Sunday, April 08, 2018

Mercy—and Justice

St. Faustina and the Divine Mercy image

(Second Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday, Year B): This homily was given on April 8, 2018, at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Acts 4: 32-35; Psalm 118: 2-4, 13-15, 22-24; 1 John 5: 1-6; John 20: 19-31.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Divine Mercy Sunday 2018]

Getting it is easy;
Giving it is what’s difficult.
But if you don’t give it,
In the end you don’t get it.

I’m talking here about God’s mercy.  (What else do you talk about on Divine Mercy Sunday?)

Getting God’s mercy is easy—just ask Thomas the Apostle.  Jesus forgave him for his sin of disbelief the moment he repented and said those famous words, “My Lord and my God!”  Thomas didn’t have to beg Jesus, or bargain with Jesus, or grovel in the dirt before our Lord agreed to show him mercy.  All Thomas needed to do was to express his repentance in some way, and forgiveness was his.

This is the core message of Divine Mercy Sunday: that every sin can be forgiven; that every sinner can be saved; that God’s mercy (as today’s responsorial psalm reminds us) “endures forever”.  This is also the message St. Faustina gave to the world through her diary.  There she wrote about the private revelations she received from Jesus about God’s mercy during a seven year period, beginning in 1931.  One of those revelations included a vision of Jesus with two rays of light coming out of his heart.  Jesus asked her to have a painting done replicating the vision, and to have it signed with the words, “Jesus, I trust in you.”  We, of course, have a copy of that painting here in our church where the tabernacle used to be.

But it’s not only important to receive mercy (like Thomas the Apostle did); it’s also important (and necessary!) to extend mercy to others—which is the hard part.  As I said at the beginning of my homily, “getting” mercy is easy; “giving” mercy is much more difficult.  But in spite of the fact that it’s difficult, it’s not optional—at least according to Jesus.  In fact, if we don’t show mercy to others (or at least make the effort to do so in our lives), we will cut ourselves off from the mercy God wants to give us.  As I said at the beginning, “If you don’t give it, in the end you don’t get it.”  Jesus himself said as much in Matthew, chapter 6.  There, immediately after he gave us the Lord’s Prayer, he said, “If you forgive others, your heavenly Father will forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive you.”

Notice, out of all the petitions in the Our Father—“Thy kingdom come”; “Thy will be done”; “Give us this day our daily bread”; etc.—Jesus went back to and reiterated just one.

The one about forgiveness: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

That must mean it’s EXTREMELY IMPORTANT!!!

Of course, it’s also important for us to remember in this context that practicing forgiveness and mercy does not mean that we should totally ignore or dispense with justice.

In fact, sometimes dispensing with justice is the most unmerciful thing you can do for a person—and for the people in that person’s life.  I came across a great example of this just the other day on the web site of the Washington Post.  There was an article there about a 20-year-old man from Texas named Eric Couch.  Maybe some of you know the story.  On June 13, 2013, when he was 16-years-of-age, Eric Couch killed 4 people just outside of Ft. Worth, Texas, when he plowed his father’s Ford F-350 pickup truck into a group of men and women on the side of the road who were trying to help a stranded motorist.  He seriously injured some others who were there, one of whom is now paralyzed and can communicate only by blinking.

Oh, and did I mention that Couch was drunk at the time? His lawyers claimed he was suffering from something they call “affluenza”—supposedly a condition which made him incapable of telling right from wrong because of his parents’ wealth.

The judge’s sentence?  Probation—a probation which Couch violated two years later by drinking and then fleeing the country with his mother!  The two fled after a video appeared online of Couch consuming alcohol.  He was eventually caught, taken back to the United States and sentenced—to just two years in prison (or, as the Washington Post article put it, 180 days “for each of the four people he killed” in 2013).  He was released a couple of days ago.

Only two years in prison for consuming alcohol as a minor, killing 4 people while driving recklessly and intoxicated, violating parole, fleeing the country illegally and causing an international incident.

There are some who would call that “mercy.”  Personally, I’d call that “stupidity”—in this case, “judicial stupidity”.  Letting this young man off so easily and not giving him the time or opportunity to work on his addiction and other personal issues was NOT merciful!  It would have been merciful if, in June of 2013, they had said to Couch, “Yes, we’ll give you the opportunity to change your life for the better since you’re a minor, but in your present condition you’re a danger to yourself and to everyone else in society.  Consequently, we need to remove you from society for an extended period of time so that you can deal with your demons and give us a valid reason to allow you to return to a normal way of life.  If not, you’ll have to remain incarcerated.”

That would have been the most merciful thing they could have done for this troubled young man—and for the people in his life.

There’s a beautiful prayer that was written by St. Faustina that has this line in it: “Help me, O Lord, that my ears may be merciful, so that I give heed to my neighbors’ needs and not be indifferent to their pains and moanings.”  Sometimes our neighbors need our mercy in the form of compassion, patience and understanding, but there are other times when our neighbors need our mercy in the form of “tough love.”  Eric Couch has needed the latter since 2013.  I hope and pray that someday he finally receives it—for his own sake, and for the sake of everyone else who shares the highway with him in the future.