Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
“Peace be with you!” These words of Jesus resonate in the hearts of the frightened disciples who are hiding behind closed doors afraid of persecution. We may not experience such direct persecution today, but many of us are in a very similar state: quarantined at home, afraid of contagion, death and economic collapse, mourning our many unfulfilled plans, struggling to bear the burden of uncertainty, and perhaps losing hope… The risen Lord comes through the locked doors and, as the Gospel says, stands in the midst of his disciples, and says, “Peace be with you.” We know that God’s spoken words become reality, when He speaks, things happen. We see that the greeting given by Jesus immediately changes the situation: the disciples rejoice when they see the Lord. Fear-suppressing peace brings deep and lasting joy.
What is this peace that Christ gives? Elsewhere in the Gospel of John, we hear Jesus say, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you” (Jn 14:27). This “peace” translates the Hebrew word shalom, which has a much broader meaning. As Pope Francis said in last Wednesday’s general audience, “The biblical word shalom expresses abundance, prosperity, and wellbeing. When in Hebrew one wishes shalom, one wishes a good life, full, prosperous but also in keeping with truth and justice, which will have fulfillment in the Messiah, Prince of Peace (cf. Isaiah 9:6; Micah 5:4-5).” Therefore all who accept Him are filled with joy.
It is important not to confuse the peace that God provides with the inner psychological calm that we can achieve, and sometimes we strive for, with the help of various techniques or medicines. As the Pope warned that restlessness in us can be an “important moment of growth; whereas, it can happen that interior tranquillity corresponds to a domesticated conscience and not to a true spiritual redemption. Many times the Lord must be a “sign of contradiction” (cf. Luke 2:43-35), shaking our false securities, to lead us to salvation.” At this time, our security is indeed being shaken, and we are seeing it’s false foundations crumble. We see that the virus does not bypass the rich, powerful or influential in the world. What, in the eyes of the world, seems to provide security and stability, is erased in one diagnosis and all become equal to the fact of human mortality. It is the anxiety caused by this realization that pushes us towards salvation. In this direction of salvation we are moved by the fear that underlies most of our fears – the fear of death. It is universal, typical of both believers and non-believers. What matters is how we deal with it: do we despair, or do we open up to God’s mercy?
St. Faustina Kowalska was the herald of such a choice. Through the revelations given to her by Jesus and the worldwide copies of this original image of Divine Mercy which was painted under her meticulous supervision, she reminded the whole Church of God’s boundless mercy, His infinite concern for the eternal salvation of every human being. In her Diary, she wrote down what the Lord had revealed to her during the mystical visions. On January 28, 1938 she wrote, “Write this for the benefit of distressed souls: when a soul sees and realizes the gravity of its sins, when the whole abyss of the misery into which it immersed itself is displayed before its eyes, let it not despair, but with trust let it throw itself into the arms of My mercy, as a child into the arms of its beloved mother. These souls have a right of priority to My compassionate Heart, they have first access to My mercy. Tell them that no soul that has called upon My mercy has been disappointed or brought to shame. I delight particularly in a soul which has placed its trust in My goodness.” (D 1541) Jesus through St. Faustina gives us a simple way to alleviate existential anxiety: to pray for greater trust in Divine Mercy. She also gives us the promises of Jesus in connection with the prayer of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy: “Encourage souls to say the chaplet which I have given to you. It pleases Me to grant everything they ask of Me by saying the chaplet. When hardened sinners say it, I will fill their souls with peace, and the hour of their death will be a happy one. […] Write that when they say this chaplet in the presence of the dying, I will stand between My Father and the dying person, not as the just Judge but as the merciful Savior.” (D 1541)
To those who rejoice in the encounter with the Risen One, Jesus says again, “Peace be with you!” and immediately sends them on mission saying, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” He gives them the needed help for this mission, breathing the Holy Spirit on them, saying, “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”
The Church has always seen this as the establishment of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the Source of Peace. Just as each of our sins, even the most secret, inevitably affects not only us but the whole Church, so true reconciliation brings peace and joy not only to those who are forgiven and who forgive, but also to those around them. Just like in a family, when spouses after a few days of “non-speaking”, kiss, hug and start talking again, their children are the happiest with this change. In the Church, which is the Body of Christ, we are all united, so, according to St. Paul, “If [one] part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.”(1 Cor 12:26) The Church is currently suffering almost everywhere in the world because believers cannot gather and celebrate the Eucharist together. But the Church is flexible, and her graces are not locked within the walls of buildings. Those who cannot go to confession to receive God’s mercy can arouse perfect contrition, those who cannot receive Communion physically can receive it spiritually. The Church opens wide the fonts of mercy: in Lithuania and Poland, plenary indulgences are granted to those who prayerfully recite the Chaplet of Divine Mercy before the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle, or those who, due to illness or other circumstances, cannot come to church and pray the Chaplet at home. Pope Francis recently provided an opportunity to earn plenary indulgences for those working to reduce the spread of coronavirus, as well as those suffering from it. And we can all strengthen through our prayers those who are in particular need of God’s graces. If we accept the graces that God provides through the Church, we will have something to share with others.
The encounter with the Risen One takes place on both a personal and community level. Today we heard the doubts of Thomas, who was not with the other apostles when Jesus first came to them. He was not persuaded by the testimony of the community. Thomas’ position seems to reflect the attitude of many of us: critical rationalism, individualistic independence, the desire to empirically feel the intangible – and at the same time, his stubborn ambition hides a deep desire for a personal encounter, a personal experience of God. Interestingly, Thomas’ personal encounter with the Risen One takes place in a community context. Our faith is inseparable from the experience of Church. “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” We can say, blessed are those who, after hearing the testimony, choose to trust Jesus, choose to believe even when there seems to be nothing to cling to, when evil and darkness seem to be taking over the whole world. Such, sooner or later, will experience the reality of the Risen Christ and His Mercy.
At the end of the Gospel passage, John says that not all of God’s miracles are listed here, but those that are written are mentioned so “that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.” Faith in Jesus Christ gives us life. A life whose value is not diminished in the face of a pandemic or any other trials in life, and its ultimate meaning is not lost during these trials. Life, which, because of God’s infinite mercy, extends into eternity.
I wish you all the grace to open up and accept the gift of God’s mercy so that you may experience peace in the full sense of shalom.
Peace be with you!
Homily of Archbishop Gintaras Grušas, Divine Mercy Sunday, April 19, 2020