Today is Divine Mercy Sunday and I would like to quote some of the thoughts of our late Pope John-Paul II. On Divine Mercy Sunday, before he died, Pope John Paul had wanted to say, “When humanity feels lost, it is because it is dominated by the power of evil, egoism and fear.”
How true is this of our own life? If we reflect on our own life in our daily living, if we look back on how we have lived our lives for the past 5 years or 10 years, do you think we have lived a truly fulfilled and happy life? Have we been experiencing the Easter peace of the Holy Spirit that Jesus gave to His apostles.
If we have, then we must thank God; we must thank God for the great blessing of the gift of faith. God would want those of us who have experience the deep peace of Christ to share with others so that others too can grow closer to God.
But if we have not been experiencing the peace and the fulfilment that Jesus wants to give us, then in one way or another, we have been influence and affected by the evil egoism and the fear of this world. Pope John Paul II says ‘Today on Divine Mercy Sunday, the Risen Lord offers all of us the gift of His love that forgives, reconciles and reopens the sprit that gives us the true peace of Christ.
God the Divine Mercy is inviting all of us to open our hearts to receive these gifts that He wants to give us, a peace that the world cannot give. Pope John Paul also says that apart from the mercy of God, there is no other form of hope and true peace in mankind.
If we look at the Old Testament, what do we find? We find the face of God that reveals to us the mercy of God. And in the New Testament, we find the face of God in the fullest fulfilment of the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ who hung on the cross, who suffered and willingly died for us, for our ingratitude and sinfulness.
How can God give us this Divine Mercy? One of the important ways in which God is constantly giving us this great Mercy is through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. When someone comes up to me for Confession, I am always touched because what is happening is that the penitent is witnessing to me that his/her faith that is alive. That God and the Holy Spirit is alive in the penitent; that is why the penitent has come forward to receive God’s Mercy. At the same time as we hear what is being confessed, we hear and experience the penitent’s feeling of restlessness and unhappiness and how he/she is seeking for the true meaning and peace in life that God can only give.
This deep peace that God wants to give us is clearly evident in today’s Gospel. When Jesus rose from His death, His first message upon meeting His apostles for the first time is ‘Peace be with you!’ and He says this three times “Peace be with you!’. Why is that so? Jesus knew that his apostles were troubled, were depressed and fearful.
The apostles were experiencing great emotional upheavals. They were good people and the reason why they were feeling great emotional upheavals were because they were not focused enough. They were not focused enough on the teachings of Christ and were not grounded enough in what Jesus had told them that ‘when I die, I will rise up again three days later and bring you the peace of the Holy Spirit.’
If we look at our own life, we would realise that when we sin it is not always because we are bad. Often it is because we are not focused enough in our faith in God. And if we are not focused enough in our faith in God, we will begin to treat people in “unChrist-like” ways. We easily become preoccupied and over concerned about the superficial things in life like food, fashion, looks, social status and the like.
More than 90% of the things that we worry about so much and fret about are not worth bothering about. We can still experience the fulfilment and joys and peace of life without these 90% things in life.
I can assure you that if we go to Confession 5 or 6 times a year, our Christian faith will become much stronger and we will truly experience the deep peace of the Risen Christ that the Gospel speaks about today. Why is it so? Let us look at what happens during Confession. Firstly, when we go for Confession, we begin by preparing ourselves for the Sacrament. We prepare our hearts to seek God’s forgiveness and mercy and in the preparation. And when we look deep into our hearts, we begin to realise that there are no more secrets between us and God. We have to be totally transparent to God; we have to be sincere with ourselves and in humility recognise how we have truly been living our lives or not in God’s ways. And as we search our hearts deeper, we will begin to recognise how in different ways we have probably been self-righteous, proud, jealous, selfish, … and how in different ways we have failed to do good and failed to forgive and be the compassion of Christ to others.
Such preparation and searching of our hearts and the admission that we have failed before God are crucial. How often do we do this? How often do we really dare to look at the depths of our hearts and face the truth of who we truly are? When we then ask for God’s forgiveness, we will hear words of advice from our Confessor. We hear God’s forgiveness absolving us from all our sins and how we are reunited and reconciled with Him once again. And so, as we leave the confessional we feel the peace of the Risen Christ within us; He has removed the burdens of our sins and pains in our hearts. This is the peace that the Risen Christ wants to give us today that will help transform us to be more Christ-like.
Why is this sacrament crucial? It is because we live in a world that is so often been influenced by the secular world that often tell us and teach us that if people hurt us, we fight back; we take revenge, we try to get even. And if we develop such attitudes our behaviour they will lead us away from living in Christ-like ways. Pope John Paul tells us that such attitudes and behaviour we increase the evil of the world; our ego will become bigger and we will then be gripped by the fears of this world.
However, in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we experience God’s unconditional Love and Mercy. It is the graces of this Divine Mercy that God wants to give us on this Feast. He wants to open our hearts to His Truth and give us the deep peace that the apostles experienced. But we can only receive this peace, if our hearts want to receive God’s holy gift, and if our hearts dare to forgive those who have hurt us.
Before I conclude, I would like to remind ourselves that when Jesus wants to give us the Easter peace, He first went though His Passion and His death on the Cross before His Resurrection. If we want to experience this peace of the Risen Christ, we too must dare to go through and accept the pain, the suffering, and the humility of admitting that we have failed God and failed one another. We have failed to face our true self - the goodness and the sins within us.
We have to admit to God and one another that we have wronged through our pride, self-righteousness or anything that needs to be admitted to God. We have to continue to promise God that we will live a fuller and more wholesome life. We have to continue to be open to receiving God’s mercy and forgiveness.
If we are able to do this daily in our hearts and better still receive this peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, then we can say that this Easter season will surely bring us the deep peace that is founded on the grace of Our Risen Lord.
Instead of adopting the secular values that leads to self destruction and division, we are each challenged to adopt and live out the Gospel values of Christ that will truly give us the deep peace of the Risen Christ that begins in this world and will remain with us forever, as we experience God’s glory in the next.
Fr Philip Heng, S.J.
Photos taken on Divine Mercy Sunday, 19 April 2009
at Church of St Ignatius, Singapore