The Light in the Trees
May 1, 2011
Divine Mercy Sunday
1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31
In one of his poems the Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz asks God to come to him in some visible form. To bend the grasses like the wind in a field. To make the arm of a statue move in church. “I am only a man,” he says. “I need visible signs. / I tire easily, building the stairway of abstraction.”
And so do all of us. We are all only men and women. We believe in God even though we do not see him, as St. Peter puts it today. But it’s so hard sometimes, to have only glimpses and intuitions and ideas. Like Thomas in the gospel, we are human beings and so we need to see things with our own eyes. Touch them with our own hands.
That’s why the sacraments are so essential. In the bread and the wine we behold the body and blood, and we eat them, we drink them, we take them into our own bodies. In the people around us at mass, in their hands and their faces, we see the Lord. We feel. We know.
And that’s the grace of Divine Mercy Sunday and of the visions of the Blessed Faustina, this Polish nun who like Milosz lived in Poland in the 1930s, before the war, and who had several visions of Jesus. She saw something concrete, something visible, an image of rays of light shooting out of the heart of Jesus, and she heard Jesus tell her to pray the rosary in a certain way, and that’s the gift, as it always is with the rosary. That we can touch something. That our fingers can feel the beads and our voice can say the words and that as we do these things we can focus our attention.
It’s a simple and beautiful way of praying the rosary. On the Our Father beads we simply pray that through Christ God will forgive the sins of the world. On the Hail Mary beads we say again, “for the sake of His Sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.” Then we conclude, three times, with “Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us and on the whole world.”
And when in 2002 Pope John Paul, another Pole, another person who lived in Poland before the war, when he made the Sunday after Easter Divine Mercy Sunday and invited all of us to practice this particular form of devotion, a form of devotion he personally knew and loved, he was giving us what the church is always giving us, another visible sign, another way of touching and feeling the mercy of God.
And today in Rome, on this Divine Mercy Sunday, when John Paul was beatified, we were given still another sign.
There’s nothing new here, as of course there never can be. What was revealed in Christ is perfect and complete. “I want the whole world to know my Infinite Mercy,” Jesus told Faustina in one of her visions,” as he is always telling us and always has told us, in every word of scripture, in every gesture of the mass. “I want to give unimaginable graces to those who trust in My Mercy,” he tells her, as he tells the disciples in the gospel today, very simply, very plainly. “Peace be with you,” he says. Peace.
Summarizing the scriptures and the whole tradition of the Church, Pope John Paul explains in his encyclical on the mercy of God that this mercy and this love are “inexhaustible.” “Infinite are the readiness and power of forgiveness,” he says, “which flow continually from the marvelous value of the sacrifice of the Son.”
Forgiveness flows continually. It has always been there and always will be there. We don’t manipulate and control it with any particular devotion or practice, and we don’t have to. All we have to do is ask for it. Turn towards it. Because Jesus is always seeking us out, in a thousand, thousand ways, in Poland and in Oregon, in Argentina and Mexico and the Philippines, everywhere, in the languages and the styles of every culture and time, loving us and reaching out to us and calling us to himself.
He doesn’t have to be convinced. We do. The chaplet isn’t for him, it’s for us.
The resurrection had already taken place, it was fact, before Thomas ever touched the blessed wounds, and it would have been fact if he never had. What happened in that room wasn’t for the Lord. It was for Thomas. It was to help him recognize what was always already true.
When we pray we don’t change God, C. S. Lewis says, we change ourselves.
We bring ourselves into alignment with the divine, we try to make ourselves available to it, and for that we need all the help we can get, every bead and prayer and image and story, though finally all we really need is trust.
“Trust in me” Jesus tells Faustina. That’s all. Those are the words written under the image of the Divine Mercy and those are the words written under every moment in our lives.
I’m having coffee with a friend, we’re sharing our hopes and our stories, and after a while I begin to hear this, beneath our conversation, I began to feel this, very faintly, but there: trust in me. Trust in me.
I’m looking out my window in the early evening, and the maple tree is starting to bud, and the clouds are moving above it, forming and reforming, and I hear this again, I feel this: trust. Be at peace. There’s nothing to be afraid of, nothing to do.
I’m standing at the altar at Father Matt’s funeral, and I look at the bowl and I look at the cup. I embrace the other ministers at the Sign of Peace. Father Matt’s coffin is at the foot of the altar, his head facing the congregation, as if he were still sitting there, in his wheelchair, giving us communion, as in a way he is.
God expresses his great mercy, John Paul says, “by means of the whole universe,” by means of every cloud and tree and moment, every person, as if the whole universe is a chaplet, the whole universe is a devotion, and it is.
The grasses do bend. The statue does move.
We could wish things clearer and more definite. We could wish that we were always touching the wounds. But in a way we always are, we always are, and for this we should be grateful: for the Blessed Faustina and for our families, our friends; for Blessed John Paul and the person sitting next to us, right now; for the light raying out of the Lord and the light raying down in the evening. For all the signs and images, let us be grateful: grateful to this world, grateful to this life, grateful to the Church in this place and this time, here in Corvallis, in May, through which the mercy of God is always flowing, as it always has and always will.