This weekend, I celebrated Confirmation for 77 students in three parishes: Holy Name, Sheridan (Friday), St. Matthew, Gillette (Saturday) and St. John the Baptist (Sunday). Please pray for these young people and the many others who will be confirmed in the next several weeks. The homily for this Sunday is below.
Put yourself in the place of the apostles in this scene (John 20:19-31). What went through Peter’s mind when Jesus appeared in the upper room? The last time he was with Jesus he swore up and down that he never knew him. As Jesus stood in their midst, he must have felt like hiding behind the others in shame.
But Jesus said nothing about Peter’s denial, or the others abandoning him. Instead he greeted them with mercy as he said, “Peace be with you.” He reassured them that his friendship with them was rock solid. In that first encounter with the Risen Lord, Peter must have been flooded with simultaneous feelings of unworthiness, forgiveness and joy.
Then Jesus did something even more shocking. He said, “As the Father sent me, so I send you.” I often imagine Peter hearing this and thinking, ‘We failed you. How could you send us?’ Jesus never gave up on Peter and the other disciples. That is one aspect of mercy. God never gives up on us; he knows that we are so much more than our sins. As St. John Paul II said at World Youth Day in Toronto, “We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures. We are the sum of the Father’s love for us and of our real capacity to be conformed to the image of his Son.”
Mercy means to never give up on the person who sins against you because God never gives up on us. When we give up on someone and say, “He’ll never change,” then we are following the voice of the Evil One. But grace is stronger than sin. As Paul said to the Romans, “However much sin increased, grace was always greater.” (Rom. 5:20)
The disciples were sent with new hope that emanated from Christ’s mercy. It impelled them to tell others. Mercy means to be steadfast in showing goodness – even to those who deny us in the darkest hour – so that they are inspired to imitate such goodness.
It is important to learn the secret to Jesus’ mercy. He never reacted to how others treated him. Rather, he acted out of his relationship with the Father. Mercy means to act with the Father’s love, not to react out of hurt or revenge. The Risen Christ didn’t appear to the disciples and say, “Where were you? Peter, you said that you would go to death with me. Where were you?” Jesus didn’t react to what they did; rather, he acted out of the Father’s love.
We saw this same dynamic on the cross. He didn’t say, “What a bunch of losers I chose for disciples!” Instead he said, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.” (Lk. 23:34) He was centered in his relationship with the Father. He acted out his new commandment, “Be merciful as your Father is merciful.” (Lk. 6:36)
One of the confirmation students chose a saint who was acted like that, St. Maria Goretti. She was a champion of mercy. She acted out of her relationship with God. The student wrote this: “I chose St. Maria Goretti because she is the patron saint of forgiveness, purity, chastity, teenage girls and more. Being the patron saint of forgiveness and purity really stuck out to me. This stuck out to me because I have a hard time forgiving people.”
When Maria was 11 ½ years old, a farmworker for her family tried to force himself on her. She resisted, and he stabbed her 14 times. As she was dying, she forgave him saying: “For the love of Jesus, I forgive him … and I want him to be with me in paradise.” While in prison several years later, he had a dream in which Maria handed him 14 white flowers that burst into flame. The flowers represented the 14 stab wounds he had inflicted upon her; the flames symbolized forgiveness. After being released from prison, he became a lay Franciscan and attended Maria’s beatification, alongside her mother.
This is Divine Mercy Sunday. Have you allowed the mercy of the Risen Lord to sink into your heart, despite your sins? Do you react to others with God’s mercy? Are you merciful as the Father is merciful? The first Christians were a community whose hearts had been transformed by Jesus’ mercy.
The reading from the Acts of the Apostles says about them, “Many signs and wonders were done among the people at the hands of the apostles.” (Acts 5:12) Some of those “signs and wonders” were miracles of healing. Just like Jesus, they did signs and wonders. The disciples performed miracles in his name. Another sign was the mercy they showed to each other. Peter was still revered as the leader of the apostles, even though he denied Jesus. Despite his weakness, they didn’t give up on him.
That reading also says, “They were all together in Solomon’s portico.” (Acts 5:12) At first, this sounds pretty normal, like they were just ‘together’ in a group. But another translation says, “With one heart, they all met in Solomon’s portico.” The Spanish translation is, “Estaban todos unánimes en el pórtico de Salomón”
Several different places in the Acts of the Apostles, Luke describes the disciples as unanimous, of one accord, with one heart. They had an intense unity that was rooted in their common experience as sinners who were blessed with mercy. One of the fruits of Jesus’ death and resurrection was a humble unity. A profound sense of being united in his mercy.