Psalm 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24
1 Peter 1:3-9
It’s the time of year when we start to see all the First Reconciliation and First Holy Communion pictures popping up on social media sites and the events happening in our community. The little girls come in their cute dresses and some even decked in veils, the boys with their best suits on, all looking nice for their big day. As a priest, I particularly love the reconciliation part because it’s like being stoned to death by popcorn – seven year olds aren’t usually horrible sinners. Maybe they’re just holding back, but I doubt it. My experience of First Reconciliation and First Holy Communion were very different. Because my family left when I was little to attend the Methodist Church in our home town, I didn’t have the true Sacraments of the Church, so when we returned I had to start from scratch as an 11 year old. At 12 I celebrate First Reconciliation and remember it rather clearly. You know how the ‘Examination of Conscience’ sheets often break down the 10 Commandments? I walked in, sat down in the chair, looked at the priest and said, “I got all 10!” At age 12 the sins I spoke weren’t popcorn style because I had learned how to sin well and often. The bigger problem was that I didn’t even care because I had no belief in God, no faith, no anything that made me think that maybe I should be worried about the things I’d done in my life to that point. I didn’t get the seriousness of it.
This weekend Mother Church invites us to pause and realize the full implication of the message of Divine Mercy. Did you hear the opening Collect of Mass? We prayed for the grace, “that all may grasp and rightly understand in what font they have been washed, by whose Spirit they have been reborn, by whose Blood they have been redeemed.” We need to understand the message of Mercy and that begins by understanding the reality of sin.
To simply say, “I have sinned” or “I broke one of the Commandments” or even “I hurt God” doesn’t always hit home. It can seem a bit vague or lacking in consequence. But to say bluntly “I deserve to go to Hell”… well, that’s a different story. The truth is that because we are sinners, because we break the Commandments and offend the Lord, we do deserve Hell - or maybe we could put it a bit more nicely since it’s Easter and say we don’t deserve Heaven. Either way that’s the reality and it’s true for all of humanity. Not even the Blessed Mother herself deserved Heaven apart from God! Let that soak in. It was because God preserved her from sin and He cleanses us from it and we are able to enter into the Kingdom prepared for the Righteous. And when we realize that, when we realize that we deserve Hell but are given the gift of Heaven, then we really understand Divine Mercy. I didn’t understand the value of Mercy at my first Confession, but I understand it today more than I ever have and I hope that understanding deepens as the years go along.
So we gather here today to call to mind, to celebrate, and to be immersed in, the infinite Divine Mercy of God. The Mercy that is so great that is k“Let the house of Israel say, “His mercy endures forever.” Let the house of Aaron say, “His mercy endures forever.” Let those who fear the Lord say, “His mercy endures forever.” Psalm 136 in the Scriptures says it even more, after every line, “for His mercy endures forever.” The truth is that God Divine Mercy does indeed endure forever and there is nothing that can separate us from it. There is no sin – past, present, or future – which can separate us from the Love and Mercy of God. God’s Mercy conquers everything, even death itself. God wants us to have that Mercy, to live that Mercy, and to show that Mercy to others. The question is this: do we want that Mercy?nows no limits, that counts no costs, and that is willing to give more than we can ever ask. The Mercy that led Jesus Christ to climb the Cross and die for me. For you. That is the Mercy we celebrate today. It’s the Mercy we heard spoken in our readings, most beautifully in Psalm 118.
In the Church today there is lots of talk about the day of four popes – Popes Francis and Benedict celebrating the canonization of Pope Saints John XXIII and John Paul II. But there is another pope speaking to us today and that’s the original Pope, Peter himself. In the second reading today we heard an outpouring of rejoicing in the words of Peter. This rejoicing comes because Peter knows Mercy. Just a week or so ago we heard how Peter said at dinner “Lord, I will never deny you!” and yet he had done so thrice before breakfast, in addition to turning his face from the Lord at the scourging and the total abandonment for the crucifixion. Peter knew his sin all too well, but the Mercy of God came to him and changed everything. No more was Peter stuck in sin, but he was alive in Christ Jesus. The words he writes are in the second person tense ‘you’ but only because he knew them before in the first person ‘I’. Let’s listen to that first line again in that mindset.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy gave ME a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for ME, who by the power of God are safeguarded through faith, to a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the final time.
In the midst of so much celebration in the Church, let us implore our Lord to help us know the reality and consequences of our sinfulness that we might indeed come to understand the true power and value of the gift of Mercy that He shows to us today and, filled with joy, share that with the whole world.