for a video of this homily, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d7ZlE85_QGQ
Divine Mercy Sunday
Revelation 19:9-19; John 20: 19-31
The other day a friend of mine said something that’s really stuck in my head.
She said that she doesn’t feel that she should bother God now with her own small problems when the bombs are falling and the children are dying.
She loves to work in her garden, to put her hands in the dirt, but she knows that when she feels the joy of that, somewhere in the world, at that same moment, someone else is feeling terror, someone else is dying, and doesn’t that cancel out the joy? Doesn’t the suffering of others expose our joy as foolish, as an illusion?
And I know how she feels. I feel that way sometimes.
That’s why the vision of the twentieth century Polish mystic, St. Faustina, is so important to us now, on this Divine Mercy Sunday, the Sunday she inspired. Because St. Faustina was born in Poland, next to Ukraine, and she was born in 1905, before the outbreak of World War I, and she died in 1938, as World War II was breaking out, and out of that experience of fear and death came this image of Jesus walking towards her, his infinite mercy raying out of his heart—a mercy stronger than fear and stronger than war and stronger than death.
“Be not afraid,” Jesus tells the author of the Book of Revelation, who is writing, too, in a time of great “distress”: “I am the first and the last, the one who lives,” and nothing is ever lost, and every moment is sacred and every moment is real.
“Peace be with you,” Jesus says to the disciples hiding out in their fear. He says this twice: “peace be with you.” And he doesn’t break down the door, he appears; and he doesn’t shout, he breathes. And he comes into a room. He doesn’t appear in the sky for everyone to see. He isn’t generalized. He comes into a room, into a moment, and now all rooms are holy, and all moments are holy, and all gardens. And what he asks us to touch are his wounds, not his strong back or his strong shoulders, his wounds, the wounds in his hands and the wounds in his side, and so we know that God is present even in our terror, that all the children who die and all the mothers and all the fathers, they are never alone, they are taken up in his love, because the God we know is a God who dies into our death and who is suffering with us.
“For the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.” This is the prayer we repeat in Faustina’s Divine Mercy Chaplet, on every decade bead of the rosary, and what could be more beautiful? More profound?
So it’s not just that God is therefore present in the garden, too; it’s not just that any moment of joy is a sure sign of the presence of God—it’s that working in the garden and living the moments of our lives is exactly what we can do to oppose war and oppose the suffering and oppose the injustice.
“Any increase that I can bring upon myself and upon things,” Teilhard de Chardin says, “is translated into some increase in my power to love and some progress in Christ’s blessed hold upon the universe.” “God awaits us every instant,” he says. “He is at the tip of my pen, my spade, my brush, my needle—of my heart and of my thought.” And this work isn’t just for us. These small things somehow make a difference, invisibly, in some way we can’t measure, as Saint Faustina understood, too. She believed in prayer and the power of prayer. She believed in the quiet, the small, the interior. She believed that tenderness conquers death, and Teilhard is saying that, too, in a different way. “We serve to complete the work of creation,” he says, “with even the humblest work of our hands.”
What can we do about war? About the devastation of the earth? About the suffering of the children? We can send money, we can write congress, we can go to the barricades ourselves. But most of all we can pray–and that’s not just a pious thing to say. Prayer makes a difference, prayer changes things—and every creative act, and every act of kindness, and every job well done.
Where St. Faustina uses the beautiful language of traditional piety, Teilhard uses the language of contemporary science, of evolutionary biology and cosmology. He was a twentieth century French mystic, and he was a scientist as well as a theologian, and for him the Christ who is the Alpha and the Omega is the Cosmic Christ moving through the life and death of the galaxies and the stars towards some ultimate fulfillment. But he was a contemporary of Faustina’s—he was born in 1881and died in 1955—and as a young man he, too, had a vision of the sacred heart of Jesus, encompassing all things, and his joy in the boundless creativity of Christ was given to him in the midst of war, when he was serving as a medic in the trenches in World War I, and he knew in his heart what St. Faustina knew, too: that we don’t have to hold the moments together. God does.
“Jesus,” Faustina says, “I trust in you.”
“I’ve come to think,” Teilhard says, “that the only, the supreme, prayer we can offer up, during these hours when the road before us is shrouded in darkness, is that of our master on the cross: Into your hands I commend my spirit.”
To the hands that broke and gave life to the bread,
that blessed and caressed, that were pierced; . . .
to the kindly and mighty hands that reach down
to the very marrow of the soul and mold and create,
to the hands through which so great a love is transmitted,
it is to these that it is good to surrender our soul,
and above all when we suffer or are afraid,
and in so doing there is a great happiness and a great merit.
Trust in him, St. Faustina tells us. Trust in him.
“Eternal God,” she prays,
in whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion inexhaustible, look kindly upon us and increase Your Mercy in us, that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to Your holy will, which is Love and Mercy itself.
These are our prayers, now in this moment and in every moment, even if the world should end. This is always our faith, whatever happens, now and forever.
“Jesus, I trust in you.”