Over the last two evenings we have reflected on the Holy Spirit and the Son. In this we have learned that faith begins for us as an action on God’s part. God takes the initiative and calls us into faith. Without God taking this first step, we cannot come to know God. This action on God’s part is through the person of the Holy Spirit. We received the gift of the Holy Spirit through the sacraments of baptism and confirmation. It is God the Holy Spirit who then reveals to us God the Son. We most fully experience the presence of the Son through the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. In the Eucharist we receive the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus, the second person of the Trinity. Each time we celebrate the Eucharist we enter into the great paschal mystery whereby Christ became human, suffered and died, and rose from the dead. This action, on the part of the Son is the way we come to know the depth and the breadth of the Father’s love for us.
I have mentioned also the journey we will be taking as a parish; a journey which brings us to the heart of Holy Trinity. The icon of the Holy Trinity which stands in front of me is the focal piece for Fr. Michael Gaitley’s book, The One Thing is Three. To enter this journey we will be invited to personally consecrate our heart to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. This 33 day mini-retreat will be directed through Fr. Gaitley’s book 33 Days to Morning Glory. Each of you will be receiving a copy of this book at Christmas this year. You can use this book as a part of your personal devotion, dedicating 5-7 minutes each morning with reading and then meditating on a single thought for the day. On March 25th, the Solemnity of the Annunciation we will come together for a special prayer of consecration.
Then you will be invited to take the journey to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This 10 week process will be directed by a third book by Fr. Michael Gaitley, Consoling the Heart of Jesus. This consecration will take place next June on the Feast of the Sacred Heart. These first step of the journey then prepares us to delve more deeply into The One Thing is Three. On this journey we will come to know and appreciate the divine mercy of God and we will experience more deeply, perhaps in a way we have never known it before, the Father’s love
The Father’s love. What a beautiful thought. What a hopeful thought to know we are loved by God. In fact we exist as an act of Divine love. We do not have to even exist. God does not need us. But has chosen for us to exist as a pure act of love. Another word for love is mercy. With God, the two words are interchangeable with each other and so it is always right to speak of the Father’s love AND mercy. And just what is this Divine Mercy? To answer this question I share with you, once again, some reflections from Fr. Gaitley’s book.
Divine mercy, as Fr. Gaitleys says, gets to the heart of Sacred Scripture. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1849) teaches, “The Gospel is the revelation in Jesus Christ of God’s mercy to sinners.” Pope Benedict, in his Regina Caele Address on Divine Mercy Sunday, April 23, 2006 says, “Divine mercy is not a secondary devotion, but an integral dimension of Christian faith and prayer.” In his Divine Mercy Sunday address of March 30, 2008, he says, “Mercy is the central nucleus of the Gospel message.”
Fr. Gaitley goes on to say, “Divine Mercy is when God’s love meets us and helps us in the midst of our suffering and sin. . . It is always the Lord stepping out in compassion to help us poor, weak, and broken sinners” (The One Thing . . . Pg. 335)
Today most people associate Divine Mercy with the mystical visions of a Polish nun who died in 1938. St. Maria Faustina Kowalska received extraordinary experiences of the Lord while in prayer. In speaking of the great graces being poured out on Divine Mercy Sunday, our Lord said: “On that day, the very depths of My tender mercy are opened. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the fount of My mercy . . . On that day, all the divine floodgates through which graces flow are opened” (Diary of St. Faustina, Pg. 699).
In His appearances to Faustina Jesus was not revealing a new gospel. Rather he was reminding us of the heart of Sacred Scripture. He appeared to her in between the time of the two great Wars, a time when the world needed to know the depth of God’s mercy. Especially when you realize that he appeared in Poland during the time of the rise of the Third Reich and on the threshhold of the holocaust. In his appearances he was saying, “Now is the time of mercy. Now is a time when I want to give especially great graces to the human race” (cf. Gaitley, pg. 334).
Why would God want to give us these great graces in our time? Pope John Paul II seems to have explained it best. First, he points out that there are all kinds of blessings in our contemporary society. Modern technology has done so much to make life easier for us. Yet in the midst of these blessings and in some ways, because of these very same advances in technology (I.e. cell phones, internet, etc.) John Paul would say that “evil has a reach and power in our day like never before.” To this John Paul would say, “Be not afraid.” God is not outdone by evil. So, in a time of great evil, God wants to give even greater graces. Paul, in his letter to the Romans wrote, “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (5:20).
Because of this Pope John Paul declared that the Second Sunday of Easter would be officially named, Divine Mercy Sunday. The Second Sunday of Easter is the Eighth Day, it is the culmination of the Octave (eight days) of Easter. In declaring this John Paul was not doing something new. Rather he was reclaiming an ancient Feast Day from the early Church. The Early Church Fathers wrote of this Feast.
St. Gregory of Nazienzen, (d. 390 AD) taught that the Easter Octave Day is the “New Sunday.” He said, “that Sunday (meaning Easter) was the day of salvation, but this Sunday (Octave of Easter) is the birthday of salvation.”
St. Augustine in his sermons calls the whole Octave of Easter “days of mercy and pardon” and the Octave Day itself “the compendium of the days of mercy.” In his Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas Aquinas echoes the early Fathers when he describes the Octave Day as the goal and the second perfection of Easter. (See footnote 317 from Gaitley, Pg. 374ff).
The Prodigal Son
The Sacred Scriptures are filled with stories of God’s Divine Mercy. In fact the entire bible, the story of salvation, is the story of God’s mercy and love for sinful humanity. In all the scriptures there is no more profound story of the Father’s mercy than in the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). This story, like all parables reveals to us a fundamental truth about God and our relationship to God. Very often we hear the story told from the perspective of the younger son, or the older son. This is because these two figures represent us and our response to God.
I would suggest that for tonight’s purpose we look at the person of the father, who obviously represents God the Father. The father had two sons. One, a younger son, was rebellious and self-centered; the older son was faithful and steadfast. But the father loved both sons equally. This is the way it is with God’s love. God loves all people equally, no matter how holy and faithful, or how sinful and self-centered we are.
The son came to the father with what must have been a heartbreaking request. Give me my share of the inheritance. By these words the son was telling him that his father was as good as dead to him. That is what we humans do every single time we sin. Everything we have, and everything we are, belongs to our Father in heaven. God has chosen to share this great world with us. When we use the things of this world, with no thought of the Father, with no gratitude in our hearts, we are saying God is as good as dead to us.
So many people in our world seem to be living their lives this way. How many times do we go about their daily lives, our work and play, and never give a thought to God? It is as though God doesn’t even exist. It doesn’t help matters that society has taken God so much out of the public arena. It seems that we give no thought to God until we want or need something. Living this way we soon find that our resources simply are not enough. That is what happened to the son in the parable. This is what finally brought him to his senses. This is what caused him to return to his father.
Here comes the very important part of the parable. The son returned to the father, and while he was still a long way off the father saw him and ran out to greet him. That is the way it is with God. No matter how far we wander from God, the Father is always there waiting to take us back into his loving arms. Even before we come to our sense, God the Father is ready, watching and waiting for us. That is a God of love who gives us the absolute freedom to choose whatever we will, even if our choices are wrong. That is a God of love who is always ready to forgive us and bring us back to life.
And it wasn’t enough that the father ran out to greet his son. He threw a party for him. That again is the way it is with our Father in heaven. Every time we return to the Father he blesses us, he graces us. The primary source of these graces is the sacraments of the church, especially the sacraments of Holy Eucharist and Reconciliation. In these sacraments God the Father is lavishing us with His grace. He puts on us the new clothing of holiness through the grace of forgiveness and mercy. He feeds us with the choicest of food, not a fatted calf, but the body, blood, soul, and divinity of His Son.
He does this because He knows that by our sin we die and through his mercy we are brought back to life; a life lived in the loving embrace of our Father in heaven.
But the parable doesn’t end there. There is the problem of the older son who refused to come to the party out of jealousy. He was unable or unwilling to forgive his brother for what he had done to them. And so what did the father do? He went outside to his son. Again that is how God the Father is with us. God comes to us, wherever we are. That is what the Lord does for us every time we sin. He comes to us and moves our hearts so that can return to Him. It is the Holy Spirit, and the death and resurrection of the Son, which moves our hearts to seek the Father’s mercy. And we have the absolute assurance that we will receive that mercy every time we ask.
God the Father accepts us, wherever we are. But He doesn’t want to leave us where we are. He doesn’t want to leave us in our sin. No, God the Father wants to bring us back into the loving embrace of the Trinity. This is why Jesus, when he forgave the sins of others, so often spoke the words, “your faith has saved you. Now go and from now on avoid this sin.”
The ultimate sign of the Father’s love for us hangs before us. The cross shows us the extent that God the Father was willing to go to redeem us. Would one of you offer your child’s life for the sake of someone else. No! Absolutely not! But that is what the Father did for us.
The passion and death of Christ is the Father’s Divine Mercy.
Every time we sin we add to the suffering of Christ. When Christ hung on the cross he knew us. As he died on the cross he died for the sins we committed yesterday and today. He died for the sins we will commit tomorrow. And so every time we sin we add to his suffering.
But now I want to really blow your mind. Are we not the Body of Christ? That means that as Christ suffered on the cross, and still suffers because of sin, then we, too are suffering with Him. Sin does have that effect in our lives. This means that every time we sin we are causing our own personal suffering. That means that we are a bit psychotic if we continue to sin because we are adding to our own personal suffering.
It doesn’t have to be that way. This is why God wants to show us love. This is why God does not want to leave us in our own sin. He wants us to know how much He loves us.
This is why Catholics go to confession. Our sin is real and it has a very real effect in our lives. God’s Divine Mercy is real, and where our sin abounds, God’s mercy abounds all the more. And so we come to confession to experience, very really, the Father’s mercy and love. When the priest speaks the words, “I absolve you of your sin,” he does so, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” And so once again, it is the action of the Holy Trinity, that grants this mercy, through a humble, unworthy, human priest. By hearing the words, and by the laying on of hands we very really experience the mercy of God.
In a little while, each of you will be invited to receive the grace of this sacrament. We have eight priests with us tonight who have given themselves to the Lord so that you can experience the Father’s Divine Mercy.