Tuesday, April 17, 2012

His Mercy, Our Mercy?

2 Easter B #44 Divine Mercy

Acts 4, 32-35
Ps 118
1 Jn 5, 1-6
Jn 20, 19-31

St. Mary’s Church, Marlboro, N.Y.
April 15, 2012

Deacon Tom Cornell

Christ is risen. He is truly risen! “What good would life have been to us had not Christ risen from the dead?” He rose to take us with him. Otherwise life has no meaning at all: death is the end, a void, nothingness, an absurdity, even a mockery. We have hope, we have faith, all due to God’s mercy. Today is Divine Mercy Sunday. We have never done anything to deserve God’s mercy. Nor can we ever. It is a free gift, grace: saved by the gift of faith and hope, saved from death, saved from meaninglessness.

We really don’t know much about the life of the world to come, heaven, hell, purgatory. George Bernanos said that hell is not to love any more, and Fyodor Dostoevsky said the same. We don’t hear much about purgatory these days. What if Hitler and Stalin had the grace of final repentance? Would they then sit at the same table with Mother Teresa and Dorothy Day in heaven? Not for a while, I venture to say, not for a while.

Our first reading today is about the Jerusalem commune. Yes, the earliest Christians were communists. It’s likely that many of their fellow Jews in Jerusalem thought of them as some kind of hippies, as we might say. People who really believe tend to look funny to an unbelieving world. They certainly weren’t living the way most people did. They shared their goods, everything they had so that there was no one needy among them, “to each according to his need.” They didn’t say, “Is this person worthy of our help? She’s a drunk. She brought this need upon herself!” Or “He’s a mooch, says he’s too fat to work. He made his bed now let him lie in it! Why should we pick up the pieces of their broken lives when it’s not our fault but their own?” The Jerusalem disciples didn’t ask these questions. They didn’t distinguish between the “deserving” as opposed to the “undeserving” poor; they just shared.

Karl Marx thought that was a good line, from Acts, “to each according to his need.” He adopted it and added, “from each according to his ability.” That’s not a bad idea either! Marx’s mistake was to deny God, and to deny the freedom of the children of God, and so millions perished, tens of millions, for a utopian dream! When Eleanor Roosevelt presented the Declaration of Universal Human Rights to the United Nations in 1948, even though that declaration did not admit the divine origin of human rights, Mrs. Roosevelt warned that these rights will never be implemented without the world’s churches and synagogues weighing in. And we do.

God created this world for all to share. That teaching of the Church is called “the universal destination of goods,” and it has been explicit Catholic doctrine since 1891: that God did not create this beautiful world just for the children and grandchildren of the rich and powerful, but for all, since we are all are God’s children. Does that mean that people don’t have the right to private property and the profits of their own honest labor? No, not at all! Human freedom and human dignity depend upon it. We have a right to the fruits of our labor. But not to the fruits of other peoples’ labor. Man is to live by the sweat of his brow, we learn in Genesis, not the sweat of other peoples’ brows. You see there is some tension between these two ideas. We must share with those in need but at the same time we have a moral obligation to try to make our own way in the world, to support ourselves and our families.

The right to private property is not absolute but must be harmonized with the common good. That’s a hard lesson for many people to learn. Unspeakable human grief has been caused in our own living memory by those who would force the issue with grand schemes. What if twenty or thirty million men and women and children had to be sacrificed for the utopian dream? The future would be heaven on earth! A heaven without a God! In other words, a hell. And by neglect too. Indifference is worse than hatred. Too many just turn their backs, and again millions die, 16,000 children every day die from hunger, malnutrition. It doesn’t have to be.

There is no safe foundation for human rights other than the Hebrew belief that we are made in the image and likeness of God and the Christian conviction that we are saved by the blood of Christ, saved for the kingdom of God, a kingdom that can not be built by human hands alone, a kingdom that will only be realized in the fullness of time by his own return when we will share Christ’s divinity, who humbled himself to share our own humanity. That’s what Easter means. God has been good to us, generous, so merciful. So let us stop judging and show each other mercy. If we got what we deserve, none of us would get off easy! That too is what Easter means. Can we live this faith?

The Apostle Thomas’ faith faltered. He had followed Jesus through Galilee and Samaria to Jerusalem. He was there at the Sermon on the Mount. He was there when Jesus multiplied the loaves and the fishes. He was there at the Last Supper and so he was among Christ’s first priests. And yet he could say, “I’ll never believe unless….” Thomas’s doubt is a grace to all of us whose faith sometimes falters or grows weak. If we have the gift of faith, even as small as a mustard seed, we can water it, nurture it; it can grow, as the mustard seed, and shelter many. God has been merciful to us. Let us then be merciful to one another. 

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