April 7, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Divine Mercy Sunday
Reading I (Acts 2:42-47) Reading II (1 Peter 1:3-9)
Gospel (St. John 20:19-31)
In the Gospel reading today, we see Jesus in His resurrected body breathing on His disciples and telling them, "Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained." This is something that we have all heard, probably thousands of times, but believing in it is a problem for many people on the practical level. People have trouble believing that their sins are forgiven because they do not necessarily feel different when they walk out of the confessional. They have trouble believing that their sins are forgiven because they still remember them and they still struggle with the temptations and the weaknesses that are there because of the sins they have committed. And the devil is going to be right there to hold your sins up in front of your face and remind you of the things you have done. The things that are the most shameful in your life, the devil is very happy to bring those up and to wave them in front of you and show you what a horrible sinner he wants you to think that you are. More than that, what he really wants is for you to walk away saying, "My sins canít be forgiven." There are lots and lots of people who have that difficulty.
There are many older people who struggle with this as they come near to the end of their lives. It is a common temptation of Satan to be able to say, "You know those sins you committed back when you were a teenager Ė how do you know that theyíre gone?" The older people begin to start thinking back to all of the sins they committed when they were children and young adults and they start to become troubled and anxious inside, not sure because they do not remember. "Did I confess all of those? Did I confess them completely?" They get all upset and they start going back and trying to dig up all their past sins. The devil laughs because he gets them all upset and there is no peace in their heart as they look forward to union with Christ.
We need to learn to trust. The devil gets us in many different ways. [He tries] to convince us that we do not need to be forgiven because we really did not sin. That is a particular problem of younger people and middle-aged people. We have numbed our consciences. We sit in front of the TV for hours, filling our minds with garbage, and then we do not think we have done anything wrong. People go out and they do, sometimes, the most heinous things. It always makes me smile - at the same time it makes my heart drop - when people come in and say things like: "Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. Itís been about 20 years since my last confession, and you know, I really havenít done anything wrong. Iím a good person. There really isnít anything too major that Iíve done." Then when they start their confession, I have to ask myself, "What would be major, if these things arenít?" What is it that we really think is a serious sin? We have gotten to the point that unless we murder someone or have an abortion, we think that we have not done anything too bad so we really do not need forgiveness. And the devil laughs because he has you right where he wants you Ė right on the road to hell Ė because you do not think that you have to be forgiven. He gets you on the scrupulosity, on the one side; or he gets you with the numbness of conscience on the other. Either way, he does not care - as long as he has got you where he wants you.
And so the Lord, knowing the situation in the world today, appeared, back about 70 years ago, to a young nun in Poland, and He showed Himself to her as an image of Divine Mercy. Underneath that beautiful image of Our Lord with the rays coming forth from His heart symbolizing the Eucharist, the blood and the water coming forth, the fountain of sacramental life in the Church, showing to us His mercy, it says simply: Jesus, I trust in You.
Now the question each one of us needs to ask, and needs to ask very, very seriously of our own selves, is - Do we trust Him? Do we take Him at His word? It is Jesus Himself who said, "Whose sins you forgive are forgiven." Do we believe Him? You have to realize the importance of this question because it also, then, is going to color every other thing that Jesus said. If we do not believe that our sins are forgiven (or if we do not believe that we have sinned, therefore, we have nothing to be forgiven), what we are doing, as Saint John says, is "making Him a liar". Is that what we want to do to Our Lord?
Of course, if He did not mean what He said with the forgiveness of sin, we have to ask ourselves - Did He mean what He said when He told us that He is God? Did He mean what He said when He said, "This is My BodyÖThis is My Blood"? Did He mean what He said when He told His disciples that He would rise from the dead? Did He mean what He said when He told us that we would have everlasting life, that we would share in salvation, that we would share in the inheritance which is God Himself?
In the second reading, Saint Peter tells us about this inheritance which is kept undefiled for us in Heaven. It is waiting for us on the promise of Jesus Christ. But if Jesus did not really mean what He said when He told us that our sins would be forgiven, then He could not really have meant what He said when He told us about eternal life because we would not be able to have a share in eternal life if our sins cannot be forgiven. And so the real question, then, that we need to ask is - What evidence do we need that our sins are forgiven? I think it is important to look at what Jesus said to Thomas today, "Have you believed because you have seen? Blessed are they who have not seen and yet believe."
You are here today because you believe that Jesus Christ is God. And you believe that He is the Word of God, the Word through Whom and for Whom all things were created, and apart from Him nothing exists. God spoke that one Word in all eternity and all things came to be. Jesus spoke and people were healed. Jesus spoke and sins were forgiven. Remember the paralytic whom they lowered down through the roof and Jesus said, "Your sins are forgiven." They scoffed and said, "Who can forgive sins, but God alone?" Jesus said, "Fine. Which is easier to say, ĎYour sins are forgivení or ĎPick up your mat and walkí? So that you will believeÖ." Then He looked at the paralytic and said, "Pick up your mat and walk." They saw and, therefore, believed. Blessed are you who have not seen and yet believe. You believe on the witness of the testimony of Scripture.
People today, of course, want to call all of this into question. What I would suggest to you is to look at some other areas that we do not seem to call into question. It always amazes me how Americans believe everything they see or read in the media. Because some reporter on TV said it, it must be true. We believe in a testimony of a reporter who was not even present at whatever occurred. We read something in the paper that they may have twisted all over the place and we believe because they said that so-and-so said this. But when it comes to people that the Church has infallibly proclaimed to be saints, we are not so sure whether or not we want to believe them. When it comes to the Scriptures, which the Church has infallibly proclaimed are inspired by God, we are not so sure if we want to believe them. We are not sure if the testimony that is there is true. How do we really know? We did not see it. Yet we are willing to believe everything that is on the TV set and everything that we read in the newspaper. I would suggest that maybe we ought to reverse the way we think about those things and start believing in what we read in the Scriptures - and forget about the media.
We need to learn to trust. As I tell people very often in the confessional, trust is one of the most difficult areas in the spiritual life to develop because it will only grow by doing it. Therefore, God has to put you into positions where you have no choice but to trust. We do not like that at all. We complain and we kick and we scream. Then we are not so sure we really want to do these things anymore. "If this is what it means to take up the spiritual life, I quit!" And that is exactly what we do. We pull back and we would rather sit in our unbelief and our untrusting way than to have to be put into a position where we really trust.
So I just want to ask you - What are you going to do on the last day of your life when you are lying on your death bed and you have to look at what is going to happen the moment that you die? You can continue to trust in yourself and you will go to hell. Or you can trust in Jesus Christ and you will go to Heaven. But do not think that is going to start on your deathbed; it starts now. The choices that you make now are the ones that are going to continue on. If you have continued to reject Jesus and say, "I donít believe. I donít trust. I donít have proof: I canít see it; I canít get a grip on it; itís not tangible. Therefore, I donít accept it," then on the day of your death you are going to say the exact same thing. "I canít see Heaven yet. I canít Jesus, my Judge, standing there waiting for me. I canít see eternal life, therefore, Iím not going to believe." Satan said, "I will not serve." What are we going to say to the Lord? "I will not trust"? "I will not believe"? "I will not accept"? "I will not serve"? "I will go my own way and I will do what I think I can get a grip on"? The devil will be very happy to give you lots of things to hang onto.
Jesus says, "Faith and trust." We need to make those acts of faith and trust now or we are not going to be able to on the last day of our life. It starts in the belief in who Jesus Christ is, the belief of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, and the belief in the forgiveness of sin. "Doubt no longer, but believe," Jesus said. What more did He need to do to demonstrate the truth to us? But, in our unbelieving hearts, we have been led astray by Satan and we have chosen not to believe.
On this day, when we celebrate the Feast of Divine Mercy, we need to make an act of the will, an act of faith, an act of hope, and an act of charity, to say yes to God: "I will doubt no longer. I will believe because it is You who have said it. I will trust in You, Lord Jesus, and believing and trusting, I will love." That is what the Lord is asking of us. Not to have proof, not to have anything tangible to hang onto, but to look at Jesus on the Cross and ask ourselves, "Do I believe?" Look at the picture of Divine Mercy right here [Father is pointing to a portrait of the Divine Mercy Image on the side altar] and come to the Lord this morning. Look right into His face and repeat the words at the bottom, and mean it from the bottom of your heart: Jesus, I trust in You.
*This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.