Divine Mercy Sunday

Douglas P. McManaman
Homily for the 2nd Sunday of Easter
April 15, 2020
Reproduced with Permission

Back in 2011 just before the Christmas holidays, I came down with a mysterious illness. It was mysterious, because no one in the medical profession was able to determine what it was. On the 23rd of December, I began to shiver and shake, and I was feeling tremendous pain around my head, my neck, and my arms, and so I climbed in bed, believing that this would pass by the time Christmas day came around. Well, it did not. I was in the emergency room on boxing day, in greater pain still. The pain moved from my head, shoulders and arms to my legs. The emergency doctor thought it might be polymyalgia rheumatica, for which there is no known cure. They sent me home with a prescription for painkillers and prednisone.

As the week went on, my condition was not improving, and I began to think that I would likely not be returning to the classroom. It was not only physical pain that I was contending with; I was also fighting despair. I felt waves of despair followed by feelings of depression come over me regularly, and I couldn't imagine how I was going to be able to live with this for the rest of my life. I was on the phone every day with my spiritual director, and at one point I said to him: "This must be what my patients have to go through every day." My ministry as a Deacon is to those who suffer from mental illness, and what this illness did was it gave me a glance, a momentary glance from the inside, at the dark and difficult road they have to travel throughout their lives. The experience gave me a much deeper appreciation for the nobility of their lives as sharers in the sufferings of Christ.

At one point, my spiritual director said to me: Just pray that prayer: "Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit. Into your hands Lord, I commend my spirit". What struck me was that these lines are part of the Night Prayer we are required to pray in the breviary, and so I've been saying those lines for years. But when we say certain prayers often enough, we can lose a sense of their depth of meaning. I never thought of that prayer in the context of my illness. And so, I said that prayer with great concentration. In other words, "Into your hands Lord, I commend my spirit; do with me as you please. If it is your will that I never return to the classroom, then so be it". That night I had the best sleep. I woke up in a spirit of great joy. I was still in a great deal of pain, but the darkness was dispelled. Soon after that, the pain began to subside and eventually I was slowly weaned off the prednisone, and I was able to return to the classroom and teach for another 8 years. But neither my family doctor nor any of the specialists I saw at that time knew what that illness was. The last specialist I saw assured me that it was not polymyalgia rheumatica, but she did not know what it was. All she said was that it was probably just a virus of some kind.

Over the years I've looked back at that experience as a great blessing; a gift. As I said, it helped me to see the mental sufferers that I visit in a different light. I have a taste of what they have to go through every day, year in and year out, and coming to some understanding of their predicament was essential if I was to keep them company in their sufferings.

And that is just what my ministry is: keeping them company in their sufferings, like my spiritual director kept company with me during that difficult period. And that is just what the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity is about. God the Son joins a human nature to himself and enters into human darkness; he joins himself to human suffering. He came to inject his light into our darkness and his life into our death, so that when we suffer, we no longer suffer alone, and we no longer die alone. We can find him in the midst of our suffering, and we can find him in the throes of our own death, and what we find is an inexhaustible mercy that joins us and keeps us company in our suffering and death.

The divine justice has been revealed, in the Person of Christ, as divine mercy. The mercy of God is revealed in his passion, death, and resurrection. Although we do not deserve it, God, who is eternal life itself, reveals the boundless depths of his mercy by dying, and in dying, he destroys the permanency, the darkness and despair of death. And He would have done that even if you or I were the only person who needed to be redeemed from eternal death. God does not love humanity in general. No, He loves each individual person as if there is only one of them to love. Although God does not have our attention at every moment of our lives, each individual person has his undivided attention at each and every instant of his or her existence.

That's how much each person is loved by God, and this life is about learning to discover that love. And it is this discovery that so many of us are afraid of. We will not allow ourselves to be touched by that love; for that love is like the sun in that it melts everything that remains under its rays. It melts our deepest resentments, but for some of us, our resentments have become a constituent part of our identity, and we feel our own identity would be lost without them, and so we resist that love. That love also will melt away our fears, but some people cling to those fears because of the identity that their self-defensive posture provides them; and of course that love will burn away our own sense of independence, the sense of our own adulthood in relation to God, restoring to us the profound sense that we are only children. Again, however, if a sense of our own independence has become a constituent part of our identity, our sense of who we are, we might resist that love out of fear of feeling lost without it. But of course, we are not lost. We have been found.

The mercy of God revealed in the Person of Christ, in his Incarnation, passion, death and resurrection, is completely and utterly unexpected. We see that mercy in the image of the cross, but the work we have yet to do is to allow that image of his incomprehensible mercy to move from the outside to the inside, from an object that we contemplate on the outside, to a light and love that we know from within ourselves. To achieve that completely takes a lifetime, but the day we begin to make our way down that road is the day we begin to live.