The Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes
Homily for the
Second Sunday of Easter
Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
April 23, 2017
When I was a kid, it was a firmly enforced rule that the majority of the time I had to be outside. Unless I was doing homework, sleeping, or eating, it was expected that I would busy myself outdoors. This was especially true when my cousins would come over. The adults would sit inside, drinking coffee and talking about boring things, and the kids would be outside running, exploring, and having a blast. Some of our activities were relatively peaceful, like hopscotch or riding bikes, but most of the time we just did downright stupid, if not dangerous, things. Like the time we thought it would be a good idea to play exterminator with a large wasp nest we found in the woods…or the time we decided to catch snapping turtles with our bare hands…or the time we rode in wagons down a really steep hill. There were many cuts, bruises, and broken bones as a result of our shenanigans, but all these experiences were formative and, in the words of my grandfather, “they built character!” One thing we did, though, would form me in a deeper way, though I wouldn’t have thought so at the time. We played a game called, “Mercy!” The game involved two people joining their crisscrossed hands, each trying to inflict pain on the other by straining their wrists. When one person couldn’t take the pain anymore, they would cry out, “mercy!” The other person would let lose his grip and, by showing mercy to the person in pain, become the winner. We could certainly look at such a game and say it was just boyish nonsense and that it taught a barbaric notion of winning. And while it might be true that in order to win you had to cause your partner physical pain, you could only really be declared the winner by letting up. It’s a subtle distinction, but a definite one…victory comes about by showing mercy.
Today, the Second Sunday of Easter, is Divine Mercy Sunday. In the year 2000, Pope St. John Paul II declared, in accordance with the wishes of our Lord manifested to St. Faustina, that the Sunday following Easter would be especially set aside to celebrate the gift of mercy that flows from the Divine Heart of Christ. Today we do just that…as we continue to bask in the joy of Easter, in the joy of Christ risen from the dead, we meditate on the great love of our God and we beg Him to continue pouring out His mercy on us and on the whole world. But what’s going on here? What are we celebrating and what are we asking for? We just finished celebrating a whole year dedicated to mercy...but what do we really know what it is that we are praying for today? We hear the word “mercy” so often…at Mass, in our devotions, in Elvis Presley’s songs, and even in childhood games. It’s such a simple word, but its meaning is extremely deep.
The word “mercy” comes from the Latin word misericordia – itself a composite of two words, miserum, which means “sad” or “compassionate,” and cor, which means “heart.” A merciful person, one who has mercy on another, allows his or her heart to be overcome with compassion when encountering another person’s distress. And this is where the rubber meets the road. The word compassion literally means, “to suffer with.” It’s not an emotion, it’s not a disposition, it’s not just being a nice person and feeling bad for someone…having compassion, being compassionate, means a readiness and a willingness to enter into another’s suffering, to be there with them, and if it is possible, to bring them some alleviation and healing. When we do this…when our compassion translates into action, we engage in true mercy.
For those of us who follow Jesus Christ, mercy really is the name of our game. We have been made the receivers of God’s mercy, of His Divine Mercy. By taking on flesh, our very humanity, and nailing it to the Cross, our Lord entered into our muck, into our distress, into our sinful world and in His innocence He suffered not just with us, but for us. And as He hung lifeless on the Cross, having accomplished this greatest act of mercy, blood and water gushed forth from His pierced side, showering His Church with the very means by which this mercy would be able available to us until the end of time: through the Sacraments, and most particularly through Penance and the Holy Eucharist. By calling out to Him in our distress in the Sacrament of Penance, our Lord unleashes upon us the floodgates of His mercy…absolving us of our transgressions, restoring us to life and to wholeness, and bringing us back the freedom we long for. And with our sins forgiven, we then approach the holy altar and feast upon the Lord’s gift of Himself, His own Body and Blood. He shows us what mercy really is and that it always involves the total gift of oneself.
But if we have asked for the total gift of God’s own self through the mercy of Jesus Christ, Crucified and Risen from the dead, we better be prepared to live this mercy out in our own lives. Being nice and pleasant doesn’t cut it. Coming to Mass on Sunday doesn’t cut it. Going to confession every once in a blue moon doesn’t cut it. We could do all of these things, and must be do them, but our Lord is clear: the measure with which we measure out will be measured to us. If we ignore the distress of others…both their bodily and their spiritual distress…then what right do we have to approach God and ask for the gift of His mercy? If we are not willing to suffer with and to soothe the sufferings of the least among us, then we have failed to love as Christ commands us and the kingdom of God, He promises, will be taken from us.
These are stark words to speak in the midst of our Easter joy, but we have to get serious about what our Lord’s resurrection means. It is His triumph over death and over sin…it is the triumph of His mercy over humanity’s strife. We are called not only on this Divine Mercy Sunday but every day of our lives to be participators in the triumph of the Risen Lord’s gift of mercy. This means that we engage in the corporal works of mercy…that we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead. And it also means that we engage in the spiritual works of mercy…that we instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, admonish the sinner, bear wrongs patiently, forgive offenses willingly, comfort the afflicted, and pray fervently for the living and for the dead.
Mercy springs forth from love…it cannot come from anywhere else. And the love that we are called to is robust, and powerful, and meaningful only when it ceases to be emotional and becomes sacrificial. The Lord offers to each of us the gift of His mercy, born from the love He had for us on the Cross. In our distress and in our weariness, as we call out for Him to enter into our misery with us and to bring us healing, He calls us in return to be in-tune to the bodily and spiritual distress of those around us. Today we pray for the grace to respond willingly, lovingly, and sacrificially to these cries so that we might be a continued manifestation of the Lord’s gift of mercy to the whole world.