Sunday, April 7, 2013

Have Mercy

If you're in the neighborhood, be sure to join us for 40 Hours!

   Second Sunday of Easter - Divine Mercy   C 

A politician—getting ready for his next campaign—
went to have his portrait taken.
After receiving the proofs,
he stormed back into the photographer’s studio screaming:
“These pictures don’t do me justice!”
To which the photographer replied:
“Sir, with a face like yours, what you need isn’t justice, but mercy.”

Most of the time, finding something empty
isn’t cause for very much celebration.
An empty refrigerator, or empty gas tank, or empty wallet
bring us down, not lift us up.
But the paradoxically good news of Easter
is news of an empty tomb.

Most historians—and not just those who are believers—
will concede that a tomb was indeed found empty
on that first Easter morning.
But nobody ever claimed to have seen
exactly what happened before dawn
on that first day of the week:
nobody took a picture with their iPhone;
nobody wrote a story for the Jerusalem Times.
And so, over the centuries,
a number of theories have developed
which explain that empty tomb,
but which also deny that it had anything to do
with resurrection.
There’s the conspiracy theory
(and don’t we all just love one of those!),
which claims that some of Jesus’ disciples hid his body
and concocted the accounts of seeing him alive again.
There’s the theory that the women got confused
and mistakenly went to the wrong tomb.
There’s the theory that Jesus
wasn’t actually dead when he was buried,
but just appeared to have died.
There’s the theory that the whole thing
was nothing more than wishful thinking:
a massive shared hallucination.  (cf. W. L. Crag, America, 4/1/13)

Now, none of these theories
are anywhere near as convincing as the gospel account:
that Jesus’ tomb was empty
because he had been raised from the dead.
Based on what evidence? 
On the changed lives of Jesus’ disciples.
The men and women
who had followed Jesus before his crucifixion
are positively transformed after his tomb goes empty.
Those who had been hiding behind locked doors
are now found preaching and healing openly among the crowds.

They will go on to travel 
to the four corners of the earth.
(Thomas himself, 
infamous for his initial doubts,
is believed to have taken the gospel 
all the way to India.)
Of the eleven remaining Apostles,
ten of them would later 
willingly die as martyrs.
People won’t generally go to such extremes
for a fake, or a mistake, 
or a figment of their imaginations!

The best evidence, then, 
of why Jesus’ tomb is empty
is that men and women 
who had experienced Divine Mercy
then went out as witnesses and agents
of the same Divine Mercy for others.
Those who had—by-and-large—
abandoned Jesus on his way to the Cross,
clearly experienced something
which causes them to believe that Jesus
will never abandon them.
For their infidelity,
they knew that justice 
demanded punishment;
instead, Jesus—raised up from the grave—
returns to give them peace.
The wounds of his Passion—
in Christ’s hands, feet, and side—
which could have been used 
as proof against them,
have become, rather, the sign 
of the greatest love
this world has ever known.

When Luis Montesano—
once a lawyer and a professor of law—
entered the seminary four years ago 
in Buenos Aires,
Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was his Archbishop.
(He’s now better known, of course, 
as Pope Francis.)
Luis recalls taking part in 
the “Night of Charity,”
during which Catholic parishes 
of the Archdiocese
go out one night each week
to bring food to those who live on the streets.
Cardinal Bergoglio was always perfectly clear
on how the nights should unfold:
first, there would be Eucharistic Adoration,
and only then going out to the poor—
giving them something to eat
and engaging in conversation with them.
The Archbishop informed his people:
“Don’t be hasty.  This isn’t fast food.
The order is, Christ first, then Christ, 
and Christ last of all.”
First, meet Christ in the Eucharist;
then seek Christ in the poor;
and finally bring Christ to the poor.  

Is that not the pattern we see
among the Apostles and first disciples?
To first experience, to receive, the Divine Mercy,
and then to go and put it into practice?
And is that not what’s expected
of disciples still today—of you and me?

Today, on this Divine Mercy Sunday,
we begin our 40 Hours Eucharistic devotions.
For 40 hours over the course of three days
we are called to come and sit at the feet of him
who once was dead, but is now alive forever:
to plead and adore before the risen Christ,
really and truly present in the Most Holy Eucharist.
(You can find the full schedule of liturgies and devotions—
and a beautiful note of personal encouragement from Bishop LaValley—
inserted in the bulletin.)

But we cannot—we must not—stop there!
Which is why the 40 Hours will conclude
with a procession through the streets of Malone.
Having experienced mercy ourselves,
we will go out as its witnesses and agents
in our own spiritual “night of charity.”

Both you and I are all-too-aware
of the many people here in the North Country who are materially poor.
And we do well to make every effort to meet their bodily needs
through the Corporal Works of Mercy:
feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty,
clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless,
visiting the sick and the imprisoned, and burying the dead.
I’m moved by the generosity with which parishioners
strive regularly to accomplish these charitable works.
But there are even more folks across our region
who are spiritually poor—destitute, in fact.
And what are we doing for them?
During this Year of Faith in particular,
we are being challenged by the Church
to recommit ourselves to the Spiritual Works of Mercy—
to meeting the deep needs of the soul:
by admonishing the sinner, by instructing the ignorant,
by counseling the doubtful, by comforting the afflicted,
by bearing wrongs patiently, by forgiving offences willingly,
and by praying for the living and the dead.

My friends,
in the way we worship, 
in the way we live each day,
in the way we reach out to needy neighbors,
we ought to be saying before the world, “We have seen the Lord!”
We must be the convincing evidence today
that Jesus is in fact risen from the dead;
that Jesus has entrusted to his Church and her priests the power to forgive sins;
that Jesus remains very much alive and present among us in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood;
that Divine Mercy is flowing freely and desires to fill every soul.

But if we aren’t willing to be those witnesses,
if we aren’t able to give that testimony,
then more than Christ’s tomb will remain empty.

So come—come to 40 Hours!
And then, go—go to announce the good news.

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