On the Second Sunday of Easter of the Jubilee Year 2000, at the Mass for the canonization of St Faustina Kowalska, Pope John Paul II proclaimed to the world that “from now on throughout the Church this Sunday will be called “Divine Mercy Sunday.”
When Pope John Paul II made this declaration, he was not just expressing his personal preference of a pietistic devotion of God’s revelation to St Faustina on God’s Mercy. In fact, he was reaffirming the truth and theme of “God’s Mercy” that is found in the Gospel and Readings of today and all the Second Sundays of Easter.
In our Readings today, we find that the “Easter Gift” that the universal Church and the whole world is receiving from God, the Risen Christ, is His Mercy; the “Divine Mercy.”
What do we find in today’s Gospel? First, Jesus’ apostles who had abandoned Him cowardly when He was arrested and crucified were hiding in an upper room in fear of the Jews who were threatening to arrest, persecute or even kill them. In this context, Jesus appears to them. The apostles must have felt embarrassed and guilty for abandoning Jesus when He needed their support most. However, instead of reprimanding them, Jesus empowers them with the Spirit of Peace and then empowers them with the authority to be God’s Mercy to others by forgiving them of their sins, on behalf of God.
Our Responsorial Psalm says, “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, for His love – in other words Mercy has no end.” In the second Reading, the 1st Letter of St Peter proclaims, “Blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in His great mercy has given us a new birth as His sons, by raising Jesus Christ from the dead . . .”
How can we then as we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday be God’s Mercy to others? There is a true story of tragedy that we can learn much from about forgiveness and mercy. An armed man, Charlie Roberts entered an Amish schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania on October 6th, 2006. He chased out the little boys and lined up ten little girls in front of the blackboard. He shot all of them and then killed himself. Five of the girls died.
After the medics and police left, the families of the children who were murdered carried their child home; removed their bloody clothing and washed the bodies. In each home they emptied a room of its furniture except of a table and a few chairs. They then sat for a time to mourn the tragic death of their child. Then, they walked to the home of Charles Roberts, the killer and told his widow they forgave her husband for what he had done. They also tried to console her for the loss of her husband. They believed that they ought to bury their anger before they bury their children.
In the school yard, a local artist painted a water colour entitled, “Happier Days” depicting the Amish children playing with a care before the shooting and with five birds flying above the blue sky above; most probably representing the five girls who were shot.
"Amish Happier Days"
Charlie Roberts, before his massacre wrote a note to his wife explaining, the death of our daughter has changed my life forever . . . it affected me in ways that I never felt possible. "I am filled with so much hate, hate toward myself hate towards God and unimaginable emptiness it seems like every time we do something fun I think about how Elise wasn't here to share it with us and I go right back to anger,". One Amish believe said, "Charlie was bitter at God . . . He got to the point where he thought he could get revenge and get even with God by hurting children . . . innocent people . . . God’s people.” (Adapted from: Ad Crable and Cindy Stauffer contributed to this report – Lancaster online).
“Amish Christians teach us that forgiveness is central. They believe in a real sense that God’s forgiveness depend ontheir extending forgiveness to other people. That’s what God’s Mercy is all about.” (cf. Rev. Alfred McBride, O.Praem).
The cover of TIME magazine in 1984 had a picture of Pope John Paul II holding the hand of Mehmet Ali Agca’s hand that held the gun that was intended to kill him. Our Holy Father spoke for twenty minutes with his would be assassin in a prison cell. At the end of the conversation, Ali Agca raised the pope’s hand to his forehead as a sign of respect. Pope John Paul shook his hand tenderly. When asked, our Holy Father simply said, “What we talked about must remain a secret between us. I spoke to him as a brother whom I have pardoned and who has my complete trust.”
We all know that even as Pope John Paul II established Divine Mercy Sunday for the universal Catholic Church, his life is a great witness of what he believed and preached. He is known as the “Great Mercy Pope.” He admits openly, “The Message of Divine Mercy has always been near and dear to me . . . which I took with me to the See of Peter and which it in a sense forms the image of this Pontificate.” He wrote an encyclical on “Divine Mercy,” and he described Divine Mercy as the answer to the world’s problems and the message of the third millennium. That is why on the day he established Divine Mercy Sunday for the universal Church he declared, “This is the happiest day of my life.” We know that our Holy Father died on the Vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday; in all probability that day too must have been his “happiest day” in his life as he looked forward to be with His Divine Mercy forever in heaven.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, I am sure you have come across many people who have shown you what mercy, compassion and forgiveness is about through their exemplary lives of witness. But, let us never forget that the greatest of all Mercy for all times and in all of human history is shown by Jesus, the Son of God Himself who suffered so intensely and infinitely all for the sake of our salvation, through His Resurrection.
In today’s Gospel, as Jesus, the Risen Christ, appeared to His apostles who had denied and abandoned Him, His first words to them were not of anger or reprimand, but one of peace, mercy and forgiveness. Jesus blessed them and said, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so am I sending you. After saying this He breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins your retain, they are retained.”
Commenting on this passage, Pope John Paul II said, “Jesus entrusted to the apostles the gift of ‘forgiving sins;’ a gift that flows from the wounds in His hands, His feet and especially from His pierced side. From there a wave of mercy is poured out over all humanity. Let us therefore, relive this moment with great spiritual intensity because today, (on this feast of Divine Mercy), the Lord shows us His glorious wounds and His Heart.
St Faustina sees in her vision, “two rays of Light shining from that Heart and illumining the world . . . representing blood and water.” This vision affirms the testimony of the Evangelist John, who, when a soldier on Calvary pierced Christ’s side with his spear, sees blood and water flowing from it (Jn 19:34). If blood recalls the sacrifice of the Cross and the gift of the Eucharist, the water, in Johannine symbolism, represents not only Baptism, but also the gift of the Holy Spirit.
As I conclude, let us remind ourselves that on this Solemnity of Divine Mercy Sunday, we are celebrating the great Paschal Mystery of the Suffering, Death and Resurrection of Jesus. In this celebration, Jesus, the Risen Christ who appeared to His Apostles specifically shows them His wounds; the wounds that symbolizes God’s infinite deeds of Love, Compassion and Mercy for us. In response to such infinite Love and Mercy it is important that we ask ourselves today, “What wounds do we have to show to Jesus that we too have shown His love, compassion, mercy and forgiveness to others in our daily lives?
Fr Philip Heng,S.J.
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