Low (Divine Mercy) Sunday
Homily for Low (Divine Mercy) Sunday
St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, 12 April 2015
They were sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, neighbours and friends. They were mostly students, with hopes and dreams and so much unrealized potential. They were mostly Christians, for the terrorists asked which ones were Christian before taunting them with ‘Happy Easter’ greetings and shooting them dead. Not just a number 148, not just casualties in faraway Africa, not just victims of a terror so alien it is almost incomprehensible: no, they were our brothers and sisters, martyred on Holy Thursday.
Sadly, it was no isolated incident. Terrorism and religious persecution are now major concerns in our world, especially in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. We think of the endless atrocities of Al Qaeda and, more recently and even more brutally, of ‘Islamic State’. Though we recognize that Christians are not alone among the oppressed and have sometimes been the oppressors, we must face the fact that the overwhelming majority of those persecuted for their faith today are Christians. Pope Francis is surely right to deplore the tendency of the global media, international institutions and national governments to stand mute and inert in the face of the persecution of Christians. If they are in faraway Africa or Arabia it is easy to avert our gaze; if religion is somehow caught up in the event it’s easiest to avoid it. But their story is our story; their story is that of Easter. Jesus was hounded and executed, and He warned His disciples to expect the same (Mt 5:10-12; Jn 15:18-25; cf. 1Pet 3:14).
Nor are Australians exempt from these struggles. Our own servicemen have been injured or died amongst those trying to contain terrorism. Incredibly, some Australians have joined the ranks of the jihadis. The Martin Place siege brought these conflicts very close to home. And as the Pope keeps pointing out, there are other failures of respect in ‘throw-away’ societies like ours: food thrown out while millions starve; the young aborted in their thousands while permission is sought to kill the elderly too; women, children and surrogate babies commodified and trafficked; hearts and borders closed to those fleeing persecution. As Jesus observed in His Sermon on the Mount, such violence and neglect begin within us (Mt 5:21-26,43-48; 7:1-5). “The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being” (Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn).
So near the centenary of ANZAC Day we might well ask: is there no end to bloodshed and despair? Will any war finally end all wars? Can there ever be true peace amongst us?
The Risen Christ appears and His first words to us are: Shalom, Peace be with you! (Jn 20:19-31) In Lent, especially, we faced up to evil in our world and within ourselves. Now Jesus absolves us, calls us forth from those tombs and pours His peace upon us. Easter is the horizon for the Christian. Easter is the victory of God’s love over the forces of evil. And it is a reality here and now in the Church, God’s Kingdom already come in embryo, and awaiting that Easter of all Easters when Christ returns. To assume permanently grim faces and turn on those who differ from us ethnically or religiously, would be to lose sight of Easter.
Easter says: whatever darkness we experience in our world or our lives, there is ultimately a greater brightness. There is the greater good that is the living God and no creature can match Him. There is the universe that He has entrusted to us, with all its beauty and opportunity. There are the gifts of human life, intellect, love and freedom. There are great human achievements down through the centuries, noble choices made every day, acts of generosity or heroism often unseen. And there is the victorious grace of Easter effected in the ongoing work of Christ in His Church, redeeming the world and making sinners into saints.
Christ is the Light of the world – a light Easter attests could not be overcome by the Darkness (Jn 1:5,9; 1Jn 2:8-11; 3:8). He is the Resurrection and the Life – a life Easter proves Death cannot conquer (Jn ch 11; 14:6). He is our Hope – a hope that sustains us when all seems lost (Acts 23:6; Rom 8:24-5; Col 1:27; 1Tim 1:1). Easter shows that divine Love conquers all.
Amidst ‘the encircling gloom’ of political instability, economic insecurity, terrorist atrocities and our personal tragedies, a new Easter Candle is lit and the deacon sings: “Exult, let them exult, hosts of heaven… Let all corners of the earth be glad, knowing an end to gloom and darkness… Let Mother Church also rejoice, arrayed with the lightning of Christ’s glory…” Easter is the promise of dawn beyond every darkness. And from the Paschal candle our own lamps are lit, that Christ’s light may shine out for all to see (Mt 5:14-6, 21-6, 38-48).
Christ has gone down into the tomb, even into the graves of those who died at Gallipoli and those martyred recently in Kenya, to announce: “In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world!”
In our readings today, we hear of the power that faith in the Resurrection of Christ gives to Christian believers (Acts 4:32-35; 1Jn 5:1-6). It is not power over others, such as the violent of this world seek. It is the power of testifying to divine mercy, experienced first by us and then offered to others. Since colonial times in our own land, Catholics like Caroline Chisholm, Archbishop Polding and St Mary MacKillop have sought to build a Church that is, in the words of Pope Francis, a ‘field hospital’ for the physically, emotionally and spiritually wounded. This is why the Church in Australia now has around 10,000 hospital beds, 20,000 aged care places, 700,000 school desks, and assists countless people through parishes, CatholicCare and the St Vincent de Paul Society. 5½ million Catholics, in 1300 parishes and every walk of life, contribute in myriad ways to our nation. Much has been achieved: much is still to be done!
Pope Francis exhorts us to be evermore zealous for justice and peace. With Gospel joy we must shine Easter light on the dark places where people are thrown away, lonely, anxious, despairing; we must witness to the mercy of God. But we can’t give what we don’t have. Before we can offer others communion with God and the Church, we must be truly in communion ourselves. This is why the Church calls us to go to Confession – the sacrament of mercy given – and receive Holy Communion – the celebration of that mercy received – at least annually in this Paschal Season.
Annually is of course a minimum: the twin sacraments of Reconciliation and Communion offer a life-long process of conversion – a long course of heart therapy rather than a one-off shock from a spiritual defibulator. This good rhythm of hearing the Word and receiving the sacraments helps cultivate the habits of heart of the peacemaker: reverence, patience, forgiveness, perseverance, friendship, above all mercy.
I pray that the peace won at the first Easter will fill our hearts and our land. May we be those missionary disciples Pope Francis is calling us to be. May we be beacons of faith, hope and love, like Jesus Christ who was “kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom”. Peace be with you!
After Holy Communion for Low (Divine Mercy) Sunday
St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, 12 April 2015
Dear friends, my homily today was largely a distillation of my first Easter Pastoral Letter which is available at the doors of the Church and which I invite you to take home to read, reflect upon and share with others. In such times as these, and so close to the ANZAC centenary, people rightly ask whether there is cause to hope for peace in our world. I hope the pastoral gives you some food for thought and for discussion in your homes and other places.