Sunday Sermon for April 23, 2017, the Second Sunday of Easter, Year A
Readings: Acts 2:42-47; 1 Pt 1:3-9; Jn 20:19-31
In the second reading today St. Peter says that God has given us a new birth unto a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Of even greater news for us is the fact that he tells us that this in an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. This is great news for us because, as St. Peter reminds us, we have to suffer through many trials in this life, but this is to purify our faith, hope and charity. All of this, he tells us is the great mercy of God.
There are two parts to this that we have to consider. The first is pretty easy to see: it is God’s mercy that we have this new birth and, due to our waffling in the midst of our suffering, it is also most merciful to know that what God has for us will not be taken away or even reduced. We can reject God’s gifts, but His mercy continues to offer them to us in their fullness.
The second aspect of this is the suffering through the trials of this life. Most often we do not recognize these trials as part of God’s mercy. However, the Holy Spirit inspired the Sacred authors to instruct us to rejoice, count it pure joy, and find our joy in the trials. So, somehow the Saints can see what we cannot: that the trials are pure mercy on the part of God. They do not feel like the are merciful because we tend to think of mercy as removing the sufferings; on the other hand, we consider the sufferings themselves to be most unmerciful.
How are the sufferings merciful? As St. Peter points out, they test the genuineness of our faith and lead us to the praise, glory, and honor of Jesus. In other words, in our sinful state, we are not able to love God as much or as perfectly as we would like. The sufferings purify us so that we can love in a more perfect manner. Since this is what we are created for, and since it is what we will be doing for eternity in Heaven, the more we are purified, the better it is for us. God does not get anything out of our love, but the more we are able to love, the more we are able to receive of God’s love. This is why it is cause for rejoicing when we are involved in various trials.
The people in the early Church were so joyful in the realization of their salvation that they not only prayed and did things in common, but we are told in the first reading, they ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying the favor of the people. They were willing to give up everything because they had found that which was of the greatest value. The expression of their gratitude to God was found in a life of faith, hope, and charity. They loved God and served one another. Very early on there was not much suffering for the faith, but it did not take long and these people were purified through suffering. Even the threat of death did not dampen their spirit.
We are told that the early Christians devoted themselves to the teaching of the Apostles. The Apostles taught the basic tenets of the Faith as encapsulated in the Apostle’s Creed. Giving credence to these doctrines the people recognized the truth of what was being taught to them. Most of all, they also put their faith into practice through charity. They learned this from the Apostles as well; it was the way of life in the early Church.
The mercy the Lord had shown to the Apostles had to have come out so clearly in the way they spoke and lived. How powerful it must have been for them to be forgiven and to receive the power to forgive the sins of others. These are the very people who had run away and left our Lord to fend for Himself. They knew their own weakness and they experienced God’s mercy themselves. This personal experience of that infinite mercy changed their hearts so that they would treat others with the mercy with which they had been treated.
We might be jealous of the early Christians when we consider these things, but we have to remember that God chose to reveal His mercy in a fuller way only in our own day. His mercy is infinite and unchanging, but we have a greater understanding of it today. Knowing His mercy, we have to begin seeing everything as expressions of His mercy and, experiencing His mercy in the forgiveness of our sins, we then have to bring that mercy to others in our words and actions.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.