The readings for Divine Mercy Sunday, which focus on the Lord’s boundless mercy, were the inspiration for this homily given by Father Robert McTeigue, SJ, a homilist par excellence who teaches Philosophy at Ave Maria University and preaches almost every day to the students and parishioners of Ave Maria, and who asks for your prayers as he completes his forthcoming book, I Have Someone to Tell You: A Jesuit Heralds the Gospel, which will include a sampling of his homilies and some essays on preaching. We invite comments below.
If I were a lazy preacher, and you all were an ordinary congregation, we could wrap up this homily quite quickly. I could say, “Thomas doubted and made Jesus mad; then Thomas believed and made Jesus happy. Doubting is bad; believing is good. In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” And then you all could reward my laziness by thinking to yourselves, “Well, that was useless, but at least it didn’t take very long,” and then we could get on with the rest of Mass.
But I am not a lazy preacher, and you all are not an ordinary congregation, so let’s try to do something better than what I just described.
Saint John wrote that “Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world…” I don’t know about you, but I have not seen very much Christian overcoming these days. Nowadays it seems like the fallen world is the only team with points on the board. What do we make of that? And why is it especially important to answer that question rightly during this Easter season?
Today, around the world and in our own country, Christians are subject to derision and to persecution. The Christian faith is subject to mockery and even to violence. Sometimes, abuse of Christians seems bizarre. For example, not long ago, a certain university that calls itself Catholic told students that they could not start a Knights of Columbus council there, because the Knights of Columbus is for Catholic students, and that would be “exclusive”, and being exclusive is not consistent with diversity, and failing in diversity is not consistent with the university’s Catholic identity, and that is why the university cannot tolerate a Catholic organization at that Catholic university.
And sometimes, in our own country at least, the persecution of Christians appears to be slow, deliberate and grinding. I say this when I see Catholic institutions arguing in court not to be forced to pay for abortions and contraceptives for their employees.
Now in other countries, in our day, the persecution of Christians is steady, systematic, enthusiastic and deadly. The pervasive and violent persecution of Christians in these countries, supported by society and state, is most often seen in those places that most fervently embrace that religion so often referred to as “the Religion of Peace.” Granted, perhaps it is only the “misunderstanders of the Religion of Peace” who are the most violently anti-Christian, but I think that subtle distinction may be lost on the Christians being murdered.
As we look at the world around us and the world within us, we may well ask, “Who these days can believe in the victory of the Risen Lord? Who can believe in the resurrection of Christ?”
I raise the issue of belief because in our Mass today we have the example of Saint Thomas the Apostle, so often referred to as “Doubting Thomas.” I am not troubled by a man who has doubts but wants to know the truth. My reservation about Saint Thomas is not his doubt but his absence. He was not with the other apostles when the Lord appeared. The lesson for us here is that when we separate ourselves from Christian fellowship, we cheat ourselves of opportunities to meet the Risen Lord, Who alone can lead us to the happiness of Heaven. Among other things, this means that choosing to be, “not religious, but spiritual”, as many say these days, is to miss the point in both this life and then the next. I say that because the root of the word religion gives us the word “ligament.” Ligaments are what hold the body together. To say that I am “not religious, but I am spiritual” is to say, “I am not joined to the Body of Christ.” To which I am inclined to say, “Oh yeah? Good luck with that…” The lesson of today’s gospel passage is that to separate oneself from the body of believers is to separate oneself from the Body of Christ.
Saint Thomas found it harder to believe in the resurrection because he withdrew from the community of believers. He missed out on what God was doing among His people. God can do more good with us when we are together as friends in the Lord. We Christians are more likely to stay with Christ when we stay together as Christians.
The predators we meet, predators both physical and spiritual, look for isolated individuals to prey upon. It is easier for the enemy to pick us off one by one than if we are standing together in faith, hope and charity.
So, what shall we do about the instruction we have received from the Word of God this morning? Well, let’s face the facts, and the facts are these:
First, as Christians, we have enemies, both secular and spiritual, who hate us precisely because we are Christians. All of our enemies want us silent, and some of our enemies want us dead.
Second, as Christians, we are not helpless, because our help is in the Name of the Lord, Who made Heaven and Earth. God our Lord gives us His Holy Spirit, the same Spirit by which He raised Jesus from the dead, and He gave us each other.
Third, as Christians, our mission is to endure, spread and triumph. Our vocation is to finally share in the Glory of the Lord in the home of our Heavenly Father.
In light of these three facts, we can see that we have work to do. We have to deepen our bonds with Christ, and we have to deepen our bonds with one another. We must be joined as one body with Christ; in other words, we must become, quite consciously and deliberately, “religious.”
Ok, what does that look like? Well, once again, we can turn to the case of Saint Thomas. What did he do after he believed and was bound to the Body of Christ? He proclaimed the Gospel and was faithful until he died a martyr’s death, and then received a martyr’s crown.
Now, here, we may sigh with, if not despair, at least desperation. Did not Saint Thomas enjoy a great privilege that we do not? Did he not have the advantage of coming to faith in the Risen Christ by touching the actual wounds of Christ?
Yes, unlike Saint Thomas, we may not base our belief in the Risen Lord by putting our fingers into his wounds. But we can solidly rest our faith on the three witnesses Saint John wrote of in his epistle which we heard this morning. We can rely on the testimony of the Spirit, the water and the blood. The Spirit, Saint Paul tells us, is the spirit of adoption, it is in the power of the Spirit that we can cry out, “Abba, Father!”, just like Jesus. And when we do so, we rebuke the most wicked lie from hell, which is the lie of Satan that tells us that we are spiritual orphans, without a father and without a home. The victory of the Risen Lord over sin and death makes us the adopted children of our Heavenly Father. When we call upon our Heavenly Father with heart and with hope, then we accept the testimony of the Spirit that Christ is risen.
We believe that Christ is risen because we accept the testimony of the water, the water of baptism, which flowed from the heart of the crucified Christ. That water of baptism is a flood that re-opened the gates of Heaven for us. The water of baptism, flowing from the heart of the crucified Christ breaks the claim that Satan had upon the human race by virtue of the Fall. We believe that Christ is risen, because with Christ we have died to sin and have been raised up in Him through the water of baptism.
We believe that Christ is risen because we accept the testimony of the blood, the Precious Blood of Jesus shed on the cross for us—the Blood which brings divine life to those made dead by sin. It is the shed Blood of Jesus that binds us to the heart of our Heavenly Father in a covenant that He will not revoke. We believe that Christ is risen because the Blood of Jesus accomplished the Father’s mission, which is to break the chains of sin, and to bind us to the heart of God.
Saint Thomas believed, was bound to Christ, was changed, was faithful to the end, and shared in his Lord’s victory and glory. What about us? What about us who claim to believe? What about us who claim to accept the testimony of the Spirit, the water and the blood?
If we look in the mirror now and then look at our past, can we find anything there that can be explained only by our belief that Christ died for our sins?
If we look in the mirror and then look at our present, can we point to anything in our lives that can only be explained by our faith that Christ is risen?
If we look in the mirror now and then look to our future, can we find anything there that can be explained only by our belief that Christ will come again?
My friends, in this Easter Season, on this Divine Mercy Sunday when we look to the blood and water that flowed from the pierced heart of Jesus, we must make time to reflect, rejoice and renew.
Today, let’s reflect on the endlessly eloquent testimony of the blood and the water, which point to the bottomless ocean of the Divine Mercy. Let’s rejoice, as we accept the gift of Divine Mercy as adopted sons and daughters of God, bound forever to the heart of our Heavenly Father. And let’s renew our commitment to tell the whole world, with the witness of our lives and deeds, that Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again.