12 April 2010

Divine Mercy

2nd Sunday of Easter - 11 April 2010

Readings: Acts 5:12-16; Ps 30:2, 4, 5-6, 11-12, 13; Rev 1:9-11a, 12-13, 17-19; Jn 20:19-31

The First Reading this Sunday from the Acts of the Apostles tells of a time when the apostles were already doing so many “signs and wonders". It was a time when just the shadow of Peter as he passes by brought miraculous cures to the sick lined by the roadside. The apostles were no longer the ordinary men – rural folks with their fears and rough edges – who once banded around Jesus.

They were, at this point, men of stature, equal to the task of transforming the world through the Good News. They were founding communities, administering established churches, healing, preaching, traveling, writing. The Second Reading from Revelation contains the words of the disciple presumed to be John who received visions and put them to writing while exiled, on account of the faith, on the island of Patmos.

The Gospel this Sunday presents as if a prologue, a back story to the accounts in the Acts. This pericope is a richly-textured two-part story filled with messages very much relevant to Christians then and now. It is a story of weakness encountering mercy. The First and Second Readings tell us, among other things, of the fruits of the encounter.

I would like to focus my reflection on three elements of the story.

1. The Setting

The first half of the story takes place on the evening of the first day of the week. For the Jews the “first day of the week” is a commemoration of the first day of creation. But for Christians, this particular “first day of the week” has far, far greater significance. This is the day when Jesus was resurrected from the dead. Easter Sunday. This day signifies the beginning of the new creation. A day of rejoicing, a moment of profound grace, whose significance ripples through all eternity.

But in the disciples’ place of gathering, traditionally referred to as the “upper room”, “the doors were locked… for fear of the Jews”. They were huddled in fear, perhaps taking comfort in the presence of one another and in the security of their relative seclusion. But their locked-in situation also prevented them from participating in the ripple of history happening outside. Jesus is risen and His disciples were still in hiding and in fear.

The “upper room” represents our places of refuge, our comfort zones but also, and more importantly, our situations of sin, our patterns of abuse, our downward spiral. They are the places, or states, or situations, or persons, that stunt our growth, that prevent us from living meaningful lives.

2. The Jesus event

But Jesus is able to break through the locked doors of the upper room. They find Him sitting in their midst, dispelling their fears. He shows them the marks of His wounds. They are symbols of the sins of humanity, a reminder of their being sinners but, more importantly, forgiven sinners. This scene tells us the risen Jesus wants to get into our heart, into our whole being, despite the many obstacles that we put up.

He comes with the message: “Peace be with you”. What is peace? I would like to think of it as an inner joy brought about by the absence of inner conflict: when we have not caused any injustice, when our conscience is clear, when we have done deeds of kindness and humility, when we have been forgiven for offenses we have made, when we have been shown mercy. The peace that Christ brings is God’s mercy.

This Sunday is Divine Mercy Sunday, as declared by Pope John Paul II during the canonization St. Maria Faustina in April 2000. The devotion to the Divine Mercy encourages people to seek the mercy of God shown in His forgiveness of our sins and providence in our needs.

For many of us, the words of the “3 ‘o clock Prayer” provide a moment of spiritual union with God. “You died, Jesus, but the source of life flowed out for souls, and the ocean of mercy opened up for the whole world. O Fountain of Life, immeasurable Divine Mercy, cover the whole world and empty Yourself out upon us.”

Then Jesus “breathed on them”, signifying that they received the Holy Spirit. Earlier, he said: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you”. There is more to the Divine Mercy than us being just recipients. It comes with a mission. We become conduits of forgiveness, mediators of the Divine Mercy. This is not only true to the apostles and to their descendants, the bishops and the priests who are given the faculty to absolve sins. This is true for the entire People of God. The disciples represent the Church; all her members are bearers of the divine love.

But the story doesn’t end here…

3. The doubt of Thomas

Thomas, who wasn’t around, didn’t believe the stories of his friends. He had many reasons to doubt. He asked for solid proof. And it was given him. On the evening of the week after, Jesus appeared once again, and immediately commanded Thomas to touch the marks of the crucifixion in His body. The Gospel didn’t say whether Thomas did indeed touch Jesus body. But his immediate reaction was the centerpiece of the second half of the story. Thomas exclaimed the greatest and fullest expression about the identity of Christ ever uttered in the Scriptures: “My Lord and my God!”

The point of the story is not that Thomas doubted but that God is merciful.

Once again Jesus took the initiative to dispel his doubts and break through his defenses. The doubt of Thomas took away our doubts. Thomas became a medium of the revelation of Jesus’ full identity: "He is risen. He is our Lord and God."

But the story doesn’t end here either…


2,000 years after Christianity, could we say that we are living already the Easter promise? Are we taking part in the renewed creation of grace?

Sadly, many people are still confined in their own “upper rooms”. Many still lead sad, miserable, pathetic lives. Many people are still encumbered by doubt: they doubt themselves and their abilities, or humanity’s capacity for goodness, or that their dire situation would still change for the better. In short, they doubt the mercy of God. This kind of doubt spawns cynicism and apathy, which in turn leads to bolder intransigence among the corrupt and the oppressors.

I would like to cap this reflection with an old Jewish parable…

A rabbi and a soap maker went for a walk one day at the park and studied the people who had come out to enjoy the warm summer day. After going about a mile along the path the soap maker suddenly turned to the Rabbi and said to him: “Rabbi, what good is religion? What good is there in worshiping God? Look at all the trouble and misery that exists in the world! Even after centuries of teaching and preaching about goodness and truth and peace, there is still so much sin, injustice and sadness. If religion is good and true, why should this be?”

The rabbi said nothing. They continued walking until they happened to see some children playing in the dirt. The rabbi said to the soap maker: “Look at those children. You say that soaps make people clean, but see the dirt on those kids. Of what good is soap? With all the soap in the world, over all these years, those kids are still filthy. I wonder how effective soap is after all!”

The soap maker protested and exclaimed to the rabbi: "But Rabbi soap cannot do anything unless you use it."

With a nod the rabbi said: "Exactly the same with religion”.

G.K. Chesterton once said: "Christianity has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and not been tried."

Jesus already dispelled the fear and doubt of the upper room, and replaced them with peace and faith. Now He is sending us, as the Father has sent Him, and as He had sent so many others before us. We are bearers of the Divine Mercy. If only we live our Easter faith, we would become agents of transformation in our family, community, country, and the world.

Live the faith. Be the change.

Road to Emmaus

Who is this stranger who
interrupts our sad musings
with lively gait, his words make
impassioned palettes of the law
and the prophets, suffusing the grey
bleakness of these past days
with lights and shades we never
knew existed? On the road

Now at twilight, we thought
that distance might help
clear the dark hues that fill
our minds, that cloud
our places of gathering.
They were warm and humid,
and locked tight to create
a measure of safety, a refuge
for sinners, the spirit of fear
unable to escape as well.

But here the breathing is easy,
and our hearts are ember light.

And though the dark be upon us
literally, we wouldn't have mind at all
but for practical considerations
like a place to stay for the night
or the warmth of a meal. Should
we ask him to come in?

He doesn’t mind either, and maybe
he wont’ be a stranger for long.

A Resurrection Song

Something stirs this early morning stillness
and makes solemn chant of bird song
and rooster crow. Something. It is

Sunlight seeping through fissures
between leaves, twigs, garden.

It is motion, painting wisp-clouds
from ash blue to sepia cotton
afire. It is a new spirit

Rising from frozen ground and
misty wanderings over sudden
turn of events. Yesterday.
And the day before.

An event, so unassuming
and bare, naked as bared plots
and crucifixions. Who is it
you are looking for?

No regalness, no Handel's Messiah here,
only the theatrics of an angel
perched on a boulder

Unrolled now, exposing
a gaping mouth, voiceless
on a stone wall; Moses on Mount Sinai
dispensing advice to

A couple or so women
staring; unaware of his own charm
or shock value: two guards, dead
frightened, on the ground.
He is no longer here.
He is risen.

Just like that. Just like that.

No ornate cathedral splendor.
No outburst of rainbow colored majesty.
No fiery phoenix he.
Excuse me, sir, are you
the gardener?

It is I.

No hero's welcome here
either, no victory parade.
But a homecoming, yes,
for a prodigal Son sans

The fattened calf. A private party then,
by invitation only, with warm anxious
embraces and holy kisses.

Be not afraid -- he disposing
the first order of the day.
Peace be with you. I am
hungry. What's for dinner?

Later we would begin to understand,
not too fully, just enough, elsewhere
the world blooms on its own, or so it thinks,
and men mind their own business.

But here, today, it is
different. It is the LORD!

23 November 2003
Rm 333, SHN, Novaliches

That Which Makes Sense of It All

Easter Sunday – 4 April 2010

Readings: Acts 10:34a, 37-43; Ps 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23; I Cor 5:6b-8; Jn 20:1-9

The resurrection of Christ, which we celebrate today, is more than just the fulfillment of the prophecies of Jesus and the prophets of old. The resurrection is the one event that makes sense of it all.

St. Paul says in 1 Cor 15,14: “if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is empty; your faith, too, is empty.” It is the cornerstone upon which the logic of our faith stands, the central event of the entire history of salvation.

Because of Easter Sunday, the sufferings of Good Friday are given its true meaning. What Jesus went through was no ordinary death or a mere outcome of a religious-political conspiracy. What Jesus willingly submitted himself into, in obedience to the Father’s will, was a sacrifice for us and our salvation.

Because of His resurrection, all the prophets and martyrs, before and after Christ, have not died in vain. The mighty and the lowly, all who labored to build the Kingdom of God or made their place and time a better place than when they found it (which in some sense means the same thing), all of them, and those following in their footsteps now, have not labored in vain. Because of His resurrection, we no longer suffer sickness, or poverty, or persecution, in vain.

Through him the past makes sense. Acts 10,43 (in the First Reading) says: “To him all the prophets bear witness, that everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Through Him the present makes sense. Eph 3,17-19 contains St. Paul’s prayer that Christ who dwells in our hearts will give us “the strength to comprehend, with all the holy ones, the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that (we) may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

Through Him the future makes sense. Eph 1,9-10 says: “He has made known to us the mystery of his will… that he set forth in him as a plan for the fullness of times: to sum up all things in Christ, in heaven and on earth.”

The resurrection is the culmination of Christ’s saving acts on earth through which we are saved, through which we become adopted children of the Father, through which we have fullness of life, and be resurrected at the end of time. In the end, everything becomes one with Christ. The resurrection confirms our faith, and gives us hope of this happening.

Here’s an Easter story…

Three friends decided to take a break on the beach on Black Saturday. They had a little too much to drink and were drowned at sea. They found themselves at the pearly gates of heaven. St. Peter tells them they can enter the gates if they can answer one simple question.

St. Peter asks the first man, "What is Easter?" The man replies, "Oh, that's easy, it's the holiday in December where we have Simbang Gabi and Noche Buena, go to parties, and exchange gifts..."

"Wrong," replies St. Peter. “You have much to grow in your faith. Off you go to purgatory.” He proceeds to ask the second man the same question, "What is Easter?"

The second man replies, "Easter is the time of the year at the end of Holy Week when we go to reunions, or to the beach, and do Easter egg hunts…"

St. Peter, shakes his head in disgust, and promptly sends him to purgatory. Now he looks at the third man and asks, "What is Easter?"

The third man smiles and looks at St. Peter in the eye. "I know what Easter is. Easter is the most important of all Christian feasts, because we celebrate the life of Jesus who suffered and died on the cross for us...”

“Go on…”, says St. Peter, obviously pleased at what he was hearing after the two disappointments.

The man continued: “He was buried in a cave which was sealed off by a large boulder… Every year the boulder is moved aside so that Jesus can come out, and he will join in the Easter egg hunt, or maybe go to the beach because he slept for so long and missed Christmas…”

Hopefully, everyone here knows what Easter is about :)

Then again, maybe it isn’t wrong to ask: What does Easter mean to us in a practical way? How does it impact our everyday lives? What do we mean when we say we are an Easter people?

The answer lies in our next activity right after this homily. The Renewal of our Baptismal Promises is Easter put into practice. Basically, we renew our promises that we will be true to our faith.

Faith should be understood in its two-fold sense of being God’s initiative first, and man’s response second. God has already shown us the “the breadth and length and height and depth of His love”, the resurrection of Christ being its greatest expression. What then is our fitting response?

St. Paul says in 1 Cor 5,7-8 (in the Second Reading): “Clear out the old yeast, so that you may become a fresh batch of dough, inasmuch as you are unleavened. For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”

And so every year at Easter Sunday, we renew our baptismal promises in sincerity and truth. We present ourselves like a fresh batch of dough – after the penances and piety of the Holy Week – ready to become bread for the feast.

By saying “I do” to rejecting Satan, his works, and empty promises, we profess to turn away from our old self, our self-centeredness and narrow-mindedness, our cynicism and apathy. By professing so, we embrace the life-long task of conversion from our sinful habits.

By saying “I do” to believing in God as proclaimed in the Creed, we profess our unconditional trust in Him, even and especially when our following His will involves great difficulties or the risk of being misunderstood, ridiculed or persecuted. By professing so, we open our entire being to where His will leads us, just as Jesus did.

This renewal of promises is no mere question-and-answer exchange. This is our vision and mission as Christians. From this we take our plan of action, especially as we go back to our regular lives after the Holy Week.

Our fidelity to our baptismal promises makes us able to proudly and joyfully proclaim: “We are an Easter people! Alleluia is our song!”