Saturday, April 10, 2010

Father Michael Denk

Homily – Divine Mercy Sunday

Year C

April 11, 2010

The other night I was with a group of priests and we were just reflecting on some of the neat moments in our priesthood. One of the guys shared a story from a recent retreat he was on. The priest that directed the retreat was a Franciscan priest and he told this beautiful story of an experience he had as a newly ordained. I was so moved by this true story that I wanted to share it with you on Divine Mercy Sunday.

So imagine this newly ordained priest around my age who is assigned to a parish and there are four priests living there. The pastor is a monsignor and always dressed very proper. So imagine Fr. Ralph, always finely dressed with cufflinks and suit jacket. Every night they sat down to dinner it was on the formal side and the Franciscan loved it because since he vowed poverty he would come in wearing his brown habit and sandals (a man after my own heart!). One evening as they were eating dinner they got an emergency call that someone was in the hospital dying of AIDS and needed Last Rites. Now this was back in the ‘80s when AIDS had just come on the scene and they weren’t really sure what caused it or how someone contracted it. The Monsignor asked his associates if any of them would be willing to go… the two other associates told him they had something they needed to attend to and when it got to Franciscan he was very candid and said: “I’m a little afraid of going, I don’t know if it is contagious and I’m just not comfortable.” So the Monsignor offered, “How about if I go with you?”

So the Monsignor and the newly ordained Franciscan drove down together to the Hospital. When they arrived there they were instructed to prepare for entering the quarantine. They put on sterile gloves, and face masks with hoods that zipped up the back, and gowns so that they were completely protected and could enter the quarantined room. The Franciscan noticed how strange it was to see the monsignor dressed like this. As they went into the room the man was lying in his bed. The Franciscan nervously watched as the Monsignor prayed the ritual and then went to anoint the man with his gloves still on. After he anointed him the man’s eyes teared up and he looked at them both and began to speak… “Do you know it’s been almost three months…” The tears began to stream and his lips quivered and he choked up… and finally got the rest of the sentence out… “since I’ve been touched by anyone’s bare hands?” He looked at them with such a sadness that it broke the Franciscan’s heart. He didn’t know how to respond and noticed the Monsignor, whom he’d always seen so clean and proper, immediately rip off his gloves and his mask and his hospital gown and sat on the edge of the bed and took the man into his arms touching his hands with his own bare hands. He risked his own health because this dying man so needed to be touched and healed.

This is a beautiful image for Divine Mercy Sunday. Our Lord makes himself vulnerable to us. He strips himself of his Divinity and embraces our humanity. When the doors were locked, where the disciples were, Jesus came and stood in their midst. Nothing will keep him from entering into our quarantine. He knows how much we need him and want to be touched by Him. And when Doubting Thomas misses the experience of his appearance he says “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” The Lord allows him to do just that. He allows Thomas to touch him right in his wounds.

Our Lord allowed himself to be stripped of his garments and made himself so vulnerable to us, willing to risk his health and his life for us. He opened his hands as they were nailed to the cross in complete offering to us. All so that we could be touched by him. We are like the man on that hospital bed and are so in need of God’s touch. He knows that it has been a while since you have felt that. He knows how much you need his touch. He knows that you have in some ways locked the doors or hardened your heart. But he enters through locked doors and he takes off the protective mask and gloves. And He touches us in a very real way. In the Eucharist that we will receive today we will touch the flesh of Christ. We will take his body onto our tongues. And his blood which is pure and holy will cleanse our blood as we drink from the cup. God knows that we need this touch. He is also present in the gathered assembly so as you turn to embrace each other at the sign of peace, these are God’s hands, God’s cheeks, God’s embrace, and God’s eyes. Let him touch you in the sign of peace.

We can also experience his healing touch in the sacrament of Confession which is one of the most beautiful ways of experiencing Jesus’ Divine Mercy. God desired to touch us with human hands and so after your sins are forgiven he uses the hands of the priest to lay on your head and absolve you of your sins in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Nothing is too scandalous for him.

Just as the Monsignor did not hesitate to enter the quarantine and then to rip off his gloves, God can enter in through your locked doors. God will not be quarantined from your life. He is not afraid to risk rejection, He is not afraid to be catch your illness, he is not afraid to strip himself of his own dignity to enter into our sinfulness. And he does so in such a beautiful way right here at this altar. We experience the real presence of Christ in the sacraments. All of the sacraments involve touch and in a very beautiful way we experience the touch of Christ in the sacrament of Reconciliation and in the Eucharist. He knows it’s been a long time since you’ve felt his touch and he’s here for you. Nothing will keep him away and nothing will keep him out. He knows that you need to be touched and on this Divine Mercy Sunday He will touch you and heal you.

1 comment:

  1. WOW! This is so powerful and so to the point. I never thought about DM Sunday this way. I often think about, and say to friends, to think about the fact that God so loves us that he became one of us to prove His love. But, your story is so much more powerful. Thank you for sharing with us. May God continue to bless your ministry and guide you through all the temptations and travails you might encounter. You have a real gift and are a blessing to all of us.

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