Sunday, April 23, 2017

Where do you draw the ‘Mercy Line’?

Are these men beyond the 'Mercy Line'?

(Second Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday, Year A): This homily was given on April 23, 2017 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Acts 2: 42-47; Psalm 118; 1 Peter 1: 3-9; John 20: 19-31.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Divine Mercy Sunday 2017]

Where do you draw the line—the “mercy line”?

The mercy line marks the point beyond which, in your view, mercy should NOT be offered to a person:  If you do such-and-such a thing—if you cross this particular line in your behavior—you should not be offered any mercy by God.  None whatsoever!  Justice—yes; vengeance—perhaps; but mercy—no.

Where do you, personally, draw the “mercy line”?  One way to answer that question is to identify some of the people who, from your perspective, have actually crossed the line.

No doubt many men and women nowadays would have at least a few world leaders on their list: people like the communist dictator of North Korea, who reportedly has had his half-brother and hundreds of other people murdered in recent years to secure his power; and the current President of Syria, who used chemical weapons on his own citizens recently—including young children.

Or how about the guy from Cleveland who took a video of himself killing a 74-year-old man on the street the other day, and then posted the video of the murder on Facebook?

Would he be on the bad side of your “mercy line”?

Today, of course, is the Second Sunday of Easter, which means it’s “Divine Mercy Sunday”.  It’s officially been such since Pope John Paul II put this feast on the Church’s liturgical calendar in the year 2,000—although it was celebrated unofficially even before that.  Actually, you could say that we celebrate and focus on divine mercy every single day in the Catholic Church, since the primary reason that Jesus Christ came to this earth 2,000 years ago—and suffered, and died, and rose again from the dead—was to bring us the mercy and forgiveness of God! 

This was a core part of “the teaching of the apostles” that the early Christians were devoted to, as we heard they were in today’s first reading from Acts 2.  It’s summarized beautifully in our second reading from 1 Peter 1, where our first pope says:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hopethrough the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading,kept in heaven for you who by the power of God are safeguarded through faith.
And this mercy of God—which “endures forever” (as our responsorial psalm today reminds us)—was extended by Jesus to Thomas in this famous gospel story from John 20.  Thomas had refused to believe in the resurrection of Jesus after the other apostles told him they had seen our Lord on Easter Sunday night.  But Jesus gave Thomas a second chance a week later.  In his tremendous mercy, our Lord gave Thomas the opportunity to repent, and believe—and change!  Please note: Jesus didn’t have to give him that opportunity; he didn’t “owe it” to Thomas (if he had owed it to him, it would have been an act of justice to give him a second chance).  It’s precisely because Jesus did not owe Thomas anything that his act became an act of mercy.

The Lord did not draw a “mercy line” with Thomas when Thomas doubted his resurrection.  Nor does he draw a “mercy line” with us when we sin.  That’s good news.  Of course, the corollary to all this is that if God doesn’t draw a mercy line with you or with me, then neither does he draw that line with anyone else—including people like the totalitarian leaders of North Korea and Syria, and the Cleveland Facebook murderer.

Mercy is available to us, as long as we have breath within us.  The key is to reach out for it and to receive it like Thomas did—which is something that we Catholics do in a powerful way whenever we go to confession.

And then we have to show mercy to others—which is the hard part, as you are all well aware.  But it’s also absolutely necessary, if we want to go to heaven someday!  Remember, in the Lord’s Prayer we tell God that we want him to have mercy on us just like we have mercy on others: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  I hope you realize, if we’re not willing to make at least an attempt to forgive other people, then every time we pray the Our Father we’re actually telling Almighty God not to forgive us!

And that’s not a very good idea!

In this regard, I was so impressed when I read some of the comments made by the children of Robert Godwin the other day.  (Godwin is the 74-year-old man who was killed by the Facebook murderer.)   In an interview with CNN his daughter Tonya said, “Each one of us forgives the killer, the murderer.  We just want him to know that God loves him, we love him.  Yes, we’re hurt, but we have to forgive him because the Bible says if we don’t then the heavenly Father won’t forgive us.”  Another daughter said, “I honestly can say right now I hold no animosity towards this man because I know he is a sick individual….I promise you I could not do that [forgive] if I did not know God, if I didn’t know him as my God and Savior.  I could not forgive that man.  And I feel no animosity against him at all.  I actually feel sadness in my heart for this man.”  Finally, his son, Robert, Jr. said, “One thing I do want to say is I forgive him, because we are all sinners.  Steve, I forgive you man.  I’m not happy with what you did, but I forgive you.”

Those are three extraordinary responses to an extraordinarily evil act.  I share them with you today because I think they show us that extending mercy to another person is possible, even in the most horrific of circumstances.  Yes, it’s difficult—extremely difficult—but it’s still possible by the grace of God.

I’ll end now with the question I began with: Where do you draw the “mercy line”?

The Lord never draws one—even for the most evil person on the planet—on this side of the grave.  Robert Godwin’s children, amazingly, haven’t drawn one with respect to the man who brutally murdered their father.

If we have drawn mercy lines for some of the people in our lives (which is very easy to do!), then I would say that we need to pray very hard at this Mass for the grace we need to erase them.