Blessed John Paul II declared today Divine Mercy Sunday when he canonized St. Faustina Kowalska in the Jubilee year 2000: Dominica Secunda Paschae seu de divina misericordia. Jesus told Sr. Faustina (from her diary): “I want the image [of my divine mercy] solemnly blessed on the first Sunday after Easter, and I want it to be venerated publicly.” At the end of Mass, we will venerate the image and pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, in obedience to Christ’s words. “Every soul believing and trusting in My mercy will obtain it.”
Just a note on the Second Reading before we reflect on the Gospel. “I, John, your brother, who share with you the distress and the kingdom, … found myself on the island called Patmos because I proclaimed God’s word.” I detect a self-deprecating irony in John’s tone—how did I get here? No matter, God’s will is perfect. At George Washington University this week, a kind, hard-working Catholic Chaplain named Fr. Greg Schaffer finds himself the center of acrimonious contention because … he gently told a Catholic student who came to him for counsel that that he should not live the “gay lifestyle.” This student and his male consort are mounting a media campaign to banish him from the University for “proclaiming God’s word.” But like St. John, Fr. Schaffer does not seem to be upset about it. The Risen Christ stood before John and assured him: “Be not afraid. I am the first and the last; once dead, now I am alive forever. I hold the keys to death” and life. Be not afraid.
The apostles were afraid. They were afraid of Jesus, whom they betrayed, and they were afraid of the temple officials, who sought to wipe out any remaining disciples of Jesus. The apostles thought that Jesus would be angry with them—wouldn’t anyone think that? We think that God gets angry at us when we betray him. But Jesus shows, again, that his thoughts are not our thoughts. God does not seek vengeance; he brings peace, and bestows mercy. His first words to his friends—for they are still his friends—are “Peace be with you.” He comes through the locked doors of their fear and regret to assure them: You have nothing to fear, either from me, or from the world outside this Upper Room. I am here. We forget, as those Apostles forgot, that his mercy endures forever. His love is an infinite abyss. Oceans of mercy and rivers of grace flood the world after his Resurrection. Jesus wants us to venerate the image of Infinite Mercy today, one week after Easter, so that we grasp the full effects of his Resurrection. “Pax vobiscum” Jesus says, and then shows them the wounds of his love for them.
Thomas had not been with the others on Easter night, and he refused to let go of his disappointment at how things turned out on Good Friday. And so, a week later, that is, today, Divine Mercy Sunday, Jesus appeared again to give his Peace a third time. Then, to Thomas directly, he says: Come here, my son. Do you need another proof of my mercy? Put your hand into my side. I am not angry with you—but I do want you to surrender to my love. And Thomas did surrender: “My Lord and My God.” It is said he traveled as far as India, repeating those words to the ends of the earth, and was martyred in Madras. 2000 years later, Indian Christians name their children Thomas, and many of the Indians I have known radiate the faith given them by the once-doubting Thomas so long ago.
Forgiveness of Sins
Notice one last point: Jesus consecrates and sends his apostles out that Easter evening specifically to forgive sins. “As the father has sent me, so I send you. Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them…” He ordains them so that they can administer his mercy through the forgiveness of sins. Before we can receive the Eucharist, before we can even believe in the Gospel, we need to be forgiven. Even the most hardened atheist, the most insouciant secularist, knows he has sinned. Only God can pass through the locked doors of our post-Christian fear—that of having to live in our own depravity, with no one to forgive us. The Church must persist, as did Jesus, in bringing mercy to those who do not believe.
Blessed John Paul II said on this feast day in 2001: “Jesus said to Sr Faustina: "Humanity will never find peace until it turns with trust to Divine Mercy". Divine Mercy! This is the Easter gift that the Church receives from the risen Christ and offers to humanity.” With Our Lady, the Mother of Mercy, our life, our sweetness, and our hope, let us be apostles of mercy to the world.