Divine Mercy Sunday
Last Sunday we celebrated the Lord’s resurrection from the dead. Alleluia, alleluia! This Sunday the Risen Lord appears to His apostles in the upper room. Last week we were rejoicing that the Lord had conquered sin and death. We went to the tomb with Mary and found it empty but for angelic witnesses who confirmed Jesus was alive. We have seen. This Sunday invites us to tell others of our Easter faith: we must go and tell. Eyes give way to what our tongues can attest. Worship and witness are two sides of the same coin. Let us look at our readings.
Acts of the Apostles: The readings for this Sunday are about God’s Mercy, the necessity for trusting faith and our need for the forgiveness of our sins and extending that forgiveness to others. God reveals His Mercy by sending His only-begotten Son as our Saviour. Divine Mercy pours out from the Paschal Mystery of the Lord’s suffering, death and resurrection. Our reading from the Acts of the Apostles is powerful. It stresses the corporal acts of mercy lived out by the early Christian community; practising the caring, sharing love expressed as compassion and in turn reaching to the wider community. The Christians derive their strength from prayer. Prayer is their power source. In short, the reading shows the early Church established and busy about the Lord’s work. There is a sense of ritual and routine. The Church is centred on the Mass/the Breaking of Bread – this sacrament and other rituals focuses, informs, unites, and resources believers animating them to go and show practical love and credible witness. The love of God given in the Mass renews, recreates and activates them. They become a witnessing community. They are so filled with the Holy Spirit that ‘everything they own is held in common’. Blessings from God are to be shared, not hoarded, but distributed according to people needs. This selfless consideration for others is rooted in hearts which overflow in the mercy that God has placed in them. They live to care. They are a family and it shows.
First Letter of St. John: This deals with the practising of both corporal and spiritual works of mercy reflecting the total, selfless and unlimited love God has for us. To be aware of how loved we are by God, demands that we treat others in the same loving way. We love others to the extent we feel loved by God. God’s love is indiscriminate and all embracing. We come to share the victory of the Lord by putting our faith in Jesus and in celebrating the sacraments of Baptism and the Holy Eucharist, two sacraments of Divine Mercy that were instituted by Jesus. The ‘water’ refers to Baptism, the ‘Blood’ refers to the sacrifice of Christ which redeems and is made present in the Holy Eucharist. There is a note of victory: the one who believes and is begotten by God has already overcome the world.
The Gospel of St. John: Today we are vividly reminded of the centrality of God’s Mercy, for He died to save us from our sins. Among His apostles Jesus institutes the Sacrament of Penance empowering them with the Holy Spirit so that they can absolve sin and set people free. The result will be a deep peace, a ‘Shalom’, which goes to the depth of the human person and is a Divine fruit of the Holy Spirit.
A few thoughts for your reflection:
Our Lord comes to His apostles to entrust His mission of preaching the ‘Good News’ of God’s love, mercy and salvation. This has never changed and will always be the task of the Church. The Church is the earthly means the Lord uses to continue His mission. It also teaches us that the Church needs Jesus as its source of power and authority. Jesus gives the apostles the power to forgive sins. This is expressed, as we have said, initially in the sacrament of baptism and later in the sacrament of reconciliation/confession. We are reminded that the clearest way to express our belief in the Presence of the Risen Lord among us is to forgive others. If we do not forgive, our Eucharist is just an exercise or mere ritual.
Faith comes primarily from hearing. Our Lord says: “Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe”. Future candidates for belief will not have miracles to see like the apostle did. Indeed, having seen all the Lord’s miracles, the apostles were still slow on the uptake. It will be through word of mouth, proclamation, that the invitation to accept the Lord as Saviour will be issued. This is in turn authenticated by holiness of life, good example, compassionate action and loving service. To see Jesus, we turn to Matthew 25 and the parable of the sheep and goats regarding the final judgement. The Lord tells us He appears as the person who is hungry, thirsty, naked, ill, a stranger and a prisoner. In these is the Lord to be seen.
The Risen Lord still has His wounds. These are not residual but essential. They show the continuity between the Jesus Who died on the cross and Jesus Who is Risen – they are one and the same. All Jesus said He would do, He has done. All Jesus sought to achieve, He has achieved. His wounds attest the value of the cross and its language. To serve Jesus effectively is to choose the difficult onerous road of life. It is to opt to serve the demands of love. It is to not be afraid of sacrifice. The cross teaches us the values of doing our duty and trusting God at all times. We are to be obedient to God even when we feel it is all beyond us and we cannot cope with what the Christian life and God’s will ask of us. Easter joy is lived out in the way of the cross. We have a crucifix on our walls not an empty tomb.
A powerful symbol for us from our Gospel this Sunday is the doors to the upper room are locked because the apostles are fearful and intimidated. For over a year now we have felt fear and intimidation with the pandemic. We are unsettled by the enormity of the issue and the consequent insecurity and fear we all feel. Once or twice we felt things were improving only to be proved wrong. We sit behind our doors and wonder when will it all pass? Into our situation Jesus comes. First, the locked doors are no issue or barrier to Him. The Lord comes to us in our isolation and hesitancy and says: “Peace be with you”. Let us allow the Lord’s gift of peace to touch our anxieties, heal our wounds and dry our tears of grief. The symbol of Jesus’ rolling back of the stone removed the greatest barrier: death. It can also speak to us as we wait for the pandemic to pass.
Finally, we have St. Thomas. He is missing for a few days. When Jesus appears the first time, Thomas is elsewhere. History is hard on Thomas calling him the ‘doubter’. For me, Thomas represents the people who have to think it through. I see myself a fortunate. I took the faith from my parents and I have always believed. For most, coming to faith at a later stage is not an instant process. I can learn from Thomas as he brings his issues back to his friends in the upper room. This says to me it is best to not be alone with any struggle but to bring it into the community and we will work it through together. Thomas is rewarded with the full attention of our Blessed Lord. Jesus is not telling Thomas off. In showing Thomas His wounds, Jesus shows He is prepared to go to any length to help someone to come to faith. It is on Thomas’s lips we have the most complete and accurate definition of Jesus: “My Lord and my God!”. It seems a little doubt can be a healthy thing if it occasions a deeper sense of faith. The important thing is to not give up on people who are slow to believe. Thomas ask us all to be prepared to put in the time. It will take as long as it takes.
I am sure a life lived as God wants will be a wounded life. A life wounded in God’s service is the most worthwhile life. Such a person will bear the scars of love. I finish with the words of Mother Teresa (St Teresa of Calcutta). “If we pray, we will believe, if we believe, we will love, if we love, we will serve. Only then we put our love of God into action”.
A blessed Divine Mercy Sunday to you all,
Fr. Gerard X