Year C – 2nd Sunday of Easter

(Acts 5:12-16; Rev.1:9-13, 17-19; Jn.20:19-31)

On the Secrets of Divine Mercy

We all want peace, don’t we?  Sadly, there’s more fear, mistrust and tension around us than peace.  What can we do about it?

In today’s Gospel, Jesus enters the locked room where his disciples are hiding and says, ‘peace be with you’.  He also says something similar in our second reading to St John, who’s exiled on the island of Patmos.  Jesus says, ‘Do not be afraid’.

Jesus often speaks of peace, but the peace he refers to isn’t just restful calm or a beach holiday.  It’s much deeper than that.  Jesus’ peace comes from a life of love and joy that’s only available from God.

So many saints have shown us that a life filled with God’s love is not only liberating and transforming and dynamic, but it’s also peaceful.

Consider the Apostles after Jesus’ resurrection.  They’re totally transformed as they finally start understanding Jesus’ message about God’s love.  And when Jesus says, ‘As my Father has sent me, so I send you’, they go out and start telling everyone about God’s unconditional love and mercy.  And despite the obvious dangers, they’re peaceful inside.

The early Christians understood this. They knew the parables of the Prodigal Son and the Good Shepherd. They understood that God’s love isn’t just the pardon of a merciful judge; it’s actually the warm embrace of a loving father.

Sadly, people have been forgetting this, but Jesus doesn’t give up easily.  He wants everyone to understand God’s love, and that’s why he keeps working through the saints to remind us.

In the 1200s, St Gertrude and St Mechtilde in Germany encouraged people to recognise the Sacred Heart of Jesus as the symbol of God’s love. Their beautiful prayers and devotions helped many people to find peace.

In the 1670s, in France, Jesus revealed to St Margaret Mary Alacoque the secrets of his Sacred Heart and again many Christians discovered peace, love and joy.  Every first Friday millions of people prayed with the words ‘Sacred Heart of Jesus I trust in Thee’ on their lips and in their hearts. 

As time passed, however, these too seemed to be forgotten.  But Jesus doesn’t give up.

Jesus wants a personal relationship with each of us, not just in our heads, but deep in our hearts.

In February 1931, Jesus appeared to a humble nun, Sr Maria Faustina Kowalska, in Poland.  He appeared as the ‘King of Divine Mercy’, wearing a white garment, with rays of white and red light shining from his heart. He told Sr Faustina to paint this image, with the words: ‘Jesus, I trust in You’. He said he wanted this image venerated, first in her chapel, and then throughout the world. And he promised that anyone who venerates this image will not perish.

In several revelations, Jesus taught her the secrets of his Divine Mercy, saying that it’s unlimited and available to even the greatest sinners.  And he said he wanted the Sunday after Easter to be celebrated as the Feast of Divine Mercy.

Sr. Faustina was surprised that he wanted this Feast of Divine Mercy.  She asked, ‘Isn’t there one already?’  But Jesus replied, ‘Who knows anything about this feast?  No one!  Even those who should be proclaiming my mercy and teaching the people about it, often don’t know about it themselves’.

Why does this worry Jesus? 

Well, we should remember the Pharisees.  In Matthew 15:8, Jesus calls them hypocrites and says, ‘These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me’.  The Pharisees had forgotten the meaning of their prayers and their rituals, and their worship became very superficial.  Nothing they did touched their hearts.  They had no relationship with God, so it’s not surprising that they didn’t recognise Jesus when he arrived.

Jesus doesn’t want that to happen to us.  He wants a personal relationship with each of us, not just in our heads, but deep in our hearts.

For four years Faustina Kowalska kept a diary of her contact with Jesus.  The result is the book ‘Divine Mercy in My Soul’ – 600 pages about God’s merciful love for us and how he wants us to live and pray.

In April 2000, Pope St John Paul II canonised Sr Faustina and established the second Sunday of Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday. That’s what we celebrate today.

So, let’s pray for peace – the unfathomable peace we all need deep in our hearts. 

The peace that only comes from truly loving, trusting and understanding the tender loving and merciful heart of our God.

Year C – Easter

On the Heart of our Faith

(Acts 10:34, 37-43; Col.3:1-4; Jn.20:1-9)

Happy Easter! Today is the most important day of our Christian calendar, because this is the day we celebrate Jesus’ return from the dead.  The truth of Jesus’ resurrection is at the very heart of our faith. 

Given its importance, then, why do so many people only rabbit on about chocolate eggs at Easter?

Let’s go back a step.  We don’t know exactly when Jesus was born, but we do know the month of his death and resurrection.  It’s linked to the Jewish Passover, which is always between late March and late April each year.

This is springtime in the Northern Hemisphere.  Have you heard of the mad March hare?  Springtime is when rabbits and hares leave their winter hiding places and rush about eating, nesting and multiplying.  Springtime is also when most wild birds lay their eggs.  In the 1600s, someone in Germany linked these two events and started making up stories about rabbit-eggs.

These are fairytales, however.  They simply distract us from the real Easter story.  So let’s look at that now.

St Luke tells us that at dawn on the first Easter, Mary Magdalene and two other women went to Jesus’ tomb with a gift of spices.  They were astonished to see it empty.  Two angels said to them ‘Why look for the alive among the dead?  He’s not here, he’s risen.’

The women ran to tell the disciples, but they wouldn’t believe it.  So Peter checked for himself, and all he saw in the tomb were some binding cloths.  Soon afterwards, however, Jesus appeared to them personally and then they had to believe.

The question today is this: do we believe?  And what does Jesus’ resurrection mean for us personally?  St Paul says that if Christ is not risen, then all our believing is in vain (1Cor.15:17).  But we know he’s risen, for several reasons.

It’s significant that all four Gospels say that women were the first to witness the empty tomb. This point gives credibility to these accounts, because in ancient times women weren’t allowed to be official witnesses.  Had the Resurrection story been invented, women would never have been mentioned.

It’s also significant that there’d been no forced entry into the tomb, and that Jesus’ linen wrappings were left on the floor.  If Jesus’ body had been stolen, the bandages would have gone, too.  But they were left behind.

What’s immensely profound, though, is the change in the disciples’ behaviour. 

The author Henry Van Dyke once wrote that some people are so afraid of death that they never really begin to live.  This certainly applied to the disciples. At first they’re so terrified of arrest that they go into hiding.  But not long after Jesus’ resurrection they’re completely transformed.  They come out of hiding and start preaching with great passion.

What we’re now moving towards is life, not death.

St Peter, previously so weak, suddenly becomes a lion and fearlessly confronts the Jewish crowd.  He’s filled with fire and nothing will stop him.

St Paul the Pharisee also meets Jesus on the Damascus Road and he, too, changes utterly.  There’s no escaping it – Jesus is risen!

The Apostles’ conviction is so strong that no gaol or persecution or torture will stop them spreading the extraordinary news about Jesus Christ.

And it’s because of their passion, and the unshakeable faith of so many disciples since then, that we’re all here today, celebrating Easter.

So what does the Resurrection mean for us today?

Before Christ’s resurrection, death always followed life.  It didn’t matter how rich or powerful you were; death was always the end of the road.  But now, because of Jesus’ self-sacrifice, death is as empty as his tomb.  Death is no longer what we’re moving towards; it’s what we’re coming from. 

As Christians we’re all members of Christ’s body, and because of our baptism Jesus has given each of us a share in his new life and identity. 

So, what we’re now moving towards is life.  As Jesus himself said, ‘I came that they may have life, and have it to the full’ (Jn.10:10).

Some people think that all they have to do is to sit tight, and wait for their turn to enter heaven.  But true Christians aren’t meant to do nothing.  True disciples, like Jesus, are meant to spread the good news.  We’re meant to make a difference, by shining some of Christ’s light into the darkness of the world.

So, Easter is not about rabbits and chocolate eggs. 

The real story of Easter is the story of Jesus, his remarkable resurrection from death, and the profound hope he gives every one of us.

Year C – Holy Thursday

On Three Graces

[Ex.12:1-8, 11-14; 1Cor.11:23-26; Jn.13:1-15]

Years ago, a Carmelite nun went to see St Teresa of Avila, and said how she wished she’d lived in Jesus’ day.  What a joy, she thought, it would have been to see his face, to hear his voice and to be near him.  ‘Imagine what it would have been like to talk with Jesus!’ she said. ‘Oh, I’d be a saint!’

St Teresa looked at her and said, ‘My dear sister, have you forgotten that Jesus is still on earth, that he lives near you (she pointed to the tabernacle), and that he’s often in your very soul?  Have you forgotten that you can see him and speak to him as often as you like? And isn’t Jesus with us in the Most Holy Sacrament?’

Yes, Jesus is always with us in the Most Holy Sacrament, the Eucharist.

Recently I came across Robert DeGrandis’ book ‘Healing through the Mass’ [i].  In it DeGrandis describes how NASA studied the effects of space travel on astronauts and developed a special camera that can read the energy levels in a human body.  Linked to a monitor, this camera shows a person’s energy as an aura of light around the body.

In its experiments, NASA found that when someone’s dying, their aura gets thinner and thinner until that person dies.  One day in a hospital, a scientist and his associate were monitoring a dying man behind a two-way mirror.  Through their camera they could see another man entering the room. Light shone from his pocket.  The man took something from that pocket and moments later the whole room was filled with so much light that the camera couldn’t read what was happening. The scientists went into the room and saw the dying man receiving Holy Communion.  The Eucharistic host had radiated a huge amount of energy and the man’s aura got stronger.

After witnessing that event, the scientist himself became a priest.

So many of the graces God gives us are invisible to our world-weary eyes, and we never notice them.  But God’s graces are real; they’re powerful.

Today, on this feast of the Last Supper, we should remember three remarkable graces Jesus left us on the night before he died.

Firstly, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet.  As St John tells us, Jesus stood up from the table, took off his cloak, wrapped a towel around himself and washed their feet.  This startled the disciples; it was the work of slaves.  Peter objected, but Jesus replied, ‘If I don’t wash you, you can have nothing in common with me’.

Later, Jesus added, ‘Do you understand what I’ve done to you? … if I’ve washed your feet, (so) you also must wash each other’s feet.  For I’ve set you an example … you should do as I have done’.

So many of the graces God gives us are invisible to our world-weary eyes, and we never notice them.

This act was revolutionary.  Jesus showed us that regardless of who we are, we all need to reach out in humble and loving service to others.  This is the path of sainthood, and we’re all called to it.

Jesus’ second grace was also revolutionary.  He took the bread, blessed it, and gave it to his disciples saying, ‘Take and eat, this is my body’.  Then he took the cup of wine and said, ‘drink from this, all of you; for this is my blood, the blood of the new covenant’ (Mt.26:26). 

With these words, the entire substance of the bread was changed into Christ’s flesh. The entire substance of the wine was changed into his blood. 

This same miracle still happens today, at every Mass, and as NASA itself has found, the Eucharist has remarkable powers.  Indeed, it has the power to transform lives.

And finally, at the Last Supper Jesus gave us a third grace, by establishing the priesthood.  In 2004, Pope St John Paul II said that through these two actions – washing the feet, and instituting the Eucharist, Jesus established the ministerial priesthood.

Our priests are consecrated by God to make the love of Christ present in the world.  But as St Peter reminds us, we all share in that same priesthood.  We’re all a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation (1Pet.2:5). 

So, as we celebrate the Last Supper today, let’s remember that we all share in Jesus’ priesthood.

We all have a duty to make Christ’s love present in the world, by serving others in mercy and love, and by recognising his divine presence in his remarkable gift – the Eucharist.

[i] Robert deGrandis, Healing through the Mass. Resurrection Press, New Jersey, 1992:84.

Year C – Palm Sunday

On the Passing Parade

(Is.50:4-7; Phil.2:6-11; Lk.19:28-40)

One remarkable figure in today’s Palm Sunday Gospel that’s typically overlooked is the donkey – the simple, ordinary, humble donkey.  It’s easy to miss this animal but its presence says so much.

2000 years ago, a worldly king would never have ridden a donkey.  He’d have chosen a mighty wheeled vehicle, perhaps a chariot, drawn by magnificent horses. 

But Jesus is different.  In our second reading, St Paul tells us that although he was God, Jesus didn’t seek to be treated as God.  Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave … he humbled himself. So he chose a donkey.

Riding his donkey, Jesus fulfilled Zechariah’s 500 year old prophecy:  ‘Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!  Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey … and he shall command peace to the nations …’ (Zech.9:9).

Jesus went to Jerusalem for the Passover celebrations.  He approached the city from Jericho and that means he entered through the East Gate.  Seeing him, the crowd got excited and shouted. ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’  Jesus was their hero – their long-awaited Messiah. 

Now, Passover is one of the great Jewish celebrations.  It commemorates the release of the ancient Israelites from slavery in Egypt.  Jesus went there every year.  The American scholar Ed Parish Sanders estimates that up to 500,000 pilgrims went to Jerusalem every year for these celebrations. The numbers were huge.

With so many pilgrims in town, the Governor Pontius Pilate thought he’d better get some extra soldiers from the coast, in case of any trouble.  So, as Jesus entered from the east, Pontius Pilate and his legions entered from the west.

You can just imagine the Roman procession. It was spectacular, with horses, chariots, cavalry, foot soldiers, helmets, armour, weapons, colourful banners and golden eagles held high.  The sound of horses, drums and marching feet echoed through the narrow streets.

This imperial procession was meant to intimidate:  it’s the power of a worldly empire with its false gods.  Its purpose was to demand fear and loyalty.

Jesus’ procession from the east, however, was different.  It was led by a humble man on a donkey, proclaiming the kingdom of God and asking people for love, acceptance and loyalty.

What a contrast!  One parade representing the pride, power and shallow obsessions of the world.  The other representing a new and a remarkable kind of kingdom – one of deep humility, hope, peace and love.  One that so many of us yearn for.

If you look and listen carefully, you’ll notice that both of these parades are continuing today.  And both, in their own way, are calling us.

… one parade represents the pride, power and shallow obsessions of the world. The other represents a new kind of kingdom

The parade that’s all about power and pride (and sadly, false promises, too) is noisy, it’s brash, it’s colourful.  It’s what captures the attention of most people.  It dominates our modern world.

The other is about the extraordinary love of our humble man-God.  It’s quiet.  It’s gentle.  It’s easily overlooked, but it’s always there, gently calling us over.

Which procession are you in?  Which crowd are you following?  If you say you’re following Jesus on his donkey, then I’ll ask – are you really following him?

I ask this because many in the crowd who greeted Jesus as he rode through Jerusalem on the Sunday also demanded his death on the Friday.

Cheering on Sunday, but jeering on Friday.

Hopeful on Sunday, but hateful on Friday.

How shallow and fickle they were. 

In these final days before Easter, let’s reflect deeply on what it really means to follow Jesus.

Are we loyal or are we fickle?  Do we truly follow Jesus, or do we pretend to?

Which parade, which crowd, are we really following?

Year C – 5th Sunday in Lent

On the Miracle of Divine Mercy

(Is.43:16-21; Phil.3:8-14; Jn.8:1-11)

If God loves us no matter what, then why should we bother being good?

Let’s look at today’s Gospel.

It’s early in the morning and Jesus is teaching some people in the Temple in Jerusalem. Some Scribes and Pharisees then arrive with a very unhappy woman.

They say to Jesus, ‘teacher, this woman was caught in a terrible act of sin.  The Law of Moses says she should be punished by stoning.  What do you say?’

Now, these Scribes and Pharisees aren’t interested in this woman. They’re only trying to trap Jesus.  They want him to say the wrong thing so he’ll be punished.

If Jesus says she should be stoned, then he’ll be breaking Roman law and he’ll also be contradicting his own teachings about forgiveness and mercy.  But if Jesus says the opposite – let her go free – then he’ll be rejecting his own Hebrew Bible: the Law of Moses.  That’s their trap.

At first Jesus doesn’t answer.  He simply looks at them in silence.  He knows what they’re up to.  Now, we should remember this, for Jesus knows us, too.  In Matthew 10:30, Jesus says that God knows us so well that he’s even counted all the hairs on our heads.

That’s a good thing, because it means that God knows about our goodness; he knows when we’re trying to be good. But it also means that when we’re doing the wrong thing, God knows that too.  God knows everything, so we should be careful for we’ll be held to account one day.

But in the Temple, Jesus won’t play their game.  He doesn’t say whether the woman should be punished or not.  Instead, he says that the person who’s without sin should throw the first stone.

This must have embarrassed the Scribes and Pharisees.  They hadn’t thought of that.  They didn’t realise that when you’re pointing your finger at someone else, you’re also pointing three fingers back at yourself. 

So, one by one they all disappear, until Jesus is left alone with the woman. 

St Augustine once said that at this point only two things remained: misery and mercy.  The misery of the woman and the mercy of Jesus.  But Jesus forgives her, and he says, ‘Go, and from now on don’t sin anymore.’

With that, the woman has a choice.  She can go back to her bad old ways of sinning and feeling miserable, or she can change the way she lives.

… when you’re pointing your finger at someone else, you’re also pointing three fingers back at yourself.

Jesus knows she’s done the wrong thing, but he wants her to start a new life.  He wants her to be happy.  This means she must turn away from sin.  Jesus doesn’t say ‘It’s OK.  God loves you anyway. It doesn’t matter what you do’.  Rather, he tells her not to sin again.  What’s wrong is wrong.

Albert Einstein once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  If you want a new life, if you want a better life, then you need to change the way you live.

The woman in this story represents you and me.  She reminds us that when we do something wrong it hurts someone, and that can lead to misery. 

But the Scribes and Pharisees also represent you and me.  They remind us that when we point the finger and think we’re better than others, that’s also a sin.  That also leads to misery.

Many years ago, Jesus spoke directly to St Faustina Kowalska in Poland.  He reminded her of his merciful heart, and said that the miracle of Divine Mercy completely restores a damaged soul. 

Jesus told St Faustina that when we go to Reconciliation, we should be aware that he himself is in the confessional.  Jesus is hidden by the priest, but he himself acts in the soul.  And it’s here that the misery of the soul meets the mercy of God.

Jesus said that if we trust him, we’ll be able to draw graces from his fount of mercy.  If our trust is great, there’s no limit to his generosity.

So, it’s true that God always loves us, no matter what.  But if we want to be happy, we must turn away from sin. 

We should seek the miracle of Divine Mercy, by going to Reconciliation and starting again.

Let me leave you with this thought.  Among the Native Americans there’s the story of a father who said there were two wolves fighting inside him, one bad and one good.  His son asked him, which wolf wins? 

The father said, whichever one he feeds the most.