Monday, April 8, 2013

Divine Mercy

Readings for April 7/ Divine Mercy Sunday:

Acts 5:12-16
Psalm 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24
Revelation 1:9-13, 17-19
John 20:19-31

There is a tradition in the Church of referring to certain days of the liturgical year by specific marks from the liturgy itself – for instance Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday for obvious reasons, Candlemas Day when church candles are traditionally blessed, and Spy Wednesday when Judas was spying on the Lord to find a time to betray Him. Like those feasts, today too has a series of names by which it has been referred throughout the centuries. One of my favorites is “Quasimodo Sunday”, not after the Hunchback of Notre Dame, but rather from the words of the Introit or Entrance antiphon “Quasi modo geniti infantes” (As newborn infants). It has also been known as “Dominica in Albis” or “Sunday in white” when the neophytes came once more in their white garments to signify their recent baptism. To that we could also add “Low Sunday” as the celebration is slightly lower than Easter and “Pascha Clausem” which means simply “close of Easter.” In 2000 Blessed John Paul II added to that list Divine Mercy Sunday, which came as a surprise in the midst of his homily for the canonization of St. Faustina Kowalska.

St. Faustina was a young Polish nun who, in the 1930’s, had regular visions of the Lord Jesus. This had happened throughout the centuries to various holy men and women, often saints of the Church, for their own edification but sometimes the Lord appeared in order to convey some desire of His Heart. This was the case for St. Faustina, to whom the Lord revealed the His desire to spread the awareness and depth of His Divine Mercy. She recorded most of these visions of the Lord, which today is compiled as a book entitled Diary: Divine Mercy in My Soul.

One particular passage is quite relevant in explaining the mission entrusted to her:
My daughter, tell the whole world about My inconceivable mercy. I desire that the Feast of Mercy be a refuge and shelter for all souls, and especially for poor sinners. On that day the very depths of My tender mercy are open. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the fount of My mercy. The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment. On that day all the divine floodgates through which grace flow are opened. Let no soul fear to draw near to Me, even though its sins be as scarlet. My mercy is so great that no mind, be it of man or of angel, will be able to fathom it throughout all eternity. Everything that exists has come forth from the very depths of My most tender mercy. Every soul in its relation to Me will contemplate My love and mercy throughout eternity. The Feast of Mercy emerged from My very depths of tenderness. It is My desire that it be solemnly celebrated on the first Sunday after Easter. Mankind will not have peace until it turns to the Fount of My Mercy (Diary, 699).
This message of Divine Mercy being poured out upon is a powerful one and one that every one of us is called to receive for ourselves. It’s not just a private revelation from Our Lord, though. This reality of God’s infinite Mercy is all throughout the Scriptures, especially in the selections were hear proclaimed today.  The Psalm beautifully reminds us three times that “His Mercy endures forever.” This fits perfectly with the revelation to St. Faustina of the depths of the Divine Mercy and is but another voice reminding us of this truth.

The Gospel, though, not only speaks of the reality of Mercy but also shows it in action. We see that familiar scene when the Lord Jesus makes Himself present in the locked room with His disciples for the first time after the Resurrection. And what are His first words? “Peace be with you.” To the one who denied him three times, as well as to the other nine who abandoned Him in His our of greatest need, He comes and wishes them peace. Mercy in action even from the first! And I love how St. John recounts to us that as the Lord said “Peace be with you” a second time He opened His hands to show the wounds and revealed His pierced side as if to say “See my wounds, you have nothing more to fear for I have conquered everything that can do you harm.” And with that showing of Mercy to the disciples and the gift of peace they received, He also gives them the gift of the Holy Spirit that they might share that peace with the whole world through the forgiveness of sins.

Often I have heard the questions from Catholic and non-Catholics alike “Why do I have to go to a priest for confession? What does he have to do with my forgiveness? Can’t I just go straight to God?” The questions are good ones, but the truth is that the sacrament of reconciliation or confession is not something we made up but is something that Jesus Himself gave to us. Rather than the priest being some sort of wall that should be avoided between sinners and the Lord, the priest is the means through which the grace and mercy of God flow – and Jesus Himself set it up this way: “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven; whose sins you retain are retained.”

The truth is that all of us are in need of grace and mercy. Not one of us is perfect but rather we are all sinners and are all in need of God’s mercy. It doesn’t matter if we are farther from God than we’ve ever been, closer than we’ve ever been, or somewhere in the middle. God wants us to come to Him and find forgiveness and, through that forgiveness, peace. His Mercy is inconceivable – as He said, no mind can every fathom it throughout all eternity. This inconceiveable mercy also longs to be poured out not just on a few but upon all. The large numbers of people healed in our first reading are a sign of the immensity of the grace and gifts being offered by the Lord if we but open ourselves to receive them. So let us not keep our Lord waiting any longer. Come to confession. Receive His Grace. Receive His Mercy. Receive His Peace.

St. Faustina, pray for us!
Mary, Queen of Peace and Mother of Mercy, pray for us!
Jesus, I trust in You!