For some time now, the Church has celebrated the Second Sunday of Easter as the Sunday of Divine Mercy. Many rightly say that every Sunday is a celebration of Divine Mercy, and they are correct. However, this particular feast honors an event that first took place in 1931. At that time, when the world was struggling with economic depression, and with the rise of nationalist waves in Europe, Sr. Faustina Kowalska of the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy disclosed that she’d had a religious experience in which an image was revealed to her of the risen Lord, Jesus. The image showed Jesus, from whose heart shone two rays, one red and the other yellow-white. Together, the rays represented the blood and water that flowed from Jesus. At the bottom of the image were the words “Jesus, I trust in you.”
As the years passed, Sr. Faustina kept a spiritual journal in which she recorded her apparitions and her own spiritual journey. In her journal she recorded that Jesus himself desired that there be a “Feast of My Mercy” established. It wasn’t until the year 2000 when Pope Saint John Paul II canonized St. Faustina, and the Second Sunday of Easter was declared Divine Mercy Sunday.
According to the website promoting the popular devotion, “The message of The Divine Mercy is simple. It is that God loves us – all of us. And, he wants us to recognize that His mercy is greater than our sins, so that we will call upon Him with trust, receive His mercy, and let it flow through us to others. Thus, all will come to share His joy.”
The gospel we hear proclaimed in Church today (Jn 20:19-31) is focused on the healing mercy of God. It tells of Jesus appearing to the disciples in the place where they have hidden themselves away. We are told that they are hidden away behind locked doors, victims of a great fear. Then Jesus comes to them and they can’t contain their excitement. The gospel tells us “The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.” These words have always stood out for me. While they may have been afraid to see a ghost, instead they are filled with joy. I can’t help but believe that this joy was born in their sense of failure as disciples, having abandoned Jesus to his death, but here his very presence witnesses to the forgiveness for which they so desperately yearn. Then Jesus, who forgives them, commands them, commissions them to share forgiveness with others. He breathes the Holy Spirit upon them, signifying that they are to share in the mission of love and mercy that God has in store for the world.
The joy of the disciples is an appropriate sequel to today’s psalm which reminds us to “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, His love is everlasting.” It is a good thing of which to be reminded today. Our God, the God of Jesus Christ, the God who raised his Son from the grave is not a God who threatens or condemns, who shames or who burdens us. Rather, the mercy of our God reveals the truth of his love for us all. This is the good news, the “gospel” of Jesus.
I believe that as amazing as the Church can be when we are at our best, it is the love that God has for all of us that is most attractive to people. Love draws people into the Church. I appreciate that there are those who believe that the Church needs to tell everyone what’s right and what’s wrong, and that the Church needs to draw lines in the sand so that people can know what’s expected of them. However, no one has ever told me that they became part of the Church because of our rules and regulations. Most people already know where the Church stands on so many issues, and rarely do people truly need to be told right from wrong. However, what people do need, what people yearn for in their lives, are witnesses, mentors, other people who can affirm and celebrate the love and mercy of God poured into their own lives. God’s forgiving love is more certain than the rising of the sun or the stars in the heavens. To witness that love in our own lives can be one of the least thought-of gifts we can share with one another. I suspect that this is connected to why Pope Francis has written and spoken so frequently on God’s mercy, and why he encourages all of us to be ambassadors of God’s mercy in our homes, in our places of work, in our neighborhoods and in our Church. The gift of God’s love we have received in Christ is not ours to hoard, but is for sharing with the world. So this week, perhaps try to put words on your own experience of God’s mercy in your life, and share something of your story with someone else. Share your joy so that another may come to know the same love in their own lives.