My dear brother and sisters in Christ,
the Gospel today begins with the apostles, having locked themselves in the room out of fear of the Jews. Jesus has just been murdered on the cross, ant they are imagining probably the worst-case scenarios, what might happen to them. They are full of fear, anxiety, frustration and worry about the future.
This year, more than any other, this scene reminds us of so many people during this pandemic: people, closed in inside their homes for fear of the virus, families cooped up together and people, isolated on their own – full of fear and anxiety, frustration and worry about what the future holds. They have a fear of death and a fear of the unknown.
But as in today’s gospel, Jesus enters and says, “peace be with you”. He repeated it several times in today’s Gospel and during the Gospels of this Easter week, we’ve also heard it many times. Peace be with you. Jesus and angels also tell those they encounter “Do not be afraid”. About this peace Jesus spoke to his apostles during the Last Supper. And we hear the same words at every single Eucharist: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” (Jn 14, 27). Jesus gives a very similar message about this peace to St. Faustina to give to us. In the Diary she notes, that Jesus says to her: “Tell aching humanity to snuggle close to My merciful Heart, and I will fill it with peace.” (D, 1074)
This peace, that Jesus gives, is not the absence of war. When Jesus says “Peace be with you”, his words are operative, as the words of God, that says: Let there be light and there was light. Jesus says “Peace be with you”. This peace is the absence of fear and worry, that we receive by trusting in God – a deep peace of the heart and the soul.
St. Padre Pio described this peace in these words: “Peace is simplicity of spirit, serenity of mind, quietness of soul, and the bond of love. Peace is the order, the harmony within us. It is the continuous contentment that comes from the testimony of a clear conscience. it is the holy joy of a heart in which God reigns. Peace is the road to perfection-or rather, perfection is found in peace.” We can also describe peace as the fullness of grace.
Jesus was right: there is an aching humanity. And if we look around us, what we see but the World filled with sin and death. Peter writes, that we should expect this suffering. In his first letter he writes, after saying that we rejoice in the resurrection, he continues: “although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Pt 1: 6-7)
My brothers and sisters, trials are necessary for us to acquire an understanding, that we can do nothing on our own – and especially we cannot save ourselves. The message, that Jesus comes to us with, the Easter message is that he has conquered the world.
In the Gospel of Mathew, He tells us “do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.” (Mt 10:28). God has defeated death and saved us from the slavery to sin.
But what do we see around us today? Uncertainty, fear. And Jesus offers us peace, but we so often seem deaf to his words and unable to open up our hearts to receive the peace that he gives us. The pandemic is rampant around the world and here in Lithuania, you can see by the uncharacteristically few people that we have at the celebration. In most of the Archdiocese of Vilnius, the numbers are such, that we must restrict the participation at the Eucharist to the very minimum. But we joyfully are still able to give the Sacrament of Reconciliation, as well as the distribution of Holy Communion outside of Mass on this feast day and every day.
We must learn the basic lessons from the pandemic. What have we learned during this pandemic? We’ve learned a lot about basic hygiene: the importance of washing your hands, of sanitizing tabletops and door handles. But we have to ask ourselves – have we learned that at a spiritual level: do we wash our soul by going to Confession frequently, by making a daily examen? We’ve learned the importance of wearing a mask, to make sure that we don’t get infected by viruses nor spread them to others. How are our spiritual masks doing? Do they protect us being infected by the words of others or images, that can lead us to sin? Do our masks keep us from speaking words, that might infect somebody else or lead them to sin?
During this pandemic we’ve heard a lot of about the importance of building up our immune system. We know that we’re supposed to take vitamins and eat well, exercise and sleep well to maintain our fitness. We know these things like a litany. How are we maintaining our spiritual immunity? Are we spending time in prayer, in fasting and works of mercy? Are we reading the Scriptures and receiving Holy Communion on the regular basis? Are we spending time, working on building up the virtues in our life, so that we may be protected from sin and temptation, working their way into our lives?
And of course, we’ve heard a lot about the vaccines and vaccination. And how important it is to have something in your system that will protect you from getting sick or suffering greatly from the virus. On a spiritual level, getting the vaccine, that puncture, that allows the vaccine to come in – would be our trust of Jesus, placing our trust in him. But the true vaccine that keeps us from sin is allowing the Holly Spirit to reside in us, to abide our hearts. We must do everything that we don’t lose that closeness of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and lives. We heard it in today’s Gospel: after Jesus says “Peace be with you”, he breathes onto them and says, “receive the Holy Spirit”. They get their first dose today, and they get the final vaccination on the Feast of Pentecost, which we will celebrate at the end of the Easter season. They are protected and sent on mission.
This pandemic is also a time that reminds us of the message, given to St. Faustina, of the importance of Mercy in our lives: the importance to be merciful, to pray for mercy, especially for the dead and the dying. In the Diary St. Faustina remembers how she was praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy with a dying woman and she notes in her Diary that the person died, with an extraordinary peace (D, 810). There is much death, that is surrounding us. We are called to pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy for the dying and the dead. But people die not only of Covid. People are dying today because of wars around the world, and many refugees fleeing for a variety of reasons die. So many die – are not born – because of abortion. Jesus has defeated death. We should not be scared of it. But we should enter into those acts of mercy for the dying and for the dead. Death in our Christian perspective is so precisely described by the apostle Paul: “Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” <…> But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor 15:55-57). And so Paul in another place says “For to me life is Christ, and death is gain.” (Phil 1,21).
We have so many opportunities to respond to the call of Jesus, to be conduits of his mercy. During this pandemic so many of our medical doctors and professionals, medical teams, nurses, clergy, various volunteers in various fields – have been examples of these acts of mercy. Although there have been so many acts of mercy, there can be so many more – with our friends and family members, who we can help in a myriad of ways. Something as simple as a phone call to encourage a lonely person – is also an act of mercy. And I would say, that even getting vaccinated or helping someone who can’t get to a place to be vaccinated – is an act of mercy. Protection not only of oneself but of society in general – such a beautiful example was given us by pope Francis and pope Benedict, all the priests and sisters and lay people who were vaccinated at the Vatican, – not only to protect themselves, but to protect the entire community so they can continue to be of service.
The Image that we have here in the Shrine of Divine Mercy, so perfectly expresses the example of the message from the Diary that Jesus asked St. Faustina to give to the world: “Tell aching humanity to snuggle close to My merciful Heart, and I will fill it with peace.” (D, 1074).
We see the Grace in the rays coming out of Jesus’ heart, the sacramental grace from the font of Mercy, which is the heart of God overflowing with love for a hurting humanity. In this way he gives us the peace which only he can give.
May the “grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord!” (1 Tim 1,2) fill each of yours hearts and lives. The closer that we remain to the heart of Jesus, the more we will be able to maintain the peace, that he gives us to be with him. Amen.
The homily of Archbishop of Vilnius Gintaras Grušas, Divine Mercy Sunday 2021