Homilies

Divine Mercy Sunday
Acts 4:32-35; 1 John 5:1-6; Gospel John 20:19-31
Suffering, Lukewarm Faith and Divine MercyPreached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Cathedral of the Good Shepherd - Singapore, on 8 April 2018

When Pope St John Paul II canonized Sr. Faustina on 30 April, 2000, he also surprised the entire church by establishing the Second Sunday of Easter, which is today, as the Feast of Divine Mercy Sunday.  On that day, Pope John Paul II declared, "This is the happiest day of my life."  Pope St John Paul II, both in his teachings and personal life, strove to live and teach the message of Divine Mercy. 

When we reflect on the world we live in, although there is much good and progress, we cannot pretend and ignore the reality that there are millions and billions of people suffering immensely and sinning grievously.  Human lives are exploited under child labour, human trafficking, prostitution, and decimated through capital punishment, ethnic cleansing, euthanasia, scientific testing, and abortion.  Human lives have become cheap and at the mercy of sinful structures where the powerless and the poor continue to be marginalised, traumatised and destroyed.  The evil of injustice is found not only in all countries in the world, but for many of us, also in our homes and also in our hearts. 

What do we do and what can we do?  Repeatedly Pope St John Paul II has written and proclaimed that in the face of such tragedies, we all need to turn to the mercy of God as the answer to the problems of our times.  In other words, Pope St John Paul II is sayings that, we human beings have messed up our world through our sinful ways, and are helpless as to how we can reverse the situation.  The evil is too immense and widespread.  As such, our only real hope is to entrust everything to God’s Mercy. 

On Divine Mercy Sunday in 2001, Pope St John Paul II, in his reflection on today’s Gospel shares that when Jesus our Risen Lord appeared to His disciples, who were hiding in fear of the Jews, He missioned them to be ministers of divine Mercy.  Our Risen Lord shows them His hands and His side, which bear the marks of the Passion, and tells them:  "As the Father has sent me, even so I send you" (Jn 20: 21). He then "breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained' " (Jn 20: 22-23).  Jesus entrusted to His disciples, the gift of "forgiving sins", a gift that flows from the wounds in His hands, His feet, and especially from His pierced side. From there a wave of the Mercy of God is poured out over all humanity.

This miracle of mercy has radically changed humanity's destiny; it has brought true Hope, in the midst of pain and suffering in the world.  It is a miracle which unfolded the fullness of the Father’s Love for humanity.  A Father’s Love who, for our redemption, did not even spare His Only-begotten Son from His Suffering and Death on the Cross.   

In the humiliated and suffering Christ, who hangs on the Cross, believers and non-believers can see the witness of Jesus’ solidarity with the sufferings of the world and our sufferings.  “The Cross, even after the Resurrection of the Son of God, is a powerful symbol that "never ceases to speak of God the Father, who is absolutely faithful to His eternal love for all peoples”, regardless of their race, religion or language.   To believe in such love of God is to believe in His Mercy.  (Dives in misericordia, n. 7).

And so, Pope St John Paul II says, “Let us thank the Lord for His Love, which is stronger than death and sin.  However, let us remember that such divine Love is revealed and put into practice as mercy in our daily lives, and prompts every person in turn to have "mercy" towards Jesus, Our Lord and the Crucified One.  (ref. adapted from: Libreria Editrice Vaticana – 22 April, 2001)

When Jesus asked St Faustina that the Feast of Divine Mercy be preceded by a Novena to the Divine Mercy which begins on Good Friday.  He gave St. Faustina an intention to pray for on each day of the Novena.  However, Jesus saved the most difficult intention for the last day, which is to pray for the 'lukewarm and indifferent', believers of whom He said:
"These souls cause Me more suffering than any others; it was from such souls that My soul felt the most revulsion in the Garden of Olives. It was on their account that I said: 'My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass Me by."

My brothers and sisters in Christ, one obvious question that you and I have in mind is, “Why are lukewarm and indifferent” believers causing more suffering than any other sinners?  Unlike sinners who are aware that they are sinning, a lukewarm and indifferent believer refuses to face the truth that he is sinning, and has found excuses, and rationalised his sins, and has convinced himself that he does not see the need for a conversion of heart.
In another words, a lukewarm believer is living in the “self-denial” that he is causing suffering to Jesus and to others through his sinful ways.  A “Lukewarm and indifferent” believer is basically living a lie, and is sinning through “self-deception.”  What is very painful to see in a lukewarm and indifferent believer is that the person has the needed graces to live a wholesome life as Jesus has taught and shown us, but he or she simply is too self-absorbed in his way of living that he does not see the need to love and respect God and others than what he is doing. 

Would a mother not suffer intensely, to see her intelligent child who is capable of A star grades, and has achieved such grades, but for one reason or another, have chosen and refused to go beyond achieving 20% for his examinations?  Or would a parent not suffer immensely if their once good and loving child, who has mixed with bad company, now lives a life of sin and is on the verge of destroying his present life and his future?  Would the lukewarmness of the faith of believers not cause Jesus to suffer infinitely? 

My sisters and brothers in Christ, every single person in humanity, is created by God in His Image and Likeness, to live a wholesome life and to love with Christ-like unconditional Love.  Yet, what we see and experience in our world is the contrary -- hundreds of millions and billions of people live in sin and continue to destroy humankind and exploit God’s resources and destroy His Creation out of greed and glory . . . Millions of Christians, who are meant the be witnesses of the Gospel of Christ, have turned tepid, lukewarm and indifferent towards the Good News of Salvation.  And continue to choose to live in the lukewarm faith of self-deception; adopting a lifestyle that pushes God to the background of one’s life and considers Him to be irrelevant to our secular world of glory, glamour and gratification. 

Today’s Gospel account of Jesus appearing to His disciples who were hiding behind closed doors for fear of the Jews, often leads us to focus on the “Doubting Thomas” and how he demanded to see and touch the wounds of Jesus, before he can believe that Jesus had Risen. 

Like Thomas, in different ways and at different times you and I too make our “demands” on God and expect Him to show proof that He is truly a God who cares and provides for us.  Do we not beg God to resolve conflicts, heal our illnesses, reconcile broken relationships, give us the job we need, help us look for the right spouse, clear our financial debts, protect us from harm during our travels, bless our vacations, our food, our cars, our house and the like?  The list is endless . . . The truth is that we all seek God’s Help in all our needs, and very often make demands and like Thomas, have expectations that unless our demands are met, we will also not believe in Him, as our Saviour and Risen Lord.

When Jesus showed Thomas His wounds, He was actually accepting Thomas’ demands, and pampering him so to speak, so that his unbelief may be changed into the belief that He has truly Risen from His Death, as He had foretold.  Jesus was certainly not trying to shame Thomas for not believing that He has Risen.  And so, Jesus said, “Thomas, “doubt no longer, but believe.”  Without touching Jesus’ wounds, Thomas immediately responded, “My Lord and my God!” 

Likewise, my sisters and brothers in Christ, when we make demands on Jesus, very often Jesus too accede to our demands, and fulfils our expectations.  These are the ways in which Jesus Our Risen Lord relates to us.  He does so with great patience, compassion and trust in us.  The Parable of the Prodigal Son is one of such examples of how God our Father respects our choices in our lives, and continues to give us the freedom we need, even if we were to treat Him unreasonably, reject Him and even denounce Him through our self-centred ways.  As Jesus our Risen Lord treats Thomas with such patience and gentleness, He too more often than not have similarly pampered us and given in to our unreasonable and even arrogant demands and expectations. 

My brothers and sisters in Christ, as I conclude, let us remind ourselves that we are celebrating Divine Mercy Sunday.  Let us be more conscious of the unreasonable demands that we make on God, and let us NOT take God’s Mercy for granted. Let us beg God for the grace to renew our faith, hope and love in Him, and should we find ourselves to be a lukewarm believer, then the let us beg for God’s wisdom to reignite our faith, hope and love in Him, and as such be more open to the transforming graces that God wants to give to you and to me, to live the Christ-like Life of Mercy, Compassion and forgiveness, to those who have caused us much pain and woundedness in our lives. 

It is only with such sincerity of hearts and spiritual disposition of our souls that we then beg God for His Divine Mercy that is so greatly needed in our world, our country, our family and in all our relationships.  It is only through such divine Mercy of God, as Pope St John Paul II says, will the tragedies and the sufferings of the world find true Hope and meaning . . . and receive the lasting PEACE of the Holy Spirit that Jesus our Risen breathed on His Disciples when He appeared to them.  Jesus too wishes to breathe that same Holy Spirit on you, on me, on our families, our country, and indeed the whole world /that is in such desperate need for the conversion of hearts. 

And so today, together with and through the intercession of St Faustina and Pope St John Paul II, let us fix our gaze on the face of our Risen Christ, and let us trustingly abandon all our needs to the Divine Mercy and pray, with firm hope:  Christ Jesus, I trust in you!

Fr Philip Heng,S.J.

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