A Thirst for Divine Mercy- a Homily on the Mercy of Christ from Saint Joseph’s Abbey

Have you ever been struck by this astonishing fact of the Easter Mystery: that the risen Jesus, instead of returning immediately to the Father in heavenly glory, insists rather on pursuing his beloved disciples doggedly over the course of fifty days by visiting them repeatedly wherever they may be, searching for their love and wanting to heal them with his presence? When the Risen One appears to them today, we hear that they were startled and terrified. And what Jesus does on first encountering them is to take away the fear they feel thinking they are seeing a ghost. He does this by urging them to explore his corporeality in the most tangible way possible. Yes, he offers them his body for palpable contact, with repeated protestations of love in the form of commandments to intimacy: Peace be with you! It is I myself! Touch me! He seems bound and determined to remove any obstacle still separating him from constant union with his friends. He knows his work of redemption will not be completed until he accomplishes this; only then can he return to the Father.

But this encounter between Jesus and the disciples in the truth of the flesh is only the preamble to what Jesus really wants to teach them: namely, that his bodily Death and Resurrection is the ultimate fulfilment of God’s age-old plan of redemption from the beginning. Jesus wants them to know that all prophetic allusions to salvation in the Old Testament have now become palpable reality in himself: Everything written about me … must be fulfilled, he affirms. Now, in the context of traditional Jewish piety, this is truly an earth-shaking claim on Jesus’ part: that the deepest meaning of the Law and the Prophets—that is, what Israel held most sacred as God’s revelation of himself to them—was always a hidden reference to himself, Jesus of Nazareth, and that this fulfilment is communicated to all humankind in the historical and mystical event we call the Paschal Mystery. It all comes down to the truth of his body, because only a body is capable of undergoing both death and resurrection. In this way we can clearly understand the close link that Jesus establishes between his bodily truth (flesh and bones) and the victory over death communicated by participation in the Paschal Mystery. Jesus is no mythological figure and his death and resurrection are no merely helpful Jungian symbols. Here we are talking real and concrete human existence, both before and after the Resurrection.

Further, at the heart of this Paschal Mystery is the forgiveness of sins: all of our torturing guilt is wiped away because the Lord has taken on, in his body, the consequences of everyone’s failings. The passion that always drives Jesus’ love is the forgiving of the sins of all, the removal of all guilt. He fervently wants everyone to feel forgiven and thus loved by his Father. This mystery of forgiveness through Jesus’ death and resurrection must from now on also be preached to all peoples by Jesus’ own chosen witnesses. Of this you are witnesses, he solemnly declares to them, which means: ‘You must proclaim and give to others the forgiveness you have already received from me. Share generously with all my gift to you: your own joyful experience of being forgiven!’

This universal forgiveness and remission of sins is celebrated in the second reading as an event full of consolation and hope for everyone: We have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous one. He is expiation for our sins. Each of us can indeed participate in this immense absolution pronounced by God upon the whole world. The only condition is that we convert our hearts and return to Jesus. Conversion is always necessary because those who call themselves “Christians” but do not keep God’s commandment are liars and stubbornly persevere in pre-Christian ignorance. They are a living contradiction and the truth is not in them. Without repentance and conversion, we cannot live in truth nor can we enjoy God’s mercy given to us in his beloved Son. Mercy is not like rain falling idly on a cement sidewalk. The cement merely gets wet and there the effect ends. Mercy, rather, is like rain falling on sensitive seeds buried deep in the ground, seeds that have to open up thirstily to the promise of growth that the water brings. As our Guerric of Igny has written: To benefit from “the living waters of Christ, you do not need merit: all you need is thirst”. But this thirst is an absolute requirement. How thirsty are we, in fact, right now, for Christ’s love? How eager are we to touch him? How willing to put him at the center of our lives, where he belongs, no matter what the cost to our ego?