Happy Divine Mercy Sunday!
Divine Mercy Sunday was oﬃcially instituted in 2000 by Pope St. John Paul II. In the 1930’s, Jesus appeared to a young Polish nun (now St. Faustina) and entrusted the message of Divine Mercy to her in a particular way for our time. Our world is full of so much evil, and Our Lord wants to remind us of his Divine Mercy and the need for repentance.
This Sunday is also the last day of the Octave of Easter, and so, in a sense, it is the climax of our celebration of Easter. As we reach the height of our Easter octave, the readings focus on God’s mercy. Why is that?
God’s merciful love is the Good News of the Gospel, and the reason why Christ suﬀered, died, and rose again. The Catechism goes so far as to say that, “The Gospel is the revelation in Jesus Christ of God’s mercy to sinners” (CCC 1846). God’s mercy reached down to us in our sinful state and sent us a Savior, who took on human ﬂesh so that we might have life with him.
First Reading Reflection
Today’s First Reading illustrates how the nascent Church begins to develop following the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday, highlighting the unity and spirit of sharing that characterizes the new community of faith. Believers are called to be of “one heart and mind,” that is, to show care and concern for each other in imitation of God’s mercy toward all of us. Those who are blessed with material goods generously place them at the disposal of the entire community by allowing the Apostles to distribute them according to the needs of each member. In this way, the material needs of the community are provided for, and the Apostles can devote themselves to bearing witness to the Gospel in accordance with Jesus’s ﬁnal command to go and “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19, RSV: 2CE). Thus, charity and trust in the leadership of the Apostles characterize the spirit of the followers of Christ. In response to this obedience of faith, God blesses his people “and great favor was accorded them all.” God’s generosity and mercy toward his people are demonstrated through miracles, the inspired witness of the Gospel message, and the care and concern of the ﬂedgling community toward each other. Like the early Christians, Christians today are also called to be good stewards, ready to show mercy and generosity to those in need.
Second Reading Reflection
In this passage, John demonstrates how faith conquers the world by linking belief in Christ with the command to love. To be a true Christian, we must believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah sent by the Father. Only through the revelation of the Son can we come to believe in God as Father. To love the Father is to love the Son and those united to him. We fulﬁll this love for the Father (and for each other) by our obedience to God’s commandments. Since this obedience is born out of love, it should not be burdensome and should testify to our faith.
Since the same Spirit who testifies at Jesus’s baptism also testifies at his death, we can have confidence that Jesus is the pre-existent Son who came “through water and blood” to show us the way to eternal life. Through Baptism, we share in the Death and Resurrection of Christ by dying to our old self and being born anew into the life of Christ. The grace of Baptism enables us to become disciples of Christ and living witnesses of Christ through our love of God and neighbor.
Gospel Reading Reflection
In this Gospel reading, Jesus institutes the Sacrament of Reconciliation, giving the Apostles a share in his authority by granting them the power to forgive sins. Instead of rebuking the Apostles for abandoning him in his time of suffering, Jesus breathes the gift of the Holy Spirit upon them and confers on them his own mission to seek out and save the lost. Through this beautiful gift of mercy, Jesus demonstrates his desire to forgive our sins and restore us to full communion with him when we do fall into sin. This assurance should bring us peace and joy.
Sometimes it can be diﬃcult to believe in the forgiveness of sins, and St. Thomas reminds us how diﬃcult it can be to believe in Christ even by one who had walked with him. But, like Thomas, Jesus invites us to touch his wounds and be healed of our doubts. St. Peter tells us that “by his wounds, you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:25; RSV: 2CE). Through the healing power of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we too can touch Christ’s wounds and proclaim with Thomas, “My Lord and my God!” According to Jesus’s words, our belief in the teachings handed down by the successors of the Apostles is merited as great faith: “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” This faith, John writes, allows us to “have life in his name.”
The message of Divine Mercy is nothing new to Christians. It has always been the central message of the Gospel. Today, we live in times of unprecedented evil. But St. Paul told the Romans, “where sin is increases, grace abounds all the more.” The Lord has a plan to unleash his mercy on the world in unprecedented ways.
But the founts of his mercy have always been with us in the Sacraments. When Christ instituted his Church, he knew what we would be facing today. He knew that after he ascended to the Father, we would still need access to God’s mercy. So he left us with his very self in the Eucharist, entrusted to the Church and her Apostles. In the Gospel today we witness him instituting the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the great sacrament of mercy.
Think of your own life. Where do you need God’s mercy? Are you willing to open that place to God’s merciful love? If you are afraid, ask yourself where your fear is coming from and try to bring it to the Lord.
Digging Deeper: The Sacrament of Reconciliation
In his encyclical Dives in Misericordia, Pope St. John Paul II says that “the Church lives an authentic life when she professes and proclaims mercy . . . and when she brings people close to the sources of the Savior’s mercy, of which she is the trustee and dispenser” (13). This idea is made clear by the readings for today, which show Jesus’s own mercy to Thomas and also reveal him granting the Apostles and their successors the ability to show that mercy.
John Paul II later goes on to say that the Sacrament of Reconciliation is one of the key ways the Church acts as her most authentic self because it “prepares the way for each individual, even those weighed down with great faults. In this sacrament each person can experience mercy in a unique way, that is, the love which is more powerful than sin” (13).