Divine Mercy Sunday, Year A.
Acts 2:42-47 – 1Peter 1:3-9 – John 20:19-31.
Greetings to each and every one of you today on this celebration of the mercy of God. Pope St John Paul II promulgated this feast, which is celebrated at the conclusion of the octave of Easter. The feast reminds us that the whole mystery of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ allows us to experience the mercy of God. God, who understands our lowliness and our fragility, our frailty and our sinfulness, reaches out to us with love and pity. The Latin noun for ‘mercy’ is “misericordia” which means literally “a heart of pity”; it is more than just pity, though: it is ‘a heart of pity’. The heart is a symbol of love, isn’t it? So we can say that God pities our lowly state out of the depth of His love for us. The Sacred Heart was and is so full of pity for us, that blood and water were willingly poured out for us when it was pierced on the cross. The prayer to the Divine Mercy, revealed to Saint Faustina Kowalska, goes like this: “Oh, blood and water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fountain of mercy for us, I trust in you.” As we celebrate this feast of God’s mercy, we are reminded how invaluable such grace is for us, and indeed for everyone in the world. From the very moment of our Baptism, we were appointed agents of God’s mercy to fragile and broken humanity. We are commissioned to bring healing and succour to people, just as the apostles did when they responded to the mission with which Jesus tasked them. Every day, in the small but nonetheless amazing way that we live out our lives and relate to people around us, let us continue to bring much-needed succour to others to facilitate the joyful living-out of life.
The first reading tells us about the exemplary way of life in the early Church. It was a life of togetherness, of congregation and communion, of praying together in the Temple and of breaking bread together in their houses. We may ask ourselves: was this a radically new way of life to the followers of Jesus, and if so, when did they start to live out this lifestyle? My personal view is that I don’t think it was entirely new to them, because when Jesus was with them in His humanity, this was the way He taught them to live. This particular lifestyle is intrinsic to all four gospels. Jesus was with His disciples on a daily basis. His mission took them with Him around the country from one synagogue to another, to the Temple in Jerusalem, to the homes of people to eat together, and so on. In the Acts of the Apostles, we find the apostles continuing the way of life that they learned from Jesus. That way of life has continued right up to our own time. We live it out today in our homes and our neighbourhoods; for us, the churches are places of coming together and of celebrating as Jesus did before we are sent out sanctified and refreshed to our homes and to daily life. We celebrate through the liturgies of the Church. In our present lockdown situation, we use every possible means to reach out to each other and to be in cruciform communion, both horizontally (for each other) and vertically (with God) in prayer and reflection on the Word of God.
In the Holy Mass, where we reflect on God’s Word and pray communally, I join my voice with those of the Psalmist and St Peter (in the second reading) to give thanks to the Lord for His merciful love, through which He has restored humanity. When the human race had lost all hope, when we were broken and seemingly abandoned, He gave us new birth as His children through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Unless Jesus had risen from the dead, we wouldn’t have been given hope of eternal life in Heaven, and we wouldn’t have understood the meaning behind the lifestyle that Jesus instructed us to live.
Our mission is to signal to the world God’s love and mercy. Our mission is to dispel any doubt God’s children might harbour about God’s care for all of us, collectively and individually, and to give them grounds to believe that He is with us and active on our behalf. As in the gospel reading, He is visiting our homes where we have isolated ourselves, not because of the fear of human enemies but because of the fear of an invisible enemy, the killer virus. He is in our midst and saying to us all, ‘Shalom’ – “Peace be with you”. During Holy Mass, we purposely repeat these words of peace as Jesus did when He met with the disciples. At this time of fear and uncertainty about anything and everything, we might be upset, which is why Jesus – who visits us now in our homes – is saying, “Peace be with you”. To put it another way, He is saying, “I am still in charge. Now the Father and I send you the power of the Holy Spirit to forgive your sins, and I need you to respond by bringing much-needed peace and reassurance of My mercy and My Heart of pity to the lives of others.”
At this time a lot of people are agitated, as Thomas was reported to be in the gospel reading. We sense the agitation and lack of peace in Thomas, in contrast to the peace of the rest of the Apostles who believed that the Lord had risen. Only when we believe in the Resurrection are we able to maintain our peace in the face of the uncertainties of life. The promise of Jesus is that He will give us a peace which the world cannot give (John 14:27).
The doubt of Doubting Thomas is better understood as a refusal to believe. We can only guess at what he might have been asking himself. Maybe he was wondering ‘Why didn’t Jesus show Himself when I was around? Wasn’t He really there?’ ‘Why wouldn’t He show himself to me as well? Was it because He couldn’t?’ ‘Why was I excluded from meeting Him? Are the others having me on?’ Thomas exhibited the pain of exclusion, of being left out, which led him not simply to doubt but to reject the news of the Resurrection. There are so many in our own time who feel the same way as Thomas might have done – rejected, abandoned, neglected, excluded, unrecognised, unassisted, and so on – and in turn they doubt or reject the news of the Resurrection. But the Resurrection of Jesus is true! It really happened! The Living Lord of mercy visited Thomas and He will visit you too. For your sake, Jesus will visit you and the circumstances in which you find yourself so that you will be able to acknowledge Him and say like Thomas, “ My Lord and my God”. Any time you find yourself in distress, why not try to see it as an opportunity to make a profound expression of faith, as Thomas did: My Lord and my God.
Thomas’ confession of the risen Lord came after his request for concrete evidence of the Resurrection had been fulfilled. The world in our own time demands proof of the Resurrection. People demand physical and empirical evidence before accepting that God is genuinely with them. People need us to prove by our words and our actions that we bring the message – the Good News – of the genuine offer of God’s mercy and peace on earth. We have received the gifts of the Holy Spirit and so we can demonstrate by our good works that God is real, God is merciful and God has a Heart of pity. Yes, my being a Christian is revealed by my verbal confession of Him, but it is emphasised by what I actually do in response to His mercy towards me. Can you show me by your deeds that you are a Christian? What have you done or what are you going to do in response to His mercy? How far have you gone to ensure that the will of God is carried out in your life? How much have you sacrificed for the sake of Christ? How far would you say that you’ve used your time and talents to serve God? May I remind you that in carrying out the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, we live out in practical terms the Christian calling because we become instruments of God’s mercy. And what are the seven corporal works of mercy? They are: to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to give shelter to travellers, to visit the sick, to visit the imprisoned, and to bury the dead. And what are the seven spiritual works of mercy? They are: to instruct the ignorant, to counsel the doubtful, to admonish sinners, to bear patiently those who wrong us, to forgive offences, to comfort the afflicted, and to pray for the living and the dead. Amen. God bless you.