Divine Mercy Sunday
Preached April 8, 2018; St. Peter Catholic Church, The Dalles, Oregon
In today’s Gospel, Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, greets his Apostles three times, saying, Peace be with you. Then he tells Thomas, Do not be unbelieving, but believe. Truly, Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, is the solid reality that we can trust.
Now as human beings there are all sorts of ways in which we make mistakes; one of them is to mistake the effect for the cause. So in today’s 1st reading from the Acts of the Apostles we heard about how the first disciples had all things in common and there was no needy person among them. We think that is wonderful and think that if we require everyone to have all things in common, then no one will be in need. The problem is that those things are the effects of something else.
We need to ask for the cause. Indeed, the word of God also clearly states the cause, or at least the immediate cause: they were all of one heart and one mind. In a word interior unity is the cause of the exterior unity, not vice versa. Unity of heart and mind is not something that can be forced.
Indeed, we need to push our inquiry a bit further and ask why it is that the disciples were of one heart and one mind. That is not something that just happens in human life. Again, if we look at the larger context in the Acts of the Apostles, the answer is clear: Their unity of heart and mind is the work of the Holy Spirit in them. The Holy Spirit was given to the disciples by Jesus Christ, crucified and risen and seated at the right hand of his Father. (cf. Acts 2:33,36) We can even be more specific, the Holy Spirit was given to those who believed the preaching of the Apostles, repented of their sins, and were baptized. (cf. Acts 2:37-41)
Now we are faced with a huge problem in our world today. We all want unity and peace and it seems so simple: if everyone would just treat one another as human beings then we would have what we all seem to want. At that point, however, everything falls apart; it falls apart because we are not actually in agreement as to what it means to be a human being and on how we are to treat one another as human beings. In other words, we are not of one heart and one mind about human life. Once again we mistake the effect for the cause: treating each other as human beings is the effect of a determinate understanding of what it means to be a human being.
Now someone might think that it is not really all that bad; surely we agree on the big things! Actually, it might be on the big things where we most disagree. Thou shalt not kill. Surely that is a big thing. Yet people are in disagreement about abortion, assisted suicide, capital punishment, and war.
Indeed, if we consider some of the extreme, but widespread and influential, opinions regarding human life in our country we find radical disagreement. Today some people think that basically human beings (except for themselves) are a disease on the face of the earth and the greatest moral imperative is to protect the planet from human beings. There are other people who think that human beings are really reaching the end of their evolutionary history and it is time to prepare for the next stage, transhumanism, in which the elite few will have their precious brains uploaded unto computers and so live forever. Alas for Stephen Hawking! He didn’t live to see the day.
We have sought to set aside the difficult question about the truth of what it means to be a human being, especially because that would involve the even more difficult question of the truth about God and what he wants of us. Finally, however, without truth there is no unity, there is no peace, there is no justice, indeed there is no reality; we are left living in a world of illusions.
Now back in the time of the Acts of the Apostles the question of truth and reality was also a difficult one. The Roman Empire, much like us today, had sought to solve the problem in a practical way. The Roman answer was, “Believe and think whatever you want, just so long as you obey our laws.” The Roman attitude was embodied in the famous question posed by a man named in our creed, “What is truth?”
Truth is a difficult matter, but fortunately for us God, in his great mercy, has come to our help; Jesus, the Son of God, the way, the truth, and the life came to us and made the truth about God and man known to us.
Someone might say, “But it is not about doctrines, it is about a person, Jesus Christ. That is what matters.” Indeed, then it matters that Jesus Christ is truly the Son of God, consubstantial to the Father, and that he truly became man, born of the Virgin Mary, and he truly died on a Cross and truly rose again from the dead and truly poured out the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, upon his Church.
After Jesus died on the Cross a soldier pierced his side and blood and water flowed out, a saving fountain of mercy, and John, an eyewitness has given us his testimony and is insistent upon the truth of his testimony. He wrote: His testimony is true; he knows that he is speaking the truth, so that you also may come to believe. (Jn 19:35)
So also the same eyewitness, John, recounts in today’s Gospel how Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, shows Thomas his wounded hands and side, and how Thomas professes his faith saying, my Lord and my God. Then he adds, These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name. This is the mercy of God.
Belief in Jesus Christ gives us the new mind, the mind of Christ, and Jesus Christ himself gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit not only brings to us the forgiveness of sins, but he fashions within us a new heart, after the pattern of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. We become one in mind and heart when we let the Holy Spirit form in us the mind and heart of Christ. The rest will follow as effect from cause.