Today Catholic Christians celebrate the Second Sunday of Easter. Since the year 2000, this has also been known as Divine Mercy Sunday.
In two of today’s Scripture selections, those from the Psalm and Gospel, we hear about God’s mercy.
In the Psalm, we read,
Give thanks to the Lord, who is good, whose love endures
Let the house of Israel say, “His mercy endures forever.”
Let the house of Aaron say, “His mercy endures forever.”
Let those who fear the Lord say, “His mercy endures
forever” (Psalm 118: 1-4).
Then in the Gospel, we hear learn how Jesus, who knew that human beings often sinned, created the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We read that after his resurrection from the dead, Jesus appeared to his disciples. He then said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained” (John 20: 22-23).
For over 2,000 years, Catholic Christians have treasured and celebrated the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the beautiful gift that assures us that God loves us and is always ready to shower us with his mercy, his forgiveness.
Sometimes, though, we take this sacrament for granted. We sometimes fail to realize the incredible power and beauty of this gift. That can even happen to priests who have the power, from their priestly ordination, to celebrate Reconciliation. That is what happened to the priest in the following story.
Fr. Harry Schlitt was a young priest of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau in Missouri when this event occurred.
Although he was a priest of this diocese, his bishop allowed him to minister to a wider flock via radio and television. Before long, he became known as a “rock and roll priest,” and his life is portrayed in his book, I’ll Never Tell: Odyssey of a Rock and Roll Priest, (Sand Hill Review Press, 2016). He especially had the ability to touch the hearts of teenagers.
One day, as he was in Los Angeles, he went to the CBS studio to appear on a show hosted by a television host and media mogul named Merv Griffin. As it turned out, Fr. Harry never did get on the show that night because Merv ran out of time.
But while Merv worked, Fr. Harry listened carefully to the various acts that Merv welcomed on the show. Fr. Harry decided that it would be wonderful if he could show off his talent to Merv. He imagined the day when he could go before a live audience, tell a story or two, and warm up the audience for Merv. Then, when he got the people in a good mood, he could inject some serious life lesson.
So, when Merv finally had time to sit down with Fr. Harry. Fr. Harry told Merv about his desire to be an entertainer with Merv. Merv listened very respectfully. When Fr. Harry was finished, Merv gently and wisely informed the priest that there were many comedians who were unemployed and would love to do what Harry was proposing to do. In fact, Merv said there were dozens of unemployed actors he interviewed every week who would love to have a job working with him. Unfortunately, Merv had to say “no” to all of them.
After telling Fr. Harry about how many people would love to work in television with him, he said, “Harry, you can forgive sins, change bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. Why in the world would you want to entertain these folks in the audience who come here to see a free show? Thank God for the gift you have as a priest and keep being a priest” (p. 146).
Fr. Harry, who became a monsignor, learned from Merv’s advice.
From Msgr. Harry’s story and that of the Scripture, we can learn many things. Here are just three.
First, in Catholic Christian theology, mercy refers to active compassion toward another in unfortunately circumstance. In other words, felling sorry for someone is insufficient; for mercy to occur, we must act to reduce the suffering.
Second, human beings show mercy when the engage in the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. The corporal works of mercy include things such as feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, visiting those in prison, sheltering the homeless, and caring for the poor. The spiritual works of mercy include instructing the ignorant, praying for the living and the dead, counseling the doubtful, admonishing sinners, comforting the sorrowful, forgiving injuries, and bearing wrongs patiently.
Third, God does mercy by forgiving our sins. One of the concrete ways God does this is through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Catholic Christians also, however, ask God to forgive the sins of all humans – everyone who ever lived, everyone who is alive, and everyone who ever will live. We ask this because in the Catholic imagination, God’s love and mercy have no limits. God gives mercy not because we “deserve” it, but because he loves us and wants the best for each and every one of us.
As we continue our life journeys this week, it would be a good idea to reflect on how we show mercy toward others.
And that is the good news I have for you on this Second Sunday of Easter, 2018.
Story source: Monsignor Harry G. Schlitt, I’ll Never Tell; Odyssey of a Rock and Roll Priest, San Mateo, CA: Sand Hill Review Press, 2016.