Homily of H.E. Mons. Claudio Gatti of April 23, 2006
Easter Second Sunday or Divine Mercy Sunday (Year B)
1st Reading: Acts 4:32-35; Psalm 117; 2nd Reading: 1Jn 5:1-6; Gospel: Jn 20:19-31
The readings and the Mass introductory hymn have arisen a great deal of thoughts and reflections. The Sacred Scripture, as Word of God, arouses such beautiful and profound reflections that, even if we read the same passage every time, it seems new and ever richer. I give you what has been given to me.
The first two readings, if they were truly put into practice, would make the Church reborn in a short span of time.
The second reading is taken from the first letter of St. John the Apostle and indicates clearly and precisely what are the characteristics of the Christian who truly wants to feel a Son of God and be united with him.
The first reading, taken from the Acts of the Apostles, indicates what are the characteristics of every Christian community and Church, both particular and universal. If pastors could take care of these characteristics the Church would be reborn, rediscovering her luminous and young face, devoid of wrinkles and shadows.
Let's go in order. The first expression that may seem incomprehensible to some, repeats the great teaching of Christ according to which it is necessary to indissolubly unite the love to God and the love to neighbor. There cannot be only one love, there cannot be those who say they love God and then do not love their neighbor nor can there be those who love their neighbor but do not love God. These two loves are united and indissoluble, the word of God says: whoever loves the one who generated, also loves the one who was generated by him; whoever loves God also loves God's children because all God's children are generated by him.
Often, we pastors, priests and bishops, limit ourselves to write homilies that can strike the mind, arouse strong emotions but if we limit ourselves only to talking about love without living it we are just actors and, as such, upon us will befall the severe words of Christ calling us hypocrites.
The hypocrite is the one who shows what he is not. If I truly love, I cannot help but love God and man. When we love and when there is love within us, and many times you have heard this from me, we love everyone, even those who have made us suffer. If there is no love in me, I don't love anyone. Today, however, we are restricted by appearances.
Dear ones, it is not enough to do some work of charity, to caress the faces of children, to go to the houses where elderly and sick lay people or priests are hospitalized. These facts are reported in the press with triumphalist headlines; “May the right hand not know what the left does”, this is true charity. The presence of cameras and photographers should not be sought to perform acts of charity but the most respectful way to address those to whom we truly give our love is with silence and discretion.
When there is God's grace, John says, everything becomes easy; if we love God we keep to his commandments. Respecting the commandments is not an easy task but where our ability, our strength and our consistency fails, the grace of God succeeds.
We cannot keep to the commandments without God's grace.
“This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands, and his commands are not burdensome" (1 Jn 5:2-3).
The Word of God must always be read with utmost attention; whoever has the grace of God can keep to all the commandments. It is possible to respect them if we are united with God, if we rely on his grace and if we are strengthened and guided by it. This is what the saints did and, in the church, they are not exceptions, but the rule.
To those who were amazed and partly scandalized because John Paul II, during the years of his pontificate, raised to the altars so many saints belonging even to the humblest categories, we reply that, in reality, he beatified and canonized just a few. In fact, according to God's will, we are all called to holiness, and even if not officially declared, we all are called to an authentic holiness lived in hiding that will allow us to immediately reach the joy and glory of Heaven.
There has always been an opposition between Christ and the world, between those who follow Christ and those who follow the world. From here originates what you have seen and what Marisa and I have experienced: struggles, oppositions, slanders, persecutions, condemnations towards the children of God made by those who belong to the world and not to God.
Remember the beautiful prayer of Jesus: "Father, I pray for mine who are in the world but are not of the world" (Jn 17:16). Of the world can also be people who have skullcaps of various colors, identical or different from mine, it makes no difference. The only difference is that whoever is born of God is a child of God and knows the Father and what He does, while whoever does not come from God does not know his works but, on the contrary, condemns and fights it. This is the history of the Church since its birth, despite the fact that twenty centuries have now passed. You will realize how comforting this reality is for those who are united with God and painful for those who are far from him because evil and sin are always the most negative aspect of the whole world.
"This is Jesus Christ who came with water and blood, not with water only, but with water and blood" (1 Jn 5:6). Also in the Gospel of John there is this expression when Jesus is on the cross: "One of the soldiers struck him in the side with a spear and immediately blood and water came out. Whoever has seen bears witness and his testimony is true and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you too may believe" (Jn 19:34-35). From the pierced side of the Lord all the sacraments of the Church came out and in a particular way the Eucharist. The expression "Water and Blood" must remind us of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross that the Lord anticipated on Holy Thursday in the Upper Room with the apostles. The Eucharist is what we need: "This is Jesus Christ who came with water and blood, not with water only, but with water and blood" (1 Jn 5:6). Christ gave us his blood, every drop of his blood, every flap of his flesh, of his skin so cruelly scourged and removed; he gave us everything and gave it to us in the Eucharist.
There is an expression in the Gospel we read today and it is a reproach that Jesus addresses to Thomas: "Then he said to Thomas: "Put your finger here and look at my hands; stretch out your hand, and put it in my side; and no longer be incredulous but a believer!"" (Jn 20:27).
In the story of the Gospel I have seen our history partly reflected. The apostles are in the Upper Room, Christ arrives, shows himself to them and the apostles believe because they have seen him. Thomas is not present, they tell him that Christ entered the upper room behind closed doors, showed himself to them and instituted the sacrament of Confession but at that time Thomas does not believe. We see it in our history: we have seen Eucharistic miracles and we have believed and witnessed to others what we have seen. How many successors of the apostles behaved like the apostle Thomas and did not believe. In Thomas there was still the image of Christ who died on the cross, accompanied and locked up in the tomb and this is a mitigating factor although Christ had spoken several times of the Resurrection. The successors of the apostles, on the other hand, have absolutely no excuse for their refusal. I hear this cry from Christ addressed to priests, to bishops: "Do not be unbelievers, but believers!” To be believers we must go towards the Eucharist, without putting our finger in Christ's wounds or our hand in his side but going towards the Lord who dies, rises and is really present in the Eucharist. We must love Jesus in the Eucharist, feed on his flesh, drink his blood to have eternal life and the possibility of thinking and acting as God wants. “Don't be incredulous, but believers!” Lord, You have never stopped screaming and shouting like this, but who picks up Your cry, your lament? Only those who have their hearts open to Your grace are aware of being weak and fragile.
Communities grow spiritually around Christ who suffered, died, rose and is present in the Eucharist; without all this there is no spiritual growth. Even if in contradiction with human mentality, those who are truly united with him in such a lofty and sublime way can repeat the words of St. Paul: "I complete in my flesh what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ" (Col 1:24).
I have spoken with several of you and we have reflected on all the trials that this community has been experiencing since a long time, it is experiencing them in the bishop and in the seer, but also in many of its members because Christ has united us to himself in suffering.
The Lord does not unite sinners to himself in suffering and immolation but the people in whom he sees his crucified face even if it is painful to know it and it is frightening to live it. I believe that no community has been tried by God and struck by men like ours, partly relieved and helped by God's interventions. We must look towards the Cross and open our hearts to the grace, look up and fix it on those wounds and think that if God has asked this from his Son he certainly asks it, to a different extent, from other children.
Christ was afraid of suffering and tried to escape suffering; it is not an offense but it means to sublimate his humanity and feel him close to us. I have before my eyes the Christ of Gethsemane who moans, weeps and screams: "My God, my God, where are you!” This is the Christ close to us, bending over us.
Once the days of the sepulcher were over, Christ rose in the splendor of his divinity, of his power and omnipotence. This resurrection will also be there for us and it will be so beautiful and great that Our Lady said that we cannot figure it out, as yet. Of course, times are protracted, difficulties are accentuated, fatigue increases, but I believe that we must close ranks, be united and, as written in the first reading, we must form one heart and one soul. A single heart means manifestations of affection, sensitivity, understanding, attention for each other. A single soul means to be all projected towards goodness, guided by grace and enlightened by the Holy Spirit. This we must give to the Church that is being reborn, this is the testimony that we must give. Do not believe that there are only enemies who fight us or ignore us, there are also many who believe in this path and are reborn because of the testimony we are giving them. John Paul II said: "The Church has always been reborn from the blood and tears of her children".
How much blood have we shed and how many tears! At times it was overbearing and strong and urgent was the desire to get away and many did. Our small community was attended by many souls, some have gone away, I don't know what the reason was, if out of tiredness or because they were overwhelmed by temptation or because they met people who gave them bad advice but you all allow the grace of God to guide you.
Your Bishop is tired, tried, exhausted, never as he is now, but I see the image of Jesus walking the roads that will lead him to Calvary. He is more tired than I am, more distraught than I am, he has a weight on his shoulders greater than mine and he collapses, falls and, with difficulty, pointing his knees and elbows, gets up and then walks towards the place where the cross will be erected.
We hope that with God's mercy, the day will soon come when we will be able to sing the Gloria with such a piercing, strong and powerful voice that it will resound from church to church, from basilica to basilica, from diocese to diocese, throughout the Church. Today we cry softly: "Christus Vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat" and may be accompanied by the singing of angels, saints and especially by the singing of Our Lady, because there is nothing more beautiful, greater than the victory of Jesus experienced by his children who followed him with love, with their weakness but also by gritting their teeth and looking upwards.
Sometimes we have said with a lament: "Lord, hurry up to do what you promised", now say it again as a beginning of something beautiful and great that does not concern only our small community but the whole Church in its entirety. Then there will be authentic shepherds according to the heart of Christ and every priest will be an authentic shepherd, an authentic apostle who, carrying God's love within himself, will know how to give it to all those who need it.
Praised be Jesus Christ.