19 April 2020

Homily - The Second Sunday of Easter - 19 April 2020

The Second Sunday of Easter (A)
Divine Mercy Sunday

Dear brothers and sisters,

Last evening, while Facetiming with a couple of friends, I was asked a question which is likely on the hearts and minds of many people today. My friends asked why God might be causing the present pandemic to be happening. They went on to clarify their question by asking why God might allow the pandemic and what good he might bring out of all of this. They knew, with Saint Paul, “that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

When Saint John Chrysostom commented on these words from the Apostle, he said:

For if tribulation, or poverty, or imprisonment, or famines, or deaths or anything else should fall upon us, God can change them into the opposite. For this is one instance of his ineffable power, that he can make painful things appear light to us and turn them into things which can be helpful.[1]

How is it, then, that the present pandemic can turn to good for those who love God? How is that it can become helpful to us?

I would first say that these questions about why God would permit such a tragedy cannot be answered with absolute certainty because he has not yet revealed his purposes to us in this regard and so no one can know the answer to these questions.

That said, we can perhaps find some indication, some hint, of God’s possible purposes in these words of Saint Peter, which the Church sets before us today:

In this you rejoice, 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 (I Peter 1:6-7).

We might, therefore, say that the usefulness of our current difficulties can help us focus again on our faith.

In recent years, it is no secret that many of us have slowly begun to take our faith for granted. Many have practiced it with a certain amount of apathy or disregard. When it was convenient and fit into our other plans, we made time for the Holy Mass, but it was not at the center of our plans. The Bible was rarely picked up in our homes or read amongst our families. Family prayer time was minimal, and devotions were often lacking. We received the Eucharist almost as if it were routine. When we at last gather again, will anything have changed? Will the genuineness of our faith have been proved?

Returning to the questions with which we began, is it possible that the Lord has allowed this pandemic so the genuineness of our faith might be proved? Is it possible he has allowed this pandemic so our faith might be rekindled?[2] Is it possible he has allowed this pandemic so we might devote ourselves anew to reading the Scriptures, to adoring the Eucharist, and to the communal Christian life (cf. Acts 2:42)? To my mind, the answer to each of these questions is a resounding, “Yes.”

Already, several people have contacted me to talk about some of the unexpected blessings they have found in these days of sheltering in place. These include a heightened recognition of their longing for God, especially in Holy Communion; a deeper appreciation for the presence of God in the sacred writings of the Bible; an unexpected desire to be with the members of the parish again; a satisfaction that has come from spending more time with family; and a sense of peace from not being frantically busy all of the time.

While the pandemic itself is a great tragedy for humanity, these are no small blessings God has already brought about through it. It will remain for us to learn these lessons well, and not to forgot them. Once we are able to gather again at the altar of God, it will remain for us to imitate those first Christians who “devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers” (Acts 2:42).

While these blessings may not be useful according to the standards of the world because they will not make us more efficient or bring about economic prosperity, according to the standards of God and the Christian life, they are of infinite use because through them we will “attain the goal of [our] faith, the salvation of [our] souls” (I Peter 1:9). This is why, having seen these same sorts of blessings brought about by God after several disasters in his own lifetime, Saint Jerome said, “Let calamity strike, let every kind of disaster fall, as long as after the catastrophe Christ comes.”[3]

While we remain at home and until we gather together again, let us use this time well by heeding the promptings of the Holy Spirit to more time in prayer, to more time spent reading the Word of God, and to more time in the community of our families. If we do this, our faith truly can be rekindled, some great good will come out of this calamity, and we will “grasp and rightly understand in what font [we] have been reborn, by whose Spirit [we] have been renewed, [and] by whose Blood [we] have been redeemed.”[4] Amen.

[1] Saint John Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans, 15. In Thomas C. Oden, et al, eds., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Vol. VI: Romans (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter Varsity Press, 1998), 225.
[2] Cf. Roman Missal, Collect for the Second Sunday of Easter.
[3] Saint Jerome, Homilies on the Psalms, 6. In Thomas C. Oden, et al, eds., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Vol. VI: Romans (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter Varsity Press, 1998), 225-226.
[4] Roman Missal, Collect for the Second Sunday of Easter.

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