The Deacon's Bench

This past week, the woman ruling the British Empire wasn’t Queen Elizabeth.

It was a 47-year-old unemployed spinster named Susan Boyle.

A lot of you probably know her story. Susan grew up in a small town in Scotland, a devout Catholic, the youngest of nine children. She had learning difficulties when she was a child, and the other children often made fun of her. She lived at home all her life, never married — “never been kissed,” as she puts it – and she spent her time caring for her mother and father, and attending mass every day. She also liked to sing in her church choir.

As she grew up, and grew older, she put up with taunts from local school children, who made fun of her eccentric ways and her frizzy hair and frumpy clothes.

But Susan’s mother knew that her daughter had something special to give. Susan had a powerful singing voice, and her mother always encouraged her to do something with it. After her mother died, Susan grieved for almost two years, before finally summoning the courage to do what her mother had always wanted her to do.

Susan won a slot on a British TV talent show. Last Saturday night, the night before Easter, millions of Britons watched as she shuffled awkwardly onto the stage — this middle-aged out-of-work woman with uncombed hair and an unglamorous face. The audience laughed and some rolled their eyes.

But then she opened her mouth to sing.

“I Dreamed A Dream,” she sang. And she did it in a voice that was powerful, and clear, and even thrilling. After the first few bars, the audience was on its feet, cheering.

It was, literally, the performance of a lifetime.

Susan Boyle became an overnight sensation. In just one week, the video of her appearance has been viewed nearly 20 million times around the world on YouTube. She’s appeared on talk shows, been interviewed by papers and magazines. Oprah has invited her on to be a guest.

“I did this,“ Susan told a reporter, “for my late mother. I wanted to show her I could do something with my life.”

I thought of Susan Boyle on Wednesday, when Archbishop Timothy Dolan climbed the pulpit at St. Patrick’s at his installation mass and declared in his first homily: “Everybody is somebody.” Susan Boyle certainly proved that. No matter what others may think, the beautiful truth is that everyone carries the spark of the divine. Every life has meaning and dignity. Everybody is somebody.

That is why the greatest Somebody, Jesus Christ, surrendered himself on the cross – and why he rose from the dead. And when he finally appeared before his followers after the resurrection, his first message was a word of consolation to all those who feel frightened, or insecure, or alone – whether in that upper room, or in a village in Scotland, or in a walkup in Queens: “Peace,” he said. Peace. It was his first gift after he had risen.

In that same spirit, God continues to offer us another gift — the one that gives this Sunday its name: Divine Mercy.

God’s mercy says to us, very simply, “You are loved — no matter what. Because everybody is somebody.”

I think we get a glimpse of that in today’s gospel. It gives us the familiar scene of Jesus appearing to a doubting Thomas, offering tangible proof that he has risen.

“Put your finger here and see my hands,” Jesus says. “Bring your hand and put it into my side….do not be unbelieving, but believe.”

But here, we encounter something the world had never known before: we encounter a God with scars. Wounds. A God who has endured pain, and suffered, and bled.

That invitation to Thomas is also Christ’s invitation to us: “See,” he says. “I have known great pain. I understand.”

He has walked with us, struggled with us, fallen with us, shed water and blood for us.

He did it for you and me. He did it for the Susan Boyles of the world. Those who are hurt, or grieving, or dreaming. He did it for all of us, even those who have wandered away, or who doubt – all of the Thomases among us.

A couple weeks ago, I was talking with a priest, who was puzzled at why we have Divine Mercy Sunday right after Easter, when we just celebrated the greatest example of Divine Mercy in history.

Well, consider what happened last Sunday. If you were here, you saw something incredible. The aisles were packed. They were standing in the vestibule, on the sides, lining up around every inch of empty space. There were hundreds of people filling this church to overflowing. Many of them don’t normally come to Sunday mass.

Maybe, today, you are one of those people. Maybe you’ve been away from the church, and you felt the urge to come back. Maybe you find yourself wondering what to do next.

Well, this Sunday is an answer. Like Easter, it is a feast that holds out promise – and hope.

It says that you can begin again. That there is a place for you at the table.

It says that God knows our wounds.

He shares them with us. And He wants to see them healed.

It says that His mercy, Divine Mercy, can ease the pain of a troubled heart, a scarred soul, a broken world.

“I was hard-pressed and failing,” the psalmist tells us, “but the Lord helped me.”

His mercy endures forever.

And He is waiting to offer it, if only we will ask.

That is the message of Divine Mercy Sunday. Throughout the gospels, you discover that mercy again and again — in the story of the prodigal son, or the Good Shepherd, or the woman about to be stoned for adultery.

And you find the reason for that mercy in the story of Susan Boyle, and in the message that was delivered last Wednesday from the pulpit of St. Patrick’s.

It is this: every soul matters to God.

Because everybody is somebody.

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