A blessed Feast of Divine Mercy to all! When St. John Paul II established for the universal Church the celebration of the 2nd Sunday of Easter as “Divine Mercy Sunday,” he fulfilled the request that Jesus Christ made in his appearances to St. Faustina Kowalska. The Lord told her that on the Feast of Mercy, “all the divine floodgates through which graces flow are opened.” It is noteworthy that John Paul established the feast in the year 2000, at the threshold of the new millennium. He became an instrument of the ushering in of the era of Divine Mercy, to which we now all belong.
Today is the Octave Day of Easter. The Gospel, which recounts what happened on Easter Day and one week later, shows us why the eighth day is so significant. In Jesus’ first appearance to the disciples “on the evening of that first day of the week,” he assures them of his peace. His greeting, “Peace be with you” – shalom in Hebrew – has a reference to a forgiveness of debt. During his Passion, all his disciples left him except for Mary, John and some women. The Apostles are hiding in fear of the Jews. When Jesus appears, another fear awakens in their hearts: will he get back at them for abandoning him in his darkest and most painful moment? No, he offers them peace. A modern-day way of translating this would be something like: I know you owe me something, but let’s forget about that. Don’t worry, it’s all in the past now. I forgive you. We’re good. As a sign that all is forgiven, he breathes onto them his own Spirit and entrusts to them his mission of mercy.
Thomas was conspicuously absent when the Lord appeared. When the others tell him that the Lord has risen, the news is too much for Thomas to bear. He demands proof. Mysteriously, the proof that he demands is not simply to see that Jesus is alive, but to touch and probe his wounds. On the eighth day, Jesus obliges. He appears again, offers peace again, and then invites Thomas to touch him and to believe. The evidence of Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross elicits from Thomas a profound expression of faith: “My Lord and my God!” And Jesus announces the blessing offered to those who have not seen and have believed.
Jesus uses the word “blessed” only twice in the Gospel of John. The other time is in Chapter 13, after he washes the disciples’ feet. He tells them, “If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it” (v. 17). This blessedness refers to humble service of one another. Putting these two together, we can say that in the Gospel of John, blessedness is about belief without seeing and service without complaining. When Jesus sends us forth, as the Father sent him, he commissions us to believe and to serve, to receive the gift of his mercy and extend it to others.
Before we recoil at what seems to be an impossible task, let us ponder the other readings, which will help us appreciate the blessing offered by the Risen Lord. The first reading takes us to the days after Pentecost. Jesus has already ascended into Heaven and the Apostles have already received the Spirit. Through the Spirit, they who no longer see the Lord are living by faith and serving the needs of others. The whole Christian community, having experienced Divine Mercy, is living a new way: “devoted… to the teachings of the Apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.”
St. Peter in the second reading also speaks of not seeing but believing: “Although you have not seen him you love him; even though you do not see him now yet believe in him, you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy….” This great joy, the fruit of faith, is not extinguished by sufferings. Peter acknowledges that “for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials.” Suffering, which is part of every person’s experience, is connected by the mystery of faith to the blessedness Jesus promises in the Gospel. Just as Jesus invited Thomas to touch his wounds, the evidence of his suffering and of his mercy, we are invited to touch human suffering, our own and that of others. When we are suffering, we find consolation in the mercy of God; when others are suffering, we are instruments of his mercy to them. In Latin, mercy is misericordia, which literally means having a heart for the misery of others. Mercy, in this sense, is suffering with others.
The themes that we ponder on this Divine Mercy Sunday – forgiveness, communion, service, mission and suffering – point us to the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Holy Eucharist. The Sacraments are Jesus’ greeting of peace – his shalom – to all of us. They are the floodgates that open for us abundant grace poured out for us today. In bestowing absolution in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the priest says: “God, the Father of mercies, through the Death and Resurrection of his Son, has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins.” It is truly a Sacrament of Mercy! At Mass, when the Eucharist is held up at the Consecration, we respond silently with the words of Thomas: “My Lord and my God!” The bread broken and shared moves us to a deep faith that believes without seeing the Lord yet loves him in the Eucharist.
As we encounter his mercy deeply today through these Sacraments, may we be moved to be merciful to others, suffering with them in our own hearts. When we are in communion with the Lord through the Eucharist, and in communion with others through touching their wounds with mercy, then, like Thomas, we can truly profess: “My Lord and my God!” – for the Lord is truly alive!
Is my heart a heart of mercy for the misery and sufferings of others? Do I frequent the Sacrament of Reconciliation which opens the floodgates of mercy to receive the abundant graces that flow from the Wounded Heart of Jesus? As I experience the mercy of God today on Mercy Sunday, will I be moved to be merciful to others, suffering with them in my heart?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 16, no. 4. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.