So this past week, as I’ve been preparing this weekend’s homily, I was also preparing the talk I would give. One of the people who I referenced in my talk was the Canadian professor Marshal McCluhan, who some of you may remember. Many do not realize that McCluhan was a Catholic convert, or as he said “A Catholic of the worst kind.” But his field of research was modern social media and communication. He coined the famous phrase “The Medium is the Message.” In other words, he said, it is not just the content, but the way that the content is experienced, that is the message.
So this idea was floating around my mind as I was reflecting on the readings for this weekend, for Divine Mercy Sunday.
This is a remarkable weekend for our Church, an historic weekend, as we watch two current popes at the canonization of two popes of recent, modern memory. And on Divine Mercy Sunday.
This is not accidental. The timing of these canonizations, and the saints who are canonized come together to teach us something very important as we seek to follow Christ in the modern world: that mercy is the medium of the message of God’s love. Mercy is the way that our modern world is able to hear the Gospel.
What do we mean by mercy, by divine mercy? I think sometimes we can have this idea that it is God’s pity for us. We think of the forlorn looking statues… Mercy is paired in our minds with guilt, as if we cannot celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday without feeling guilty. And we might even wonder why St. John Paul II decided to place this Sunday not only within the season of Easter, but on the 1st Sunday afterward.
But if we think of Divine Mercy as the medium, as the way that God’s love is lived and experienced, I think what becomes clear is that this Sunday is actually a deep reflection on the Easter mystery, on the mystery of Christ, risen from the dead. Last weekend as we came to the empty tomb we learned that in Christ love is stronger than death. This weekend we find out how much stronger.
And this is because what characterizes mercy, what defines mercy is love in a certain contrast. Mercy is love in the face of sin, love in the face of falsity, love in the face of ugliness. Mercy is light in the midst of darkness. Divine mercy is the reality of God’s immeasurable love powerfully at work, not in the perfect places in our world, but at the furthest reaches and darkest corners.
Divine Mercy reveals the breadth of God’s love: how far his love will go - that it will go all the way to the gates of hell, that God’s love will leave the 99 in search of the 1, that there is no place in the universe that is isolated from the love of God. Divine Mercy shows us that Gods love is universal in space.
And Divine Mercy shows the faithfulness of God’s love – that God’s love never fails, that it never ends, that it is without limit. The love of Christ is always ready to forgive, to extend backward and forward in time to bring healing. No time is isolated or deprived of God’s love. Divine Mercy shows us that God’s love is universal in time.
As we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday, then, we are really celebrating the universality of God’s saving love in time and space – that through the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ, all time and all space is permeated with love of God.
And so it is very fitting that we canonize these two popes on Divine Mercy Sunday. They were men who emphasized the wideness, the breadth, the faithfulness of God’s love.
I’m not sure how much you have heard the media coverage of the canonizations, but I have found some of it to be very frustrating – just continually politicized. “Pope Francis chose to canonize Pope John XXIII to please the liberals, and to canonize Pope John Paul II to please the conservatives,” I heard recently. I’m not sure where to even begin in responding to that… it’s just such an impoverished and distorted understanding of what is happening.
No – Pope Francis chose to canonize these two great men together because, he said, that he wanted to show that they worked in harmony, teaching and guiding us along the same path. In a sense we might think of St. John XXIII as the pope who taught us of the faithfulness of God’s love, of his mercy in time – that he has not abandoned the Church in the modern world, but that he still walks with us and guides us. And Saint John Paul II taught us the breadth of God’s love – as he traveled all over our world he spread the message that God’s love reaches out to all people and extends to every corner of the world. In a sense we could say that St. John XXIII opened the doors of the Church, and Saint John Paul II walked through them. Both of them worked to bring the Church more deeply into an encounter with the modern world so that we could be the medium of mercy, the tangible presence of God’s love among all people today.
In our second reading today, St. Peter, the first pope since he was the first bishop of Rome, proclaimed this same message of God’s mercy:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
And he also taught us about the universality, the breadth of God’s mercy and love, saying that in Christ we have received “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.”
This weekend let us pray for the intercession of our two newest pope saints along with St. Peter - to help all of us to proclaim the same message, to be signs to our world that the Easter victory of God’s love over sin and death was not limited to the tomb on Easter morning, not limited to certain holy men and women, and certainly not limited to those who worship within these walls. We show that by being the presence of God’s love in the darkness, in the furthest corners of life – by showing that God’s love extends to the places where people think God is absent. There may we be the medium that is the message, the light in the darkness, the vessels of Christ’s merciful love in our world.