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Divine Mercy Sunday
during the coronavirus pandemic
April 19, 2020

Click here to watch the video of Father Ryan's homily
(homily begins at 29:00)

     The readings for this second of the Easter Sundays are a nice combination of idealism and realism.  The description of the earliest Christian community that we heard in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles is so idealistic as to seem implausible if not incredible. The community of believers lived in peace, we are told, and they shared everything in common. Everything! They kept nothing for themselves, they met together daily for prayer and Eucharist, and they witnessed many signs and wonders done by the Apostles. No wonder we are told that the community grew by leaps and bounds!

      The note of realism comes in the gospel story of doubting Thomas and I’m guessing that story rings a bit more true for us than the idyllic one from Acts, we who sometimes find ourselves struggling to hold onto our faith, struggling to believe!  But both stories are true and we need both in order to keep our balance as we strive to live as faithful disciples of Christ.

     The ideal Church and the real Church, the Church full of faith and the Church dogged by doubt, the Church made one by the Eucharist and the Church divided by controversies, the “imperfectly perfect church” I like to call it - this holy Church of sinners is the Church in which we meet the Risen Jesus as Thomas did: meet him, touch him, and find ourselves touched and transformed by him.

     And, my friends, this holy Church of sinners is the only Church there is. At times we glory in its goodness (I think of that hauntingly beautiful moment not long ago when Pope Francis appeared alone in St. Peter’s Square to quietly bless the world stricken with the coronavirus - that was the Church at its best, I thought); at times we glory in the Church’s goodness and at other times we are disheartened – or worse - by its flaws, so many of which we have had to deal with in recent years. And, let’s be honest: those flaws, those terrible failings, have completely disillusioned many people and driven them away from the Church in search of something more authentic, something more pure, something that won’t fail them when they need it most. Some of you who have tuned in this morning may be among those people. I’m glad you’re here. It’s possible that the pandemic we’re living through has prompted you to take another look at the Church, to think – however cautiously – that there may, in fact, be something here for you after all – that there may be more good here than all the evil that has come to light.

       If so, God is at work, and I just want to say to you that I get where you’re coming from. I do. I sympathize with your struggles and understand your anger. Terrible sins – crimes - have been committed by Church leaders, and the Body of Christ has been gravely wounded. But, without making any excuses whatever – and acknowledging the truth of the old Roman aphorism, Corruptio optimi pessima (corruption is the worst when it comes from those from whom we should be able to expect the most) – still, maybe we shouldn’t be entirely surprised or scandalized by the Church’s sins and shortcomings because, no matter how divinely guided, the Church is made up of human beings and, as we know only too well, human beings sin and lose their way.

        So, for me, the wonder is not so much that these dreadful things have happened or that other equally dreadful things have happened down through the Church’s long history, the wonder is that, despite it all, and through it all, God has continued to work wonders of grace in the lives of countless people and that great things have and are being accomplished. For me, that’s the greatest proof that God is at work in the Church.

         Over the past weeks in telephone conversations I’ve had with many of you, you have awakened me to how good your understanding of Church is as you’ve shared with me your deep sadness at not being able to gather with the community in the Cathedral, your sadness at not being able to receive the Eucharist. In so many of those conversations you have made it clear to me that you know that the Church is not some abstract impersonal entity way off in Rome; no, you know that the Church is, before all else, God’s people, God’s holy  people, God’s sinful people, people alive with the Spirit of God, people weighed down by the spirit of evil, people who can be very flawed and very holy at the same time. You know, in other words, that we are the Church and that whenever we come together even virtually, as we do today – and whenever we serve in the name of Christ - we are doing more than fulfilling an obligation, we are coming alive as the Body of Christ, touching the Divine Mercy that we cannot live without, the Divine Mercy that lives, however imperfectly, in this community of believers we call the Church.

     Dear friends, I began by speaking about the ideal Church and the real Church. The longer I live, the more convinced I am that there is only the real Church. The community of believers in the Acts of the Apostles may seem to have done everything just right, but only a couple of chapters after today’s passage, there’s the story of two members of that community, Ananias and Sapphira, wealthy property owners who did everything wrong. Ananias was struck dead because of his scheming ways, his lies, his selfish duplicity. From the very beginning, then, the fresh, eager, and innocent Church turned out to be less than met the eye. It has always been this way, and it always will.

      Some words of Andrew Greeley, Chicago priest, gifted writer, sociologist and social commentator of the late 20th century come to mind: “If you can find a perfect Church,” he wrote, “by all means join it, but realize that when you joined it, it just ceased to be perfect…!”

      And now, my friends, it’s time to stand and profess our faith together. The Creed we proclaim is full of soaring, confident idealism. Think of it as our way of saying, along with the all-too-human and doubting Thomas, “My Lord and my God!”

Father Michael G. Ryan





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