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Saints above, sinners below…….

April 28, 2014

Divine Mercy Sunday 2014             Acts 2: 42-47;            1 Peter 1: 3-9;          John 20: 19-31

Since its earliest days the Church has baptised its new members at Easter. Saint Luke wrote the Acts of the Apostles as a handbook to teach his community AND US about how Christians should live. That’s why today, on the first Sunday after new Christians have traditionally been welcomed into the Church through baptism at the Easter Vigil, St Luke gives us a list to double check how we measure up to the Christian ideal – four key points for a Christian community to aim at. Four points which apply equally to all of us Christians, old and new:

(i)             Are we being faithful to the Apostles true teachings? – the Scriptures, the teaching authority (The Magisterium) of the Church that interprets and applies the Scriptures to our daily lives, and the Tradition passed on down to us handed through our bishops;

(ii)            Are we true to the call to support the Church in its worship in being a sharing community?;

(iii)           Are we faithfully breaking and sharing bread together in the Sacrament of the Eucharist?;

and 

(iv)          Are we doing our bit to spread the Good News?

Now I need to point out that the process of preparation of people for reception into the Church should NOT be about learning things rote fashion, ticking boxes so that we can say we’re “Catholic”. It might be helpful, for example, to be able to list the seven sacraments, to know the fancy names for the different parts of the Mass, to understand the meaning of The Trinity, and so on. But there is a real and present danger that we can begin to think that becoming a Christian is about going to classes and ticking boxes to pass exams. It can ends up with us putting everything into tidy little compartments, as if the Church were more like a car factory. You know how they make cars….. different sections and departments make different bits, then they are bolted together. This manufacturing process needs highly organised, highly specialized engineering. Each department has to have highly trained expert technicians. Any variations in component parts cannot be tolerated – anything not up to standard is rejected.

We must never let this idea taken from modern factories ever make us think that is the way to becoming or remaining as members of the Catholic Church. It cannot ever be like that, because each and every one of us is flawed, no matter how we became a Catholic or how long we’ve been a Catholic. We all arrived as damaged goods. With quality control like a car factory we would never get in, we’d be send us away in disgust. But each and every one of us members in this church community is damaged; the Church should accept us, and delight that we have arrived. People should feel they have been welcomed as part of a Christian community and are sharing in what is called the ‘Mystery’ of the Church.

Becoming and remaining a true Catholic is for all of us, first and foremost, about a spiritual experience, a change in our outlook – developing a closer relationship with God. What Holy Mother Church does is provide the means for putting us in the right place, at the right time to do the right thing, strengthening us with the sacraments so that slowly, through our whole lives, we come to a better understanding and a closer relationship with God. Through the authority granted to us by our Lord Jesus Christ, and guided by the Holy Spirit, The Church – we its people and its ministers – come together to invoke its supernatural ability to bring heaven and earth together. The Church does this every time we celebrate mass – heaven and earth are joined in commemorating the death of Jesus Christ and celebrating His resurrection, making Christ truly present in the world. Sacred words, and sacred actions that achieve a supernatural result. Perfectly rational if you believe in God; yet certainly beyond the scope of scientific explanation, which is limited to the measurable properties of the created things of this world;

Our second reading today was the first papal encyclical – it comes from a letter written by Pope Saint Peter to the whole Church, warning of suffering and tribulations. If Christians are serious about their faith, they will live there lives in a way that continually rubs up against the so-called wisdom of the world. If you stand in solidarity with the poor and exploited, for example, the rich and powerful in this world will (for some strange reason) get very angry with you. But Pope Saint Peter tells us that those who have been baptised in Christ will be protected from harm, eventually celebrating with “indescribable joy”. That’s a vision of heaven to me.

How can that be, being joyful when we are also suffering tribulations?

We need to realise there is a difference between ‘being happy’ and ‘joy’. We are filled with joy by the sure knowledge that Jesus has risen from the dead, which means that life after death does exist, which means that we can believe completely in what Jesus tells us. Which means there is somewhere called heaven, where He is going to be, waiting for us. That’s what joy is about. So, even though we Christians are joyful at this good news, it doesn’t mean we’ll always be happy. Strangely, as people of faith, we remain joyful even if we feel unhappy with our present circumstances. That’s because we have been saved by the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus our Lord. It’s not about being saved in the future, it’s not about salvation to come. Our salvation is already been achieved, here and now, because we have been baptised. We have become members of this great Church through the solemn ritual of the Sacrament that makes us all brothers and sisters together, the adopted children of God – our shared Baptism.]

And in the Gospel today we heard of how Jesus meets his friends again, after the Resurrection.

They are faced for the first time by the man they abandoned.

They ran off. Disloyal. They threw away three years of deep personal friendship, three years of being privileged to share His private thoughts and wisdom – abandoned it all to save their own pathetic skin when the going got tough. Yet He has proved to them that he is extraordinarily powerful: He has risen from the dead. It wouldn’t do to annoy someone so powerful, would it? How is He going to react when He meets them again?

The first thing Jesus says to his Apostles is “Peace be with you”. What powerful words! Something else that should make us hopeful, should increase our joy. Can you imagine their relief? He’s not angry with us! No, He still loves us, despite everything.

So, if you think you have done terrible things, things you’re ashamed of, things you know God knows about, what’s going to happen when you come to be judged by Jesus? We know that if we remain faithful, if we hold on to our belief in God and trust in His mercy, we shall receive forgiveness. That doesn’t mean what we did never happened. But it means God understands how weak we are. That’s Divine Mercy. Not faulty, judgmental human justice, but Divine Mercy. When the Church solemnly forgives our sins sacramentally it is because it has been given the authority to do that by Jesus Christ. Ours sins are forgiven in Jesus’ name through His Church. Despite the faults and failings of the individuals who make up the Church, including its frail ministers. The Church is something more than its individual members – it is supernatural.

So todays gospel is another example of the less-than-perfect Church coming together in prayer, we see the Apostles meeting to pray with their disciple, Thomas, a man whose faith has been sorely tested by the dreadful events when Jesus was arrested and executed. Jesus appears before His fledgling Church, this motley crew, this band of losers. Heaven meets earth.

And this coming together of God with His people continues to this day through the solemn words and actions of all the Church. Today, Divine Mercy Sunday, the Church around the world unites in prayer, and its principal minister, Pope Francis has made a solemn declaration to the world that Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II are indeed saints – two men who struggled in this life, who led heroic Christian lives, and who – despite all the faults that come with being frail human – have now officially reached their journey’s end: their sins have been forgiven and now we can definitely say, guaranteed, that they are in the presence of God in heaven. Those two new saints are example to us, role models of bringing peace, joy and sharing their faith with others. They are canonized today to inspire us, to spur us on in our own journey towards heaven.

So on this second Sunday of Easter let us resolve to show mercy and forgiveness to others, not from our own strength but from the example given by our Lord Jesus; let us have faith that we have been saved through His Cross; and let us go out and shamelessly share with other people our joy in the Risen Christ by helping the poor.

During this Mass let us invoke all the saints in heaven, including Pope Saint John XXIII and Pope Saint John Paul II to join us in our celebration of new life. Heaven is thronging with saints, known and unknown. Today, let us resolve to make it our ambition to join them!

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