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Homily of Bishop Denis on Divine Mercy Sunday

Bishop Denis celebrated Divine Mercy Sunday Mass in St’s Peter and Paul’s Church, Portlaoise.


Peace be with you[1], the words spoken several times by Jesus into the heaviness of that room where the disciples huddled away in fear. There are many people joining us today, through Portlaoise Parish webcam and Shalom World TV who also need to hear those words “Peace be with you” on this Divine Mercy afternoon, as the Easter Octave culminates. You are all most welcome.

In fact, John’s gospel gives us the full octave literally! The hope and joy we take as Christians from the Easter story allow us to live even these stranger and abnormal Easter days, despite the coronavirus and the devastating destruction it leaves in its wake.

I include in my prayers this afternoon the 571 who have died since the first Covid-19 victim here on March 11th and the 14,758 confirmed cases as of last evening and the thousands of frontline personnel who are exhausted from trying to contain the spread of this virus. Behind every number, ever statistic, every calculation – there is someone’s mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, brother, sister, son, daughter or friend.

In many respects the Easter readings speak to a Church that is rooted in a room, your room, your home, from where you join us this afternoon. At the three o’clock hour we commence our devotion, exactly nine days since Good Friday. Thomas and his doubts frame todays celebration just as Peter and his denials framed Good Friday.

And we also have Thomas’ profession of faith … nowhere is there a greater acclamation of faith made by any follower of Jesus: “My Lord and my God![2] We make that same profession as we call to mind our sins and the need that brings all of us together, virtually and spiritually, His love and mercy …


Mercy, Divine Mercy. John’s splendid gospel text of just twelve verses, which we hear on this Sunday every year, manages to book end the last eight days – the Octave of Easter. We begin with the tardy Thomas who misses that encounter with the Risen One on Easter Sunday evening and we conclude with the believing Thomas who says it as it is: “My Lord and my God[3]. St. Faustyna’s vision has inspired the devotion to the Divine Mercy. We all very well know the image with the most simple message underneath: “Jesus, I trust in You”. How many times perhaps we too have uttered those words in recent weeks: “Jesus, I trust in you”.

Mercy is the only thing that overcomes all fear and builds up trust. Remember Thomas, despite all the paintings that suggest he pokes or prods into the wounds of Jesus, I don’t believe he ever did. He didn’t have to, he met Mercy, when he met the Risen Lord. Mercy flowing from the wounds of Jesus. The gospel assures us the historic wounds of Jesus are not erased in the resurrection, the wounds of the past are integrated into His glorious body. I think of the time St. Pio’s body was exhumed, pilgrims travelled in their thousands to see the stigmata on his body and were disappointed. His wounds were gone, but not Jesus’. Let’s not underestimate the wounds of the disciples, wounds inflicted by family and friends are always the hardest to bear. We are called today to be missioners of mercy, agents of mercy. Don’t keep mercy all for ourselves.

Mercy, Divine Mercy is of its very nature not to hoarded, there are four aspects to it this day. I am going to suggest it is personal, communal, societal and global in the context of this current pandemic.

Divine Mercy is personal as we sit at home cocoooned or isolated, aware of our brokeneness and wounds. We can’t go to confession but we are not to sit in the wounds of our sin, we can in our own way tell the Lord we’re sorry. In time to come we will get that chance again to go to the sacrament not to beat ourselves up about sin but to feel the warmth of the father’s forgiveness.

Divine Mercy is communal as we struggle to live, work and recreate within the current restrictions. Often within the confines of our own very busy home. Of course we get on each others nerves; of course this new normal is driving us around the bend, but remember the heaviness we experience was first experienced in a room where the disciples had gathered. And just as there was a heaviness in that room where the disciples gathered in fear, there is a heaviness across our homes as we struggle to deal with this coronavirus pandemic.

Divine Mercy is societal as we navigate the next course of our response to this pandemic. Since the arrival of Covid-19 and the first death just six weeks ago, the group who are widely acknowledged as disproportionately suffering are our vulnerable and our older generation. This is the generation which Pope Francis spoke of so lovingly in a recent homily as “our roots, our story, our history[4]. None of us need to look too far to recognise this most vulnerable and at risk category. I fondly think of those who have died in the Maryborough facility at St. Fintan’s Hospital, here beside St. Peter & Paul’s Church in Portlaoise.

We all realise that the hearts and hands of staff are the hearts and hands of family to many many patients at this time. I know that many frontline staff go beyond their duty rota or job description to protect the most vulnerable. It is imperative that the best possible treatment is made available to those who are most vulnerable to Covid-19 and that staff working in these homes and facilities are equipped with a sufficient and proper supply of PPE. Every life matters. Every life counts. Every life is precious irrespective of age or potential productivity. But is there more we need to do at a societal level in ensuring that proper treatment at the very earliest stage is offered to everyone irrespective of age or capactity? Those in care homes, those in institutional care are our relatives, our neighbours, our friends. I welcome the renewed focus and impetus around their care, announced in recent days.

And Divine Mercy is also global. No one is saved alone. No one is forgiven alone. No one can remain indifferent to his brother and sister. Pope Francis reminded us last Friday: “an emergency like that of Covid-19 is overcome with, above all, the antibodies of solidarity[5].  There are things we all might share a responsibility for. In this current pandemic the scarce resource such as the oil of yesterday is the PPE equipment of today. Every country is in a race to accumulate supplies. But at whose cost? If we, because of our resources outbid aid agencies and poorer countries in their quest for medical equipment, who suffers more? If we accumulate a bank of this equipment because we are not sure how long the virus well last, at whose expense are the PPE supplies amassed. At the expense of the poorest of the poor in our developing world. And we all accept if the coronavirus gets a decent foothold into Africa it will decimate the continent. Forget about hand washing, when sanitation is already very basic. Forget about social distancing when culture norms are very different. Forget about isolating or cocooning when everyone lives in one room.

The heart of todays gospel is the power, the privilege, the perseverance to forgive sins, given to our priests. I want to thank our priests who stand shoulder to shoulder with frontline staff right across this land. These are difficult days on priests as they try to reimagine ministry without the usual pastoral interaction that is so much the life of the local church. There are cocooned priests streaming Masses on Facebook from their homes, reaching out to their parishioners. There are priests using their phones to regularly check up on their more vulnerable parishioners. There are priests celebrating funerals of Covid-19 and non Covid parishioners within the very restrictive guidelines as laid down by the health authorities. Guidelines there for a very good reason, but guidelines that fly in the face of ministry as we know it and are accustomed to it. There are priests ministering in hospitals, nursing homes and residential centres who are to be applauded for their presence with people at this most criticial time.

Being able to embrace the bereaved; being able to forgive the penitent, being able to attend to the regular sick call without any concerns is still a little bit down the road, but we are getting there. And on this Easter Octave day, in the words of St. Faustyna we entrust everything to the Lord and His mercy, reminding ourselves that mercy on this Divine Mercy day is personal, communal, societal and global. Amen.


[1] Jn. 20:20

[2] Jn. 20:28

[3] ibid

[4] Pope Francis, Daily Homily, Casa Santa Marta, 15 April 2020

[5] Pope Francis, ‘Plan for Resurrection’, published in Spanish in Vida Nueva, 17 April 2020