failing, but each of us should have a desire for a deeper encounter with the risen Lord, one based in love not in obligation. Parents, how much joy would there be in your family if you only cared for your children out of a legal obligation and not out of love? Why should it be any different in our relationship with God?

     Sunday Mass is much more than an obligation, it is the closest encounter we can have with the risen Lord this side of heaven. The closest encounter we can have with the one who alone can bring us lasting happiness and peace. Just as St. Thomas’s anxieties were relieved when he was invited to put his hands in the side of Christ, so too our anxieties can be relieved when we are invited to receive the Lord in Holy Communion. Today’s Gospel recounts Jesus spending the first two Sunday’s after His resurrection with His apostles. Today’s Gospel account of the first Easter evening is repeated every time we gather to celebrate the Mass. At Mass Jesus comes to us disguised in the host, just as He came to His frightened friends in Jerusalem 2000 years ago, and gives us His peace. In just a few moments, after we recite the Our Father, the priest will say “Lord Jesus Christ, you said to your apostles, I leave you peace, my peace I give you,” and we will exchange the sign of peace. After the sign of peace we will receive our Lord’s Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity and strengthened by Him we will go forth, to share that peace He offers with the whole world. If we want an authentic encounter with the risen Lord, we must participate in the sacraments where God Himself comes to minister to us. We must remember that “the Church is sent by Jesus Christ as the sacrament of salvation offered by God.”[4]

     I don’t know about you, but at times I find religion frustrating. It seems that regardless of how hard I try to live my Catholic faith I seem to fail often and when I fail I feel far away from God. I feel far away from God because I take my eyes off the risen Christ and forget that He is the one who “is the victor over the world.”[5] I forget the truth that God the Father sent His Son into the world to undergo the Passion, Death and Resurrection we celebrated last week, as an act of mercy, so that you and I can be reconciled with Him. While yes, I, like all of you, fail daily; daily our Lord is their waiting to reconcile us to the Father in the sacrament of Confession, which the Lord Himself instituted in today’s Gospel when He commanded His disciples “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” Sadly so many people look for God’s mercy but run away from confession, the one instrument Jesus Himself assured us would forgive us of our sins and bring us peace. As Pope Francis so often reminds us “God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy.”[6] Like so many Catholics, I often find myself acting like Thomas, challenging our Lord to prove His love to me. Like Thomas I often want to see for myself, but like St. Thomas I have also learned that I only find the strength to believe when I return to the unity of the Church. Like Thomas I only find Jesus when I return to be with the Church. It is in gathering here, around this altar that I truly come to realize that “faith is joy, therefore it makes beauty.”[7]

     My friends, “each year, celebrating Easter, we relive the experience of the first disciples of Jesus.”[8] The celebration of Mass “is not just a commemoration of past events, or even a particular mystery, interior experience, but essentially an encounter with the risen Lord.”[9] Christ is truly risen, and from the risen Christ springs the sacraments of Baptism, Confession and Eucharist, which gives eternal life to all those approach these sacraments with true faith. “Let us welcome the gift of peace that the risen Jesus offers us, let us fill our hearts with His mercy”[10] so that “in this way, with the power of the Holy Spirit who raised Christ from the dead, we too can bring these Easter gifts to others.”[11]

[1] The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Religious Landscape Survey. Religious Affiliation: Diverse and Dynamic February 2008. Available at http://religions.pewforum.org/pdf/report-religious-landscape-study-full.pdf

[2] Karen Mahoney. Why won’t my kids go to church. Archdiocese of Milwaukee Catholic Herald. Available at http://catholicherald.org/special-sections/parenting/10172-why-wont-my-kids-go-to-church.html

[3] Pope Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est. §1, http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_ben-xvi_enc_20051225_deus-caritas-est.html

[4] Pope Francis. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium. §112. http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20131124_evangelii-gaudium.html

[5] 1 Jn 5:5

[6] Pope Francis. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium. §3.

[7] Pope Benedict XVI, Church Fathers and Teachers (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2010), 31.

[8] Pope Benedict XVI, Regina Caeli Address for Divine Mercy Sunday. 15 April 2012. http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/angelus/2012/documents/hf_ben-xvi_reg_20120415.html

[9] Pope Benedict XVI, Regina Caeli Address for Divine Mercy Sunday. 15 April 2012. http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/angelus/2012/documents/hf_ben-xvi_reg_20120415.html

[10] Pope Benedict XVI, Regina Caeli Address for Divine Mercy Sunday. 15 April 2012. http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/angelus/2012/documents/hf_ben-xvi_reg_20120415.html

[11] Pope Benedict XVI, Regina Caeli Address for Divine Mercy Sunday. 15 April 2012. http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/angelus/2012/documents/hf_ben-xvi_reg_20120415.html

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