23 April 2017

Truly Awe-some Mercy

2nd Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

Luke tells us in Acts that when the disciples devoted themselves to the apostolic teachings and gave themselves to a communal life in Christ, that when they broke bread together in prayer, “Awe came upon everyone.” Awe came upon everyone. Awe is a powerful passion. It's an overwhelming feeling of reverence, of worship, and sometimes dreadful fear. The disciples – while living as Christ taught them – experience the sublime presence of God. They experience His presence as Mercy. The apostle Thomas could tell them a thing or two about mercy. Without the divine mercy he would've been left with his refusal to believe in the Risen Lord. He would've abandoned by his need for material proof, bereft of the Spirit that binds us all to Christ. In his mercy, Christ invites Thomas to test his doubt. And Thomas comes to believe b/c Christ is merciful. What is divine mercy? What does it do for us? To us? And most importantly, what can divine mercy achieve with our cooperation?

To answer these questions, you will have to show me a bit of mercy of your own, and allow me to put on my professor's hat. We cannot understand divine mercy if we do not understand who and what God is. The classical Catholic tradition teaches us that God is simple and eternal; that is, God is not composed of parts, and He is outside time. Human persons are composed of a body and a soul. Each part has several parts. Each of these parts has a specific purpose and function. My intellect and will can be at odds b/c they are different parts. I know the Good but I do not always do the Good. Sound familiar? God is simple. And eternal. No parts. No conflicts. God's intellect and will are one. God's love is His truth and His truth is His goodness. These are not separated parts, struggling to work together but one and the same God Who is Love. Because we are limited creatures (composed), we experience God as having parts. So, we talk about God's will as if it were somehow different than God's love. However, God cannot will what is unloving. He cannot will what is untrue. His nature is Love; He is Love. So, when the disciples in Acts and Thomas in the gospel experience the presence of God, they experience Him as the limited, composed creatures that they are. They experience God as Mercy. For them, and for us, God's overwhelming and eternal love for us feels and behaves like mercy – unearned, abundant, never-ending forgiveness. In light of this reality, “awe” seems like a pitiful reaction. But awe is what we need to receive His mercy.

Now, why spend so much time on the philosophy of God? Simply put: b/c God is simple (not composed of parts like we are) and eternal (outside time) every truth He has ever willed, is willing, or will in the future will has already been willed from all eternity. He has willed, is willing, and will continue to will that we be forgiven our sins. In other words, every sin you and I have ever committed, are committing, and will ever commit has always, already been forgiven. Christ death on the cross and his resurrection from the tomb are two historical events with eternal consequences. Because Christ died and rose, human nature is healed. We've done nothing to earn this healing. God didn't owe us this healing. A healed human nature is God's gift to us from all eternity. This is what we mean by Divine Mercy – the always, already present forgiveness of our sins. Sin is part and parcel of our damaged human nature. When that nature is healed, we are freed from sin and death. All that is left for us to do is to receive or to reject His mercy. 
Luke tells us that the disciples are in awe of God b/c they were living as Christ taught them. Thomas is in awe of Christ b/c Christ forgives his rejection and allows him to satisfy his doubt. These are both examples of receiving and living out the Divine Mercy we have given from all eternity. How do we receive His mercy now? First, we must stop thinking that God loves us more or less based on our behavior. God is Love. He cannot not Love us. Our good behavior makes it possible for us to better receive His mercy, and our bad behavior makes it more likely that we will not receive His mercy. Second, we must stop thinking of His mercy as something we earn through prayer or devotions or the sacraments. Mercy is a gift. It's free. It's not a wage or a reward or a debt that God pays us. All we need to do is receive it. Third, and most importantly, we must show mercy to others. We cannot give what we do not have. Receive God's mercy and show mercy to those who have wronged you – friends, relatives, neighbors, strangers, enemies. Showing mercy to those closest to you – family – is vital to your relationship with God. Husbands, wives, children, in-law's need your mercy most. And lastly, show yourself mercy. Holding yourself to a high moral standard is praiseworthy and right. Right and wrong don't change just b/c we find it difficult to be morally good. However, Christ died on the cross and rose from the tomb so that you and I might live in this world free from sin and death. When you fail – and you will – receive the mercy that Christ died to give you.

In the Church, our ordinary means of receiving mercy is through the sacrament of confession. We confess our sins, resolve to sin no more, and the priest absolves us. That absolution is our guarantee that we have received God's mercy. Because we all need His mercy to function as powerful witnesses to the Good News, I urge you to go to confession. Beyond your once a year obligation to go to confession, I urge you to make frequent use of the sacrament. Once a month, once a week. The more often you receive the Divine Mercy, the likely you are to show mercy to others; thus, growing more and more in holiness. The disciples are in awe of Christ's life among them. Thomas is in awe of Christ's presence among the apostles after the crucifixion. What could be more awesome for us in 2017 than to be instruments of the Divine Mercy in our families, among our friends, and for the whole world?!

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