Friday, May 17, 2013

The Homily of Archbishop Charles Brown for Divine Mercy Sunday 7th April 2013

Homily  - Archbishop Charles Brown
Divine Mercy Sunday, 7 April 2013
Knock Shrine

“You believe because you have seen me, blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (Jn 20:29).
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, it is a real joy for me to be with you here at this beautiful shine of Our Lady on this afternoon of Divine Mercy Sunday, the Sunday in the Octave of Easter, the Sunday in which the Church reads and meditates upon the encounter between Jesus and Saint Thomas.  We all know this Gospel quite well; we have heard it proclaimed many times.  Thomas was not present when Jesus appeared to his disciples on the day of the resurrection, and when Thomas hears their story, he does not believe it.  It seems incredible to him, impossible.  He asks for proof.  He wants evidence.  He wants certainty.  In some ways, Thomas in our Gospel today is similar to Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, to whom the angel Gabriel announced that his elderly wife Elizabeth would bear a child. Zechariah did not believe the angel.  

The Gospel of Saint Luke contrasts Zechariah’s lack of faith with the pure, believing receptivity of Mary, the young woman of Nazareth.  She believed the word spoken to her by the angel and because of her belief, the “Word became flesh” (Jn 1:14) in her womb.  In Zechariah’s case, on the other hand, when he heard the news of his elderly wife’s pregnancy, he responded to the angel: “how can I know this? (Lk 1:18).  How can I be certain?  Like Thomas in our Gospel today, Zechariah wanted proof and certainty before he would put his trust in the truth of what was revealed to him by the angel.  For Zechariah, his lack of belief leads to a period of muteness.  After his encounter with the angel, he is unable to speak; unable to communicate properly with others.  

And this is hugely significant.  It shows us the connection between believing or trust, and communication.  When there is a deficit of trust, communication is undermined; it becomes difficult, if not impossible.  We see this in human affairs all the time.  If we don’t have some form of trust in the person who speaks to us, we will not believe the truth of their words.  Communication breaks down.  We remain isolated in ourselves.  

Zechariah’s isolation was symbolized by his muteness, his inability to speak.  But in today’s Gospel, we notice a different dynamic.  Yes, Thomas – like Zechariah – wants proof, but a week later, proof is given to him.  Thomas is not penalized, as Zechariah was, for his lack of faith.  He is not condemned.  He is not punished.  In fact, he is helped in his lack of faith.  The Lord quite literally reaches out to him in his unbelief and heals his lack of faith.
What is the difference between the story of Zechariah and the story of Thomas?  One word alone answers that question and that word is mercy.  Divine Mercy has come in the person of Jesus Christ, God made man.  That is the difference.  Zechariah represents the end of the old order, before the coming of Jesus.  Indeed Zechariah’s son, John the Baptist, will be the one to announce the new reign of God’s mercy in Jesus Christ: it is John the Baptist, Zechariah’s son, who will point to Jesus and say: “Behold the Lamb of God; behold him who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29).  Behold, the Lamb of mercy.  In today’s Gospel, Thomas encounters the Lamb of mercy and the wound of Thomas’ unbelief is healed by the Lamb whose own wounds are still evident, but whose wounds have been transformed into the sign of his triumph over sin and death.  He is the one whose sorrowful passion is the source of mercy for us and for the whole world.  In that moment, Thomas moves from unbelief to belief, from doubt to faith, from sorrow to joy.  And he proclaims the central and indeed the highest content of our faith when he says to Jesus: “My Lord and my God” (Jn 20:28).  

The encounter with God’s mercy makes Thomas a believer and, as a result, an apostle, in the root sense of the word apostle as someone who is sent to carry a message to others.  Jesus says to him “Thomas, you believe because you have seen me, blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (Jn 20:29).  At that moment, Thomas becomes a witness to his encounter with God’s mercy and he becomes a witness who will bring the Faith to those who have not seen Jesus in the way that he has seen him.  There is an ancient and well-founded tradition that Saint Thomas, after the moment which is recounted in our Gospel today, became the apostle to the East, going first to Syria and then on to Persia (which is now Iran) and finally on to India, where he brought the Catholic faith.  The tradition is that Saint Thomas was martyred in the city in India that we today call Chennai, formerly Madras.

The same dynamic which we see in the life of Saint Thomas needs to happen in our own lives as well.  Today in the celebration of Holy Mass, each of us is encountered by the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  The Lamb who appeared on the side of the parish church here in Knock on that rainy evening in August 1879, the Lamb who in the Gospel today gives his apostles, his priests, the power of his Holy Spirit to forgive sins in the sacrament of Confession.  It is crucially important that we who receive the mercy of the Lamb through the sacrament of Confession and who receive his Body and his Blood in the Mystery of the Eucharist become, like Saint Thomas, his apostles in our world today.  How to be an apostle?  We don’t have to leave our home and go to India the way Saint Thomas did or, for that matter, the way countless heroic Irish men and women have done as missionaries.  We can be apostles at home.  
In fact, we need to be apostles at home.  Think for a moment about Sister Faustina Kowalska.  Unlike Saint Thomas, Saint Faustina didn’t travel very far in her lifetime, and yet there are very few, if any, missionaries who have had the effect on the life of the Catholic Church which she had.  Her experience teaches us so many things.  Sister Faustina shows us, in a way that is perceptible to the eyes of faith, how women are at the very heart of the Church.  Her openness to receive the message of Lord and her faithfulness to him, even in the midst of misunderstandings and contradictions, made her his apostle, his witness.  And as a result, devotion to Divine Mercy has spread throughout the entire world.  Her life shows us, yet again, that the greatest in the Kingdom of God are not the ordained ministers, but the saints.
 Reflecting on the resurrection of Jesus during the General Audience last Wednesday in Rome, Pope Francis commented on this truth.  In the life of the Church, he said, it is “women who have had and have as well today a particular role in opening doors to the Lord, in following him and in transmitting [to others] the vision of his face, because the gaze of faith always requires the simple and profound gaze of love.  [After the resurrection] the apostles and the disciples had a hard time believing, but not the women…” (Pope Francis, General Audience, 3 April 2013).  They believed.  Saint Faustina had that gaze of faith and love, which leads to knowledge and which leads to mission.  

All of us need to be apostles in our own way.  How?  First, by encountering Jesus in the sacraments, initially of course in Baptism, but then again and again in the Holy Eucharist and in the Sacrament of his mercy, Confession.  Second, by growing in love and in knowledge of him and of his bride the Church by studying our Catholic faith, principally by studying the great resource which is the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  And third, by carrying his message into our world, wherever we are, in whatever circumstances we find ourselves.  There is so much that we can do.  Invite people who have abandoned the faith to come back to the Church.  Encourage young men and young women to give themselves to Christ as priests and religious sisters; pray for vocations.  Defend courageously the sanctity of human life from the first moment of conception in the womb; safeguard the right to life of mothers and their unborn babies.  Serve the poor and marginalized and uphold their dignity.  There are countless ways in which we can be apostles of Divine mercy in our present world. 

Jesus said to Thomas: “You believe because you have seen me.  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (Jn 20:29).  Thomas wanted proof.  What is the proof of Christianity for those who cannot see Jesus the way Thomas saw him?  Individual Christians.  We are the proof of Christianity.  Christians who live their Catholic faith in a radiant and wholehearted way; Christians like Matt Talbot, Edel Quinn and Sister Faustina Kowlaska.  They are the proof of Christianity.  They are the ones who help people who have not seen Jesus the way that Thomas did, to believe in him, to love him and to serve him.  Let us entrust ourselves and all our petitions today to Mary, the woman of faith and love, the Mother of God, Our Lady of Knock, Queen of Ireland.

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