Sunday, April 03, 2005

God’s Mercy: Unconditionally Offered, But Only Conditionally Received!

(Second Sunday of Easter (A): This homily was given on April 3, 2005 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. Read John 20: 19-31.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Second Sunday of Easter 2005]

I begin this morning with a riddle:

What is unconditionally offered, but only conditionally received?

The answer is: Mercy!

Today is Divine Mercy Sunday, designated as such by Pope John Paul II five years ago. This, incidentally, was a feast that was near and dear to the Holy Father’s heart. Hence it’s most fitting that we celebrated it this weekend—the weekend of his death.

The Divine Mercy devotion, as many of us know, began back in 1931, when a young Polish nun named Faustina Kowalska saw a vision of Jesus with two rays of light coming out of his heart. Jesus told her to have a painting produced replicating the vision, and to have it signed, “Jesus, I trust in you!”

For the next 7 years the Lord gave Faustina many other private revelations concerning his mercy. He made it clear to her during this time that his mercy is unlimited and available to everyone, even to the greatest sinners.

Or, to put it another way, he made it clear to her that his mercy is unconditionally offered.

The Lord, you see, does not offer us his mercy because we’ve been good enough, or because we’ve accomplished enough or become smart enough. He doesn’t offer us mercy because we’ve received enough A’s on our report cards!

Mercy is offered to us freely and unconditionally by God because his nature is love! As St. John tells us in the fourth chapter of his first letter, “God is love”.

And this offer of mercy is rooted in what the Lord has done for us in sending his Son into the world to die on the cross! Consequently, it’s a free and undeserved gift.

This should be obvious even from the word itself: mercy. The other day when I looked it up in the dictionary I found this definition: “Mercy is “compassion or forbearance shown especially to someone who has offended you, or to someone subject to your power.”

All of that applies to our relationship with the Lord: we are God’s creatures; we are subject to his authority and power. And our sins are infinitely offensive to him in his perfection.

But, out of sheer mercy, he offers us his forgiveness and pardon anyway.

And he offers this mercy and forgiveness to us through his Church! As Jesus said to his first priests on Easter Sunday in this text from John 20 that we heard a few moments ago: “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

St. Faustina understood all this, which is why she wrote these words in her diary: “O sinner, you must not doubt or despair, but trust in mercy, for you also can become holy.”

This means that mercy is offered

  • To people like Michael Schiavo—who murdered his own spouse.
  • To people like Brian Nichols (the man I mentioned in my Easter homily last Sunday)—who killed three people two weeks ago in a Georgia courthouse, and one more as he was making his escape.

Mercy is offered

  • To judges and politicians in this country who allow babies and sick people to be harmed and killed.
  • To priests and bishops who are silent in the face of gross moral evil.
  • To liars, cheaters, and thieves.
  • To the hedonists, materialists, and blasphemers in the modern media.

Mercy is offered to everyone, and it’s offered unconditionally—thanks be to God!

Now in some homilies on this subject that I’ve heard over the years, this is where the preacher will stop—and that’s a mistake! He will speak about God’s marvelous, unconditional offer of mercy, and that’s where he will end his reflection. But that’s wrong—that’s a grave error—because it’s only half the story.

Yes, it’s true, mercy is unconditionally offered—but it’s only conditionally received!

One of the necessary conditions, of course, for the reception of mercy is genuine personal repentance! Not simply “spoken repentance,” but rather genuine repentance.

There’s a difference, you know.

Anyone can say they’re sorry. Anyone can mouth the words. The real question is: Are they sincere?

I think we’ve all known people who have said they were sorry for something, and then later admitted that when they said the words they really didn’t mean them!

Quite frankly, I remember doing this as a child. . . .

“Raymond, say you’re sorry to your sister.”

“I’m sorry.”

But I wasn’t sorry! At least on some occasions I wasn’t! I just didn’t want to get sent to my room for the rest of the day!

Sincere repentance is different, isn’t it? Sincere repentance includes a desire not to commit the sin again (whatever it is), and the intention of bringing it to confession at the next available opportunity (if it’s a mortal sin).

St. Faustina put it this way in her diary: “[To receive mercy it is necessary] that the sinner set ajar the door of his heart, be it ever so little, to let in a ray of God’s merciful grace, and then God will do the rest.”

But that’s not the only condition that must be fulfilled to receive mercy. There’s one more that needs to be mentioned: a willingness to show mercy and forgiveness to others.

Now that really shouldn’t be news to any of us, should it?—because every time we say the Lord’s Prayer we tell God not to forgive us if we don’t forgive others.

You knew that, didn’t you?


But what if we don’t pardon—or at least make the constant effort to pardon—those who have sinned against us?

Then, in effect, we are telling the Lord when we pray the Our Father to keep us in a state of sin!

Jesus said, “If you forgive the faults of others, your heavenly Father will forgive you yours. [But] if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive you.”

We need to take those words seriously.

Forgiveness, obviously, is hard for all of us. In fact, even thinking merciful thoughts about certain people can be hard for us at times.

I’ll be honest with you, I find it very, very difficult to think any merciful thoughts about Michael Schiavo, because of what he did to his innocent, helpless, disabled wife.

But I have to make the conscious effort to do it anyway! I need to pray for his conversion, and especially for his salvation (which is definitely in jeopardy at this point for his sins of murder and adultery).

We all have Michael Schiavos in our lives.

How we respond to them is crucial, because to a great extent it will determine which group we are in at the end of time.

You see, on Judgment Day, when we all stand before the throne of Almighty God, there will really be only two groups of people present: those to whom mercy was only offered, and those to whom mercy was offered and by whom it was received!

All human beings—even those who go to hell—will have experienced God’s beautiful offer of mercy; but the only ones who will actually receive it in the end and reap its eternal fruits will be those who have sincerely repented of their sins, and who have been willing to show mercy to others—even the Michael Schiavos of their lives.

May all of us, by the grace of God, end up in that second group—and experience the eternal blessings of God’s wonderful mercy.