Sunday, April 7, 2013

Divine Mercy Sunday

           In the summer of 2002 I traveled with a couple hundred of people from the Diocese of Duluth to Toronto, Canada for World Youth Day.  During this time we gathered from hundreds of thousands of youth around the world to celebrate our faith with Blessed John Paul II.
            On the morning John Paul II was to arrive my friends woke me up at 5:00am.  I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve gotten up that early!  We traveled three hours by bus and train to the airfield at which thousands of us would gather.  We arrived at 8:00am, thinking there would already be crowds gathered.  We were met by a flock of geese.  We found a spot right on a fence where the Holy Father would pass by.  (Ironically, I first met Fr. Rich on this trip.  He got there at 4:30 while we had waited all day!)
            One of the guys in our group said, “Look at the sun.”  We didn’t think this was a big deal until he pulled out the passage from Acts we heard today: “Thus they even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and mats so that when Peter came by, at least his shadow might fall on one or another of them.”  Based on the sun, the successor of Peter would be passing over us.
            I’ll never forget when John Paul II arrived.  As he made his way through the crowds on his popemobile, it was as if bombs of grace were exploding.  People burst out into tears, laughter and applause as he rode by.  And yes, his shadow passed over us.
            John Paul II exhorted us, as he did so often in his ministry: “Do not be afraid.”  He meant this in a variety of lights, encouraging us not to be afraid to put God first in our lives and to follow His will.  Yet on Divine Mercy Sunday—which John Paul II inaugurated in 2001—I am reminded that he encouraged us to not be afraid of our sins and weaknesses.
            The fact is, each of us sins.  John Steinbeck painted a vivid image of our human depravity in one of his books.  He said that each of us has a dark cesspool in our souls filled with wicked monsters who try to crawl out.  This dark pond is something we are often ashamed of and keep to ourselves.  On this Divine Mercy Sunday, do not be afraid to give God your sins and weaknesses.
            In our Catholic faith, we can approach God’s mercy in many ways.  But first, we must change the way we think of God Himself.  With tax season on my mind, I think we often consider God as something like the IRS.  At best, it is some distant bureaucracy that we must give our money.  At worst, when we are in deep debt it is a group of sharks demanding every cent.  God is not the IRS.  He is not a distant accountant demanding payment for every sin and misstep.  He is a loving Father who gave His only son to pay the debt of our sins.
            After rising from the dead, Jesus spoke to his disciples.  Now if I saw a man who had risen from the dead, I would be taking notes.  And one of the first things Jesus said: “Receive the Holy Spirit.  Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained…”  Jesus gave us the sacrament of Confession at which we can receive God’s mercy.
            Do not be afraid to receive God’s divine mercy today.  Remember He is our loving Father, not the IRS.  Because we end the Easter octave with Divine Mercy Sunday today, I will be in the sin bin after Mass.  Please come to receive God’s mercy.

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