Today, we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday and also specially thank God for adding two more great saints to our Church – St Pope John XXIII and St Pope John Paul II. On this Sunday after Easter, we are also all called to rejoice in the Resurrection of Christ who brings true “Peace into our lives and our world.”
If we have faced crises before or are at present facing some crises in our lives and if we look at our world where millions of people are suffering without hope and dying from all the evils of human sinfulness that destroys human life and God’s creation of the world, we can see more clearly why St John Paul II was inspired to dedicate today the Sunday immediately after Easter Sunday to be Divine Mercy Sunday.
Last Sunday, in our celebration of Easter, we proclaimed that Jesus has conquered sin and death through His Resurrection. We renewed our hope in our lives and built our hopes for a better world in Christ our Risen Lord! Today, as we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday, we are called to renew our hope once again in our Risen Lord. If we truly believe in His Resurrection, then we must at the same time also live in the true hope that He is offering us.
In today’s Gospel, when Jesus appeared to His Disciples, they were all hiding in fear, for the Jews were out to arrest, persecute and even probably execute them, as they did to their Master, who called Himself, “King of the Jews” and proclaimed Himself to be the divine Son of God. The first words of Jesus, the Risen Christ was, “Peace be with you.” He then showed them His hands and His side . . . and the disciples were filled with joy. Again Jesus said to them, “Peace be with you . . . As the Father sent me, so am I sending you. He then breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained.”
Jesus not only blessed and filled His disciples’ hearts with His divine “Peace” and joy, but also empowered them to forgive sins through the power of the Holy Spirit that He breathed on them. In that event, and from that time onwards the believers of the Risen Christ and the Church not only practised the truth that if we want to live our faith in the Risen Lord, then we are called to forgive one another; yes, forgiveness can be very difficult and in some instances even humanly impossible.
However, we also know from that event that it is through the power of the Holy Spirit that true and deep forgiveness is possible. More specifically, in that event, Jesus instituted the Sacrament of Reconciliation . . . and thus proclaimed that it is the Father’s Will that our sins be forgiven through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, let us remember that, when God sends and empowers us with His Holy Spirit, what is humanly impossible like forgiving, can and will become possible. It is by God’s strength that we forgive. If we are to recall the moments of deep hurts and trials in our lives, and especially for those of us who have been suffering much and for long time, we can so easily lose our sense of Hope in life and our faith in God that our painful situation of broken relationships, and traumatic experiences can ever be restored. As such, when the pains of our lives surfaces we even find ourselves turning away from the Holy Spirit.
In today’s celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday, our Church, wants us to renew our hope in our Risen Christ . . . Our Church, through the wisdom of St John Paul II, and through his special intercession wants us to believe more fully and firmly that the Divine Mercy of God will bring about healing in our hearts, reconciliation in our broken relationships and renewed hope of unity and peace in our homes and in our world.
When Our Risen Lord, in today’s Gospel, proclaimed “Peace be with you” to His disciples, He truly meant every word that He said . . . And to ensure that His Words of “Peace” can become a reality, He breathed on His disciples and on each of us today the power of His Holy Spirit to strengthen us. If we are as receptive to the Holy Spirit, like the disciples, then we too will be able to break free from our fearfulness and hopelessness in our lives, and like the disciples proclaim and live the Gospel fearlessly . . . even to the point of death like their Master, the Risen Lord. On the contrary, “Are we to be like Thomas the apostle, who had first to see and feel Jesus’ wounds before he could believe”? And, when Thomas saw Jesus’ wounds and side, he said, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus then said to him, “You believe because you can see me. Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.”
My sisters and brothers in Christ, we all know so well that the secular world daily influences how we think, and through its promotion of its secular values dilute and distort our faith in our Risen Lord’s Truth of the Gospel. When we face people who are angry with God, they are in all probability also angry with their own lives and angry with the world. Often, they hide the unhappiness and emptiness of their lives through their arrogant views and ways that only mirror a deeply wounded heart that is crying out for compassion and hungering for the true meaning and fulfilment in life that eludes them. Jesus knows this so well and as such in the whole of the Gospel, Jesus never condemns, but instead is always moved with compassion for sinners and those who are suffering so much in different ways.
And so, my brothers and sisters, if we are to celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday more meaningfully, then let us renew our hope that our Risen Lord who clearly wants you and I to show more compassion towards the many people we know and make the needed difference to our wounded and confused world that have billions suffering and millions dying meaninglessly daily.
More specifically, you and I, and all believers of the Risen Christ are called to be the Easter people who bring hope and reconciliation in broken relationships and the suffering in the world. To do this, you and I are also called to be the Easter believers who must first live what we believe. That is, if we are experiencing brokenness and pain, then we must first, like the disciples, believe that the Risen Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit will surely give us “Peace, Healing and Unity” that we long to have in our lives and in the world. Only when we open our hearts and homes to the “Peace of the Risen Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit” will we be an Easter People to others.
I would like to conclude by saying that, when St John Paul II visited the young people of Ireland, Cardinal Justin Rigali who accompanied him on the visit recalled that the crowd applaused no less than forty two times during the Pope’s homily. And in one of them, when the Pope John Paul II said, “Young people of Ireland, I love you!” the crowd burst into an applause that the Cardinal said, “according to my watch – believe it or not - lasted between twelve to thirteen minutes. These young people are more than clamouring after the pope; they are in fact clamouring after Christ whom they know loves them.
There is hope in life and in the world regardless of how gloomy and broken the external realities of life seem to present themselves. Today, on Divine Mercy Sunday, we as Easter people are celebrating a true Hope that is founded on our Risen Christ who promised His disciples and you and I that we will surely find the true and lasting Peace in our lives if we only dare to open our hearts to the power of the Holy Spirit that He will give us. We see this in the thunderous applause of the young people of Ireland who experienced this divine Truth and renewed Hope when Pope John Paul II said to them, “Young people of Ireland, I love you.” Jesus our Risen Lord is also saying to you and I, “My dear brothers and sister, I love you.”
Msgr Philip Heng,S.J.
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