Sunday, April 7, 2024

Mercy and the Reign of God: Homily for Divine Mercy Sunday

 Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

For as long as I can remember I have looked forward to the second Sunday of Easter because of the first reading we heard today, the reading from the Acts of the Apostles. I have looked forward to this reading because it offers a powerful witness of what an authentic Christian community should look like:

The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common.

There was no needy person among them, for those who owned property or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds of the sale, and put them at the feet of the apostles, and they were distributed to each according to need.

Those of you who are sharp will have realised that I have not excerpted all the words from the already short reading. On the contrary, I have excluded the following words:

With great power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great favour was accorded them all.

This exclusion was not a mistake, but intentional, because it reflects the way in which I used to understand authentic Christian community. This was an understanding that rested on a material understanding of the text – the division of goods, the sharing of goods. This exclusion communicates a vision that shares much in common with the socialist, and even communist, vision of the earthly utopia. And to be honest, it was only today, when I read this selection again that I realised how much had shifted since this reading first caught my attention.

What changed then? I suspect it has been the five years of priestly formation where I have had time to meditate on the teachings of our Holy Mother Church. Teaching which directs us to think, not of the natural, material, and earthly realm alone, but of the supernatural, and heavenly. Teaching that directs our attention not to our own efforts, but to the operation of Grace. Another word for this grace would be Divine Mercy which we celebrate this Sunday.

Once aware of the operation of Divine Mercy, this first reading takes on a whole new dimension, and the portion that I excluded – which, perhaps not coincidentally, sits in the middle of the whole reading - comes to shine like a gem in its setting. But let us re-read this scripture with the lens of Divine Mercy to see what it reveals to us.

“The community of believers was of one heart and mind.” This “one heart and mind” has to be the heart and mind of God, which is a heart of mercy. And, as we know, dear brothers and sisters, this heart of mercy is not a mere metaphor, a pretty mental image, but an actual, physical, heart. It is the very human heart of our Lord Jesus Christ which was pierced by a lance. This is the heart of mercy that roars with the fire of love for us. A heart that gathers us, and in which we participate when we can manifest the actions of mercy that this reading testifies to. When we recognise our neighbours, and share our goods with them, we are motivated by Our Lord’s heart of mercy.

A reflection on this heart of mercy makes us aware that nothing of what we have, and not just our material goods, but even the talents and skills that we own, none of what we have is ours; or in the words from Acts “no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own”. But rather, all these possessions are what have been given to us through an overflowing of this heart of mercy. As such, it was never intended solely for our own personal use, but always for the common good.

In having everything in common, the scripture goes on to tell us that it was “With great power the apostles bore witness.” This power, is nothing, dear brothers and sisters, but the power of the Holy Spirit that motivated the early Church, just as it can motivate us if we give it the opportunity. When we are good, it is not merely our own efforts, but our own efforts, prompted and supported by the power of the Holy Spirit.

“and great favour was accorded them all.” Working with the grace of Divine Mercy, draws further and greater graces as our Lord promises us in Luke chap 6 verse 38:

give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back. (Lk 6: 38)

We should bear in mind that this giving does not commence with us. Indeed, it was God who first gives, and forgives, and through His beating heart continues to pump mercy into our lives and world. Alive to this ever flowing river of divine mercy we should be bearers of the flux of life-giving water of mercy, for without mercy, this world is a harsh and cruel world.

What is the mark of the authentic church therefore? Reflecting on this reading from the Acts of the Apostles we realise that the authentic church is marked, not only by the sharing of material goods, but by the manifestation of mercy and action in the Spirit. A recognition that all we have comes from God, that our every good action emerges from the goodness that Christ feeds us with weekly at the altar, and from the movement of the Spirit that flows through the Church.

Let us repeat therefore, on this Sunday, and whenever we have empty minutes in our day:

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

(A version of this homily was first preached to the congregation at Domus Australia, Rome, on Saturday 6 April 2024.)


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