This Octave Day of Easter is, in the 21st century, also celebrated as Divine Mercy Sunday. The readings today show us examples of both acts of mercy and words of mercy.
The first reading gives us an inspiring description of the early Church. Those who loved and followed Jesus were not yet called “Christians”; they are described as “the community of believers.” As we continue to read through the Book of Acts during the Easter season, we will see actions that put flesh on the teachings of Jesus. We will see that to be a believer is to do something. This description of the early Church does not say only that the Christians believed and prayed. What is described are the practical actions of people who have been changed by coming to know Jesus Christ. With great faith and trust in him and in his Church, they even sell their properties and give the proceeds to the Church, to be used according to the needs of all.
Their witness challenges our natural reliance on our money and possessions. We tend to feel more secure if we have some property, or some money in the bank. We profess our reliance on God, but in the back of our minds, we think that if we face trouble we will need something else to save us – meaning our financial resources. The idea of giving to the Lord the very things that make us feel independent and secure can be frightening! No doubt the early believers had qualms about giving up their material possessions and living with “everything in common,” but they did it, and found freedom and inner peace. As we ponder their actions, we are led to question: Do we really trust in the Lord’s care for us? If the Lord asks us to give up something, can we do it? Are we able to utterly abandon ourselves to God’s care?
Part of the problem is our tendency to think of relying on the Lord as a net loss for us, when in fact it is a gift. We may not realize that the more we lean on financial security, the more we subtly distance ourselves from the love of God, our Savior. The Lord is inviting us to let go of what seems like a safety net, but is actually a trapping net. As he lovingly guides us to rely more completely on him, he moves our hearts to care for the poor and support the Church.
The second reading and the Gospel also demonstrate the actions that indicate a true believer and follower of Jesus Christ. In his First Letter, John tells us: “In this way we know that we love the children of God when we love God and obey his commandments.” Here he outlines three criteria for identifying those who are “begotten by God”; namely, love of God, love of the children of God and obedience to the commandments of God. These three all go together, for genuine love cannot be restricted; it permeates all our relationships and our whole life. We may begin to wonder, at times, if our love is genuine. Since we are sinners, we may suspect that we are frauds, that we really do not love God adequately. The word of God gives us guidelines to help us recognize areas of weakness or sin: Are we keeping the commandments? Do we have false gods? Do we keep holy the Lord’s Day? Do we bear false witness, take the Lord’s name in vain, honor our parents? When we fail, we are not to condemn ourselves but repent and trust in the Mercy of God.
This Mercy is revealed in today’s Gospel by the words and actions of the Risen Lord Jesus. He comes to the Apostles, who are in bondage to fear, hiding behind locked doors, and he speaks words of comfort, beginning with, “Peace be with you.” As Pope Francis points out in this week’s spiritual reflection, Jesus’ words are not simply a greeting but a precious divine gift. When we are paralyzed in guilt, shame and fear, only God can free us. He gives us the gift of inner peace, based on the knowledge that he is with us, that he loves us.
Next Jesus shows them his wounds, not as evidence against them but as signs of the victory he has won for them. And he sends them forth as ambassadors of his mercy. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Send is an action word! The Lord does not want us to hide, to stay safe behind locked doors. He prescribes action for his followers, and he gives us the power of the Holy Spirit so that we can accomplish his will.
Thomas, who was not there on Easter night, missed the celebration and the gift. However, we learn from his experience that Divine Mercy extends beyond all the limits we set for it. Even if we have been far from the Lord, even if we have doubted, or refused to believe, Jesus still loves us. His wounds are still evidence of his love, never of condemnation. He truly wants us to know him, the One whom we can address as, “My Lord and my God!” When we know the Lord Jesus and experience his merciful love, we have a precious gift to share with others. On this feast of Divine Mercy, let us celebrate the mercy of the Lord and be the witnesses he sends into the whole world with the joyful message: His mercy endures forever!
What prevents me from totally relying upon the Lord? Do I trust fully in his mercy? How can I share the peace of Christ with others?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 14, no. 4. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.