HOMILY for the 19th Monday per annum (I)
Deut 10:12-22; Ps 147; Mt 17:22-27
preached at a Youth Festival in Castlerigg Manor, Keswick
Jesus tells his disciples about his death and resurrection. But the response is a “great sadness”. Is it not the same for us? We may have heard the Easter story many times, and heard again and again that God loves us. But, then, when bad things happen; when we’re confronted by death, illness, and suffering, we’re overwhelmed by grief, filled with great sadness. Or, maybe we’ve been telling our friends about Jesus and what he’s done for them, but somehow, the message of the resurrection just doesn’t get through. So, we’re like the disciples in today’s Gospel. Jesus himself is telling them about his death and resurrection, and they respond with sadness. Why?
Maybe because the Resurrection has become like an abstract theory we just talk about, or a theological and philosophical problem to be solved. But it’s first of all a divine reality that needs to be experienced in our earthly lives. The Church, our parishes and communities, you and I need to have really experienced the Risen Lord Jesus if we’re to be authentic witnesses of the resurrection. If we’re to have faith in the resurrection, then we must experience something of what Easter is; we need to have touched the risen Lord just as St Thomas did on the Sunday after Easter. Like him, we need to have touched the Divine Mercy of God. And the people we reach out to must also be able to do this too: to come into contact with the Church, Christ’s Mystical Body, and through her – through us, you and me – to touch God’s mercy, forgiveness, compassion, and unfailing love. Only then will the resurrection we hear about and preach become something experienced; a love that brings joy in sorrow, comfort in distress, and hope in times of grief.
And where do we encounter this love? Where is Jesus’ death and resurrection revealed? How can we touch the Divine Mercy, the Body of Christ? In his recent letter, Lumen Fidei, Pope Francis says that it is in the sacraments that we encounter God (cf §40). So, if we really want to come into contact with Christ, we need to pay attention to the sacraments, to the Liturgy and what God is doing here through visible signs.
It is especially in the Eucharist that Christ comes to us and gives himself to us. On Easter Sunday, the opening verses of the Mass are: “I have risen, and I am still with you”. For it is in the Mass that the Risen Lord is with us; he is the Living Bread which comes down from heaven. The first Mass, we recall, was celebrated on a night of deep sorrow, just before the Crucifixion and death of Christ, but, even then, it was full of the promise of the resurrection. So it is for us today. Our times of sorrow and grief can be lightened by the promise and comfort of the Resurrection, when Jesus comes to us in the Mass; Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.
So the Mass is firstly an experience of the Incarnation. Because, customarily Mankind is separated from God by our bodiliness; our mortality which brings with it human sickness, pain, and sorrow as well as its many pleasures and joys. But because he loves us so much, our God bridges this gap, becoming Man in Jesus Christ. The Immortal One shares our mortality, even to the point of suffering and dying for us, and with us. So, we hear in the Mass: “This is my Body, which will be given up for you”.
But God does even more. Christ’s incarnation and death on the Cross bridges an even greater gap which is the alienation between God and Man caused by sin. For even when Jesus suffers the violence, hatred and destruction of humanity’s sin, his love for sinful Man is not extinguished. No, God’s love rises from the grave, and Jesus befriends us, inviting his disciples – you and me – to touch his wounded side. Such divine mercy; such trust in humanity’s goodness; such undying love is what redeems us, and gives us new life. To touch the Divine Mercy, which is what we do when Jesus entrusts himself to us in Holy Communion, is to experience the resurrection, and to live anew in the love and friendship of God. Ultimately, this is an experience of being forgiven, of being loved, and so, being allowed to love in return. Hence St John Chrysostom says: “Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again; for forgiveness has risen from the grave”.
But we live in an unforgiving world, and mercy is all too rare. Even in the Church, this can sometimes seem to be the case. We shouldn’t be surprised, then, if, without an experience of God’s mercy and love, our message of Easter faith doesn’t bring joy but indifference or even sorrow! People react like the disciples today: they hear but they do not understand because they have not seen and experienced the resurrection.
Which is why our Holy Father keeps reminding us, especially if we’re to newly evangelize our communities and nation, that we need to be agents of God’s love and mercy. But first we need to have experienced it for ourselves. So, go to Christ in the sacraments, in confession and in the Eucharist. Come, and, as Pope Francis says: “Let us be renewed by God’s mercy, let us be loved by Jesus, let us enable the power of his love to transform our lives too; and let us become agents of this mercy, channels through which God can water the earth, protect all creation and make justice and peace flourish.”
So, today’s First Reading calls us to love God, and to “love the stranger” and to “see justice done for the orphan and the widow”. This means, like Christ, our God who came to be with us, we’re called to go to the margins, to love those we find strange and difficult, to befriend the alienated. As Pope Francis says: “We shouldn’t just wait for the wounded to come to us, we need to go out and search for them”. So, we Christians are members of God’s ‘search and rescue team’, and God wants us to become executors of his justice for the orphan and widow.
Yes, literally, but also, consider: so many of our contemporaries, our peers, our friends, are orphaned, because they do not know the love of God as their Father. And our contemporaries are widows, too, for so many in our society think that God is dead. God, who has wedded himself to Man through Jesus Christ, they think is dead. But he isn’t. As Jesus says: “they will put him to death, and on the third day he will be raised to life again”.
So, we are called to be witnesses to the resurrection; called to show our contemporaries that Jesus is risen, that God is alive! All people will know this, and have the joy of Easter when they touch God’s divine mercy. When, through us – through how we treat others and live together – they experience a new life, a new civilization, a holy communion arising from forgiveness, compassion, and unfailing love.