Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Face of Mercy - Homily for Divine Mercy Sunday (2015)

Have you seen the face of mercy?

Ten years ago this week, I was in Rome. Pope St. John Paul II had died and I had the chance to be in St. Peter’s Square and attend his funeral—yes, I can say that I have definitely attended the funeral of a saint! As I attended his funeral, I couldn’t help but recall that this same Pope had died on the vigil of the very solemnity he had extended to the entire Church: this solemnity of Divine Mercy Sunday. At his funeral, I recalled how, in that same St. Peter’s Square, in the very year of my birth, the future saint was shot. I remembered how, at the first chance he had, he forgave that man who had shot him.

I remember Pope St. John Paul II and remember a man of mercy.

Lost in the Church of Mercy

Before I attended Pope John Paul’s funeral, there was a time that I had never been to St. Peter’s. I was a graduate student studying abroad with seven others from Franciscan University. On one of our first afternoons in Rome, we decided to go to St. Peter’s and attend the 5pm Mass.

While we were walking to the Basilica, I became distracted by something beautiful—because, you know, Rome—and I didn’t tell the group and they too were looking at everything beautiful… And, well, in the blink of an eye, I had lost my friends. Lost in the crowd. Lost down a random—beautiful, but random—street in Rome.

And I didn't have a map.

So I’m lost. And so are my friends. And I don’t know if they are looking for me. And if they are looking for me—oh, I am so sorry if they are looking for me! Because I’m the one who got lost. And if they are looking for me, then they aren’t going to make it to Holy Mass on time. And …

So you see how my thoughts went. I felt pretty bad about this.

I eventually found my way to St. Peter’s. And when I arrived, there was one thing on my mind: find my friends. I wasn’t looking at the beautiful, 17th Century, Bernini colonnade—those two motherly arms reaching out to receive her lost sons and daughters. No. Nor did I notice the well-known fa├žade of St. Peter’s. When I entered into the basilica, I didn’t notice the Pieta—that this-is-the-quintessential-Roman-sculpture of Michelangelo depicting the Mother of Mercy, Mary, holding her Son after His Crucifixion. No, I totally blew past that.

I didn’t notice the beautiful ceiling or the beautiful baldacchino. I didn’t pay attention to the Chair of St. Peter or the stained-glass window of the Holy Spirit above it. No, all that I was looking for was what I had lost.

I sat down in a pew at the back chapel of the basilica and went to Holy Mass. I hope they made it, I prayed. I hope they forgive me. I hope we find each other soon…

And then,… they found me. It was the end of Mass. They found me at Holy Communion as I went up to receive. And they came over to me. They were happy to see me. “Isn’t this wonderful,” they were saying, “we’re in Rome!”

The only thing on my mind was to say that I was sorry.

And they looked at me with mercy. “It’s ok,” one of them said, “we’re all here.”

At that point, I looked. I finally looked around me. And I saw the beauty of the basilica. It was like I had been blindfolded and placed by the high altar—only now the blindfold was lifted and I saw the glory around me for the first time. I saw the gold and the light and the angels and ...  Within me, there was something that said "This is what Mercy looks like." I wasn't just seeing the basilica as though mercy looked like this; I was seeing the inner reality of mercy in all its light and beauty.

Mercy is beautiful.

And, wonderfully, the mercy of others opened me up to see not only the beauty of mercy, but also the beauty of life around me too. Once forgiven, I could appreciate the beauty around me-- the beauty of the basilica and the beauty of the God that dwells therein. The beautiful, merciful God.

Mercy is amazing like that.

From the Mercy of God to Belief

How many times I have received the mercy of God through others! Countless times from my mom. Or my college professor who was more than generous with letting me turn in a paper well past its due date. Or the priest—that priest who heard everything horrible and dark in my life and who nevertheless comforted me, telling me it was going to be ok and that I wasn’t lost anymore, but that I was found! I go back to that first-in-a-long-time confession and remember those words: “I absolve you.” I look back on that moment in gratitude, knowing that it’s all forgiven.

Yes, I have seen the face of mercy!

This was the dilemma of Thomas: he hadn't see the face of mercy. Thomas was lost in doubt. Thomas had not yet had an encounter with mercy. “Unless I [touch Him],” he says, “I will not believe.”

These are the words of our culture. Our culture longs to touch and to see God. And until it does, it will never believe.

Jesus comes and allows Thomas to touch—to touch the very side where the lance had pierced the Sacred Heart. Thomas touches the very font of mercy. We see the image of Divine Mercy—Thomas placed his hand there.

As a result, Thomas was no longer lost in doubt, but washed in mercy. It was by the mercy of God that Thomas came to believe!

So too, it will be by the mercy of God that our culture will come to believe! It will be by the mercy of God that our fallen away brothers and sisters will return to the faith! It will be by the mercy of God that all of us will find ourselves standing in the great, heavenly Jerusalem, standing with our friends and family who rejoice with us that we are no longer lost, but found!

"Isn't this wonderful, we're in heaven ...."

The Face of Mercy

Just yesterday, Pope Francis decreed a Jubilee Year—a Year of Mercy. The document that he wrote to declare this Jubilee Year (found here) is entitled “Misericordiae Vultus”—the Face of Mercy.

Isn’t that beautiful? The face of mercy! To think: mercy has a face! Mercy is personal! Mercy… looks upon us and says, “Come, Thomas. Come and touch my side. Do not be unbelieving, but believe!” It’s like Jesus is answering Andrew again when Andrew says, “Master, where are you staying?” and Jesus says, “Come and see!” Come and see the face of mercy!

Have you seen the face of mercy? Have you looked upon it?

He may have come to you as my friends did in Rome, or through Pope St. John Paul II, or through my mom, or my college professor, or the priest in the confessional.

I hope all of us have seen the face of mercy—because it is beautiful.

And I believe because of it.

You are My Witnesses

I realize that once Thomas touched mercy, once Thomas knew what mercy was and he believed, Thomas would have to be the first to be merciful. He could not just be a beneficiary of mercy; he would have to be a witness of mercy too.

It is not enough, brothers and sisters, to simply go to confession today and say that we’re ok now. No, if we have seen the face of mercy, we too must take on His very serene and kindly countenance. You must become a witness of mercy. Your face must reveal mercy!

We must be the last ones to gossip and the first to forgive. We must be the last ones to judge and the first to welcome. We must be the last ones to point out where people are going wrong and the first to point out where there is so much more! We must humbly welcome, put on smiles instead of sullen faces-- the joy of mercy!-- and tell anyone who is lost, "It's going to be ok. We're all here!"

If the world doubts the faith, it is likely because it hasn’t seen the face of mercy. Have mercy on us, O Lord, if we have been the ones responsible for that!

The Year of Mercy

The Jubilee Year of Mercy will begin on December 8th and will continue until the feast of Christ the King in November of 2016. A Jubilee Year is not an ordinary thing—the last Jubilee took place at the millennium. It is a time of special grace, of prayer, of reconciliation, of pilgrimage, and of contemplation.

Let us take a few moments during this Easter Season to read the document that the Pope has written.

Let us reflect on how the Lord has been merciful to us and the times that others have extended mercy to us and to others.

Let us then reflect on whether we have been merciful.

Let us seek the Lord’s mercy—especially in confession.

Let us pray that we might be more merciful to others.

And let us pray for those who do not know God’s mercy or the mercy of others—let us pray for those who doubt whether mercy is real... 

May today be the day that we all touch—and look upon the Face of Mercy!

The entry from my blog after the experience of mercy at St. Peter's.

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