The Feast of Divine Mercy
April 18, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Divine Mercy Sunday
Reading I (Acts 5:12-16)
Reading II (Revelation 1:9-11a, 12-13, 17-19)
Gospel (St. John 20:19-31)
Today the Church celebrates the Feast of Divine Mercy. This is a very new feast, and it is something which is of great interest because to my knowledge it is the only feast in the Church that we celebrate based on a private revelation. Never before has this been done. Obviously, God’s mercy is something that the Church has preached and believed in from the very beginning, and yet never before has the Church placed such emphasis on something which has been revealed to just a single individual. If we think, for instance, about the Feast of the Sacred Heart, we can think about the revelations to Saint Margaret Mary. But the reality is that that has very little to do with the Feast of the Sacred Heart. While the Church acknowledges the apparitions, it does not place such emphasis on it as to allow the liturgical practices of the Church to be influenced heavily by the apparitions. This particular feast is a little different. The only reason why we have the Feast of Divine Mercy is because Our Lord appeared to Saint Faustina and revealed to her His desire for this feast.
It is something that our Holy Father has put great emphasis on – thanks be to God! – because while God’s mercy is available to us 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, it is something that is very important for many people to be able to know in a very specific way the mercy of God. I found it interesting even just yesterday hearing confessions because throughout the course of Lent (particularly in Holy Week) we always hear the confessions of quite a few people who have been away from the Church, but yesterday I heard more confessions from people who have been away for quite a while than I heard during Holy Week; so obviously there are people who are coming back specifically because of this feast and because of the promises that Our Lord has made.
The promises that He made really are the same as we have with many other things: that our sins will be forgiven and the temporal punishment due to sin will also be completely removed, that the soul will be as pure as it was on the day of our baptism. What that means is that a plenary indulgence is attached to the praying of the Divine Mercy Chaplet, as well as doing all the other things that are required. The things that would be required would be going to confession eight days either side of this feast, that is, anytime from last Saturday through next Monday. You have to go to confession and you have to receive Holy Communion sometime during those sixteen days. You have to pray the Chaplet. You have to pray for the intentions of our Holy Father (the Our Father, a Hail Mary, and a Glory Be). And you also have to be detached from every aspect of every sin that you have ever committed. That, of course, is the difficult part. Nonetheless, the promises that Our Lord has made to us are great and they are beautiful. They are something that we really need to pay attention to.
When we look at the picture of Divine Mercy, as we see right here on Our Lady’s altar, underneath the picture of Jesus are the words “Jesus, I trust in You.” That is something we do not do very well, to trust in Our Lord. We all like to say that we trust in Jesus, but when it comes right down to it most of us really do not. We are afraid of letting go of things because we are not sure if God is really going to do what He has promised to do. In the practical day-to-day existence, we trust far more in ourselves and far more in other people and far more in money and material things than we do in God, which is a pretty tragic statement because remember what Our Lord has told us in the Gospels: If someone is trustworthy in small matters, then they are to be trusted in larger matters; but if they are not trustworthy in small matters, then neither are they trustworthy in large matters.
Well, when we consider this point of trusting in Our Lord, He has made extraordinary promises to us; promises, for instance, of heaven, of eternal life; promises that we are going to be united with Him; the promise that our sins are going to be forgiven. Now if we cannot trust God in small matters, how are we ever going to be able to trust Him in the large things? The problem for many of us is that we do not have clear evidence that something has occurred. But if we look at the Gospel reading today, we see Thomas saying, “I’m not going to believe unless I put my finger into the holes in His hands and my hand into His side.” Jesus appears in His mercy and shows Himself that way to Thomas, and then says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” How often we struggle with the question of whether or not our sins are truly forgiven. The problem is we cannot see that anything has happened. We cannot see the sins on our soul, and we cannot see that they have been removed. But Our Lord, in today’s Gospel, breathes on His disciples and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven.” He did not say, “Whose sins you forgive are swept under the rug.” He did not say, “Whose sins you forgive I’ll keep them in mind and I will hold them against them later on.” He said, “They’re forgiven.” That means they are gone, and it means that they will never ever be heard of again. But we fear because we do not trust. Saint John tells us that fear has to do with judgment. And so even though we come before Our Lord and confess our sins, we still are afraid because we do not really believe that they are gone. He has made the promise, and the One Who has promised is trustworthy. We simply need to place our trust in Him because He has made the promise.
When we think about this feast and we think about the mercy of God, at first glance, one might think that this would be better if it were celebrated during Lent. After all, for six weeks of praying and doing penance, we were seeking the mercy of God. Now, all of a sudden, here we are on the octave day of Easter, the height of the celebration of Our Lord’s Resurrection, and suddenly we turn and we are asking God once again for mercy. But, in fact, it is rather perfect because remember as we celebrate the octave what that means is that for eight days we celebrate the feast itself. So today, as we have for the last week, we are in fact celebrating Easter Day – not just the Easter Season, which we will be celebrating for the next six weeks – but literally Easter Day. The reason for that is because it is a new creation. The Lord created in seven days, but on the eighth day He rose from the dead. And so for the largest feasts in the Church calendar, the Church gives to us an octave to be able to recognize that because of the mysteries of our Faith we have become a new creation, and that God, especially through the Resurrection, has re-created the earth and has re-created each one of us so that as we are baptized into Christ we have literally and truly become a new creation in Christ.
So today as we celebrate the octave of Easter, we also celebrate this feast which connects what happened on the Cross with what happened on Easter Sunday. Anyone who has been praying the Novena of the Divine Mercy knows that they had to begin that novena on Good Friday, and it culminates, of course, with the events of this day. It connects Good Friday with Easter Sunday, and it reminds us that the mercy of God is found in the Cross of Jesus Christ. It is found in His Precious Blood and it is found through the power of the Resurrection. Sins are forgiven because of the Cross. But it was not enough that Our Lord went to the Cross; if He did not rise from the dead, we would not be able to rise to new and everlasting life. Those events are intimately connected. So too, the new creation in Christ which takes place in our souls is completely united with His Cross and His Resurrection.
Now as we ponder the mercy of God, we must be very, very careful to understand it in its proper sense. There are many people in our day and age who have fallen into a very unfortunate heresy, into a trap which the devil has laid for them to say, “It is true that God is merciful. In fact, God is so merciful that you can do pretty much anything you want. You don’t have to confess your sins because God is merciful. In fact, on the day you die you will stand before God, Who is so merciful that He will see on that day that you are sorry for your sins and He will forgive you on the spot. You will go straight into heaven.” That is rank heresy. The reason for that is because at the moment we die and the soul separates from the body there is no more changing of the mind. There will be no repentance on our part after we die. Consequently, there will be no mercy.
The mercy of God is known only in this life. It will find its fulfillment in the next where we recognize that because of the forgiveness of our sins we will be able to enter into life, but the forgiveness of sins happens only here. That is for mortal sins. Venial sins can be forgiven in the next life, but that means a long time in Purgatory. What we want is to be able to get to heaven, and God in His mercy has done all of the work for us – except for one thing. We all know that if something is made too easy, it really does not mean a whole lot to us; but if it costs us something, if it is something which is somewhat difficult, then it means much more to us. So there is a cost that is involved. The greatest cost of all, of course, is the very life of Our Blessed Lord Himself. When we look at the Cross and recognize what it cost for our sins to be forgiven, how grateful we need to be! But there is a cost on our part as well. It is a relatively small cost – indeed, a very small cost – yet one that sometimes seems very difficult for some. That is simply to humble ourselves and confess our sins. That is all that God requires. Of course, along with that is the repentance which implies that we intend to stop committing the sins, that we are going to try to amend our lives. But all that God is asking of us is to confess our sins. He has done everything else, and He continues to do everything else. All that is left for us is that one thing. We simply need to ask ourselves, “Is that too much to ask?”
We like to think that we can lie on our bed and think about our sins and be sorry for them, but that does not work. The reason that does not work is because God, Who treats us with mercy and love, treats us with the full dignity of our human nature. As human persons, the normal mode of communication is not to lie on one’s bed and ponder things. You cannot do that with your spouse and children; you cannot do it with God either. The normal mode of human communication is to speak and to hear. So God in His mercy has set up something for us to be able to do exactly that: to speak what it is that we have done and to hear that in fact we have been forgiven. Lie on your bed as often as you will and think about your sins, and yet you walk away with the sins still on your soul. The conscience will still be troubled because you do not have any knowledge that your sins have been forgiven. But when you come to confession and you hear those beautiful words from the mouth of the priest, “I absolve you from your sins in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” your sins are gone and you have knowledge that your sins are gone forever – never ever to be heard of again – even on the Day of Judgment.
That is the mercy God is offering to His people. He has done everything for us, and He has given to us the means by which our sins can be forgiven. All that He asks of us is to humble ourselves, to confess our sins, and to trust in Him.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.