This week, I drove out to Covington, Louisiana to visit one of the retired priests of our diocese. Fr. Vic Messina, who enjoys contemplative prayer, renovated a neglected house on a secluded part of the property near the Benedictine monastery. The 170 year-old house is surrounded by 1,100 acres of wooded land. When I arrived, he was busy digging ground to plant a fruit tree. He said he planted many fruit trees around the house, but a family of deer came and ate all that he has planted. His former parishioners helped install 8-ft deer fence around the property. But that’s not all his troubles with critters. He had to drive a snake out of the house, but that’s not as bad as what he heard at night. He said the rats were playing baseball in the attic every night. He had to install high-frequency noise makers in the attic to force rats to take their tailgating elsewhere. In the back of the house, there were large mounds of dirt. He said after Katrina, some downed trees were cut but their stumps were left. When the stumps were pulled, it left large gaping holes so they had to be filled.
As we were walking back to the house from the tour of the property, he said, “Paul, I pray each day to the Lord that all the repairs and renovations I’m making to the house reflect the transformation that He is making inside of me. You know, St. Teresa of Avila compared our soul to a mansion with many rooms. With many challenges I faced repairing this place, I felt like I was in a mansion with many different locks and I didn’t have the keys. Each time I needed something, God provided me someone to help open each lock. It’s a very humbling experience, to let God show me that He was providing me everything, every step of the way.”
How many of us have come to a similar conclusion as Fr. Vic, that God has unlocked doors to challenges, every step of the way? In the Gospel today, we meet the disciples behind a locked door for fear of their lives. They just heard from Mary Magdalene that she has seen the Risen Lord, but that did not change their fear of their future. This happens for us too. We’ve been through 40 days of Lent and through the Holy Week. How many of us, in the back of our minds, have said “So what? How does Jesus’ Resurrection change what I’m facing now? What can He do to improve my situation?” We can be like Thomas from the Gospel today who said, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe."
Jesus, however, has keys to every locked doors, even doubts and cynicism. Jesus walked into the locked room where everyone inside wanted to keep everyone else out. Yet, without using a key, He appeared in the midst of them and simply said, “Peace be with you." He showed them his hands and his side.The disciples received joy and assurance in the most unexpected way. The word “Shalom” or ‘peace’ Jesus spoke does not just mean simply absence of war or conflict. To understand what Jesus spoke, we need to listen to the Prophet Isaiah. God said through Isaiah, “For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my mercy shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the Lord who has compassion on you” (Isa 54:10). In the peace that Jesus speaks of, there is connection between mercy and peace. So as he is saying “Peace be with you,” Jesus is having compassion on those who are locked in fear and opens the locked hearts and fills them with Holy Spirit whose very presence gives assurance that with God everything is possible. The Holy Spirit also assures them of forgiveness of sins and gives them the ability to be merciful and forgiving to others.
After showing me the perimeter of the house, Fr. Vic led me inside the house into a small room which he made into a chapel. There was an icon of Blessed Mother along with a Tabernacle with an icon of Jesus’ Holy Face. Nearby adjoining the chapel wall was a large picture of the Divine Mercy facing the bed. Fr. Vic said that he sleeps with all the windows of the house open. At night, he hears every creatures that live in that immense wooded property. Critters come and go on his porch and look through the screened windows, but Fr. Vic sleeps soundly trusting that Jesus who unlocked all the challenges to renovating the house, will also give abiding peace in his heart. As he wakes up to the light of a new day, the first thing that he sees is a large picture of Jesus in front of him with the words, “Jesus I Trust In You!” So on this Divine Mercy Sunday, we entrust ourselves to Jesus with the simple, “Jesus, I trust in You!”