“More than ever, great numbers of men and women were added”: A homily for Divine Mercy Sunday (Year C)

divinemercyToday we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday.  The readings and the prayers of the church for today’s Holy Mass remind us of the central function of God’s mercy.  That is, Divine Mercy is ultimately about God giving us new life. The rays of divine mercy flowing form Jesus’s side are rays of new life (the red is his blood, the blood of life that floods our veins, and the blue is the water of salvation into which we are baptized).

Those rays of life, those rays of mercy shine upon all of us. They encompass the whole world. That is the ultimate promise of divine mercy, the ultimate promise of Jesus. The Lord by his resurrection gives us new life. He breathes new life into our flower beds, into the trees, into our families, into our world, into our hearts.

But especially—and today our readings focus on this—God breathes new life into his church. Yesterday evening as I was preaching this message, the wind was blowing off the shingles on the roof. It is the Lord fiercely breathing new life into this place, with gusto!

To be sure, God has breathed new life into his church for 2000 years. For 2000 years he has given his church great growth. We see it in all our readings. In the Gospel, we get the conversion story of one man named Thomas. He was the Richard Dawkins of his day. He doubted, refused to believe. But the rays of divine mercy pierced his locked door and fragile heart and brought him to his knees, to fierce belief, to the fold. His story is like billions of men and women down through the centuries. In our second reading, we see new life in the church. We hear that there was an island called Potmus Island. Even there, on a remote island, God was increasing his church by means of John’s proclamation and ministry. Even on an island.

And then we see in our first reading that the family of the early church is increasing like crazy. Acts gives us some stats from some early church censuses. The Church, we hear, started with 12, but then by the time of Judas’ betrayal, there were 120. Chapter four of Acts tells us that a few days later there were 5000. Chapter five tells us of a single day when 400 newbies came in, in an instant. Chapter 6 tells us of the first deacon class: there were 7 of them. There are all kinds of statistics and numbers in Acts. But today’s reading from Acts is a little less precise. It simply tells us that “more than ever, great numbers of men and women were added.” It’s as if the surveys of the early church officials were exploding and the statitians could not keep up, couldn’t keep track of the numbers.

Today we have the benefit of Excel. Today I have some numbers I consider good news from the Pew Research Center. Of the world’s 7.3 billion people, 89% consider themselves religious. In 1900, there were 267 million Catholics in the world. Today there are 1.2 billion Catholics. By 2050, 3 billion people will be Christian and 1.8 of those will be Catholic. Statitians say that we are growing at a slightly higher rate than the world population growth rate. That is good news!  Let’s think more locally. Today I baptized a young man born on Good Friday. Even on the Devil’s Day, life wins. And the Easter Vigil. 46 people entered the church a week ago right here at OLG. There is cause for rejoicing here! 46 people—a great number. But there is a story behind each one of them. That is 46 stories of God’s grace, each of which could fill a library.

Here’s our call today folks.  We are meant to be agents of divine mercy, agents of the new life Jesus is pumping into his church.  Which means that our names should be in somebody’s conversion story—our children, our parents, our friends, for sure—but also our teachers, our students, tour baristas and bartenders, our real estate agents and waiters, our classmates and employees.

There is a story told of a man who went to ask his girlfriend’s father for his permission to marry his daughter. Now this father had many kids, many of whom were young. The father looked at his future son in law and said, “You really think you can support a family?” The young man looked a little frightened and, after a moment, said, “Well, I can support your daughter, but the rest of you are going to have to fend for yourselves.” HAHAHA.

Today we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday. We celebrate that God is giving new life to his family the church, and that we never have to fend for ourselves. His mercy is always at hand and its rays are seeking to draw in the whole world. Let us be agents of it!! And let’s not stop until the whole world is baptized!