Second Sunday of Easter: Divine Mercy Sunday (Reflection)

For His mercy endures forever…

Acts 5:10-16, Ps. 118.2-4, 13-15, 22-24

Rev. 1.9-11A, 12-13, 17-19

800px-The_Incredulity_of_Saint_Thomas_by_Caravaggio

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

What is mercy? Well, let me ask you another question, in hopes that we discover the answer: Are you a “doubting Thomas?” If you are anything like me, there have probably been many times throughout your life where you could answer “yes” to that question. Especially in our world today, we tend to look for hard, physical evidence, looking for the scientific basis of this or that situation. But even more so, I think there is another reason why we can call ourselves, at times, “doubting Thomas.” It’s hard for us to believe that our Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, hung upon the cross for us, and not just us as a collective group, but for you and me individually, as if we were the only persons in existence. Even though it is only a week after we celebrated the Resurrection of our Lord, we might have doubts and questions! But this is why we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday, to serve as a reminder that all of us have received the free and unmerited gift of His mercy, that His triumph over death is real, if only we are willing to accept it. We see this in our first reading as the “believers in the Lord” were gathering: even though they were sick and maligned, “they were all cured”[1] at the hands of the apostles. Nothing was asked of them but faith in Jesus Christ, and nothing more is asked of us in order to find true healing. All we have to do to accept this gift of mercy is proclaim Jesus as the one who triumphed over death, and to embrace that “[our] strength and [our] courage is the Lord.”[2]

So let’s return to the image of the doubting Thomas: where can we find mercy? A doubting Thomas looks for the proof, and finds it difficult to accept in faith, something that many of us may be able to readily identify with! The beautiful reality, brothers and sisters, is that He brings the proof to us; He meets us right where we are at, with all of our sins and failings, inviting us to something more, something beautiful and glorious. This is mercy! When Thomas expresses his doubt, the Lord, in His mercy, approaches him and invites Thomas, invites him!, to bring his hand and place it into the Lord’s side. Only then, when Thomas is able to physically touch the Lord, does He exclaim, “My Lord and my God!”[3] The Lord knew Thomas, and knows us, and just as he knew that Thomas needed that moment of physical touch, so too does He know exactly what we need in order to experience and accepts His grace and mercy. Mercy is the Lord reaching out to us.

Divine Mercy

Pope Francis describes mercy as, “the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness.”[4] But we do not build this bridge; it is Christ’s mercy, Christ’s bridge, that brings us closer to Him. Just as the Lord knew what bridge had to be built for Thomas, namely showing him and allowing him to feel the wounds in His side, He knows as well just what form the bridge needs to take for us, but we have to be willing to cross it to accept His mercy.

But where is our bridge? Of course, each one of us experiences Christ’s everlasting mercy and love in a unique manner, but it all flows from one place: from the sacraments, from confession, and most especially, the Word made flesh on the Eucharistic table. It is here that He calls to us and tells us, “do not be afraid.”[5] In His mercy, He provides the bridge, beckoning us to open our hearts to being led across, telling us, “do not be unbelieving but believe.”[6] The gift is there waiting for us; we just have to accept it. When we do cross this bridge, we die to sin, and are born to new life.[7]

So brothers and sisters, the Lord invites you and me, as He invited Thomas, to a deep and personal encounter with Him. This encounter, which takes place especially in the Eucharist and Confession, is one where we will discover the mercy of Christ, “by whose Spirit [we] have been reborn and by whose blood [we] have been redeemed.”[8] Let us “receive the Holy Spirit”, inviting mercy into our lives. As we profess our faith, let us keep the Easter acclamation, “Alleluia!” in our hearts, minds, and actions, proclaiming to the world that His mercy endures forever, and His love is indeed everlasting.[9]


 

  1. [1] Acts 5.16
  2. [2] Psalm 118.15
  3. [3] John 20.26
  4. [4] Pope Francis, Misericordae Vultus
  5. [5] Rev. 1.17
  6. [6] John 20.27
  7. [7] CCC 1988
  8. [8] Collect for 2nd Sunday of Easter, Yr. C
  9. [9] Ps. 118 and Response

First Sunday of Advent: Hope (Pope’s Homily)

In today’s homily for the First Sunday of Advent, Pope Francis reminded us that our salvation in Christ, at its core, is about justice, love, and the invincible power of God; in this we have our hope. With these thoughts, he opened the Year of Mercy at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, located in Bangui in in the Central African Republic. The Jubilee of Mercy will be officially opened in Rome on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Tuesday, December 8.

The readings for today’s Mass can be found here. The homily in full:

On this first Sunday of Advent, the liturgical season of joyful expectation of the Saviour and a symbol of Christian hope, God has brought me here among you, in this land, while the universal Church is preparing for the opening of the Jubilee Year of Mercy. I am especially pleased that my pastoral visit coincides with the opening of this Jubilee Year in your country. From this cathedral I reach out, in mind and heart, and with great affection, to all the priests, consecrated men and women, and pastoral workers of the nation, who are spiritually united with us at this moment. Through you, I would greet all the people of the Central African Republic: the sick, the elderly, those who have experienced life’s hurts. Some of them are perhaps despairing and listless, asking only for alms, the alms of bread, the alms of justice, the alms of attention and goodness.

But like the Apostles Peter and John on their way to the Temple, who had neither gold nor silver to give to the paralytic in need, I have come to offer God’s strength and power; for these bring us healing, set us on our feet and enable us to embark on a new life, to “go across to the other side” (cf. Lk 8:22).

Jesus does not make us cross to the other side alone; instead, he asks us to make the crossing with him, as each of us responds to his or her own specific vocation. We need to realize that making this crossing can only be done with him, by freeing ourselves of divisive notions of family and blood in order to build a Church which is God’s family, open to everyone, concerned for those most in need. This presupposes closeness to our brothers and sisters; it implies a spirit of communion. It is not primarily a question of financial means; it is enough just to share in the life of God’s people, in accounting for the hope which is in us (cf. 1 Pet 3:15), in testifying to the infinite mercy of God who, as the Responsorial Psalm of this Sunday’s liturgy makes clear, is “good [and] instructs sinners in the way” (Ps 24:8). Jesus teaches us that our heavenly Father “makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good” (Mt 5:45). Having experienced forgiveness ourselves, we must forgive others in turn. This is our fundamental vocation: “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48).

One of the essential characteristics of this vocation to perfection is the love of our enemies, which protects us from the temptation to seek revenge and from the spiral of endless retaliation. Jesus placed special emphasis on this aspect of the Christian testimony (cf. Mt 5:46-47). Those who evangelize must therefore be first and foremost practitioners of forgiveness, specialists in reconciliation, experts in mercy. This is how we can help our brothers and sisters to “cross to the other side” – by showing them the secret of our strength, our hope, and our joy, all of which have their source in God, for they are grounded in the certainty that he is in the boat with us. As he did with the apostles at the multiplication of the loaves, so too the Lord entrusts his gifts to us, so that we can go out and distribute them everywhere, proclaiming his reassuring words: “Behold, the days are coming when I will fulfil the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah” (Jer 33:14).

In the readings of this Sunday’s liturgy, we can see different aspects of this salvation proclaimed by God; they appear as signposts to guide us on our mission. First of all, the happiness promised by God is presented as justice. Advent is a time when we strive to open our hearts to receive the Saviour, who alone is just and the sole Judge able to give to each his or her due. Here as elsewhere, countless men and women thirst for respect, for justice, for equality, yet see no positive signs on the horizon. These are the ones to whom he comes to bring the gift of his justice (cf. Jer 33:15). He comes to enrich our personal and collective histories, our dashed hopes and our sterile yearnings. And he sends us to proclaim, especially to those oppressed by the powerful of this world or weighed down by the burden of their sins, that “Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it shall be called, ‘The Lord is our righteousness’” (Jer 33:16). Yes, God is righteousness; God is justice. This, then, is why we Christians are called in the world to work for a peace founded on justice.

The salvation of God which we await is also flavoured with love. In preparing for the mystery of Christmas, we relive the pilgrimage which prepared God’s people to receive the Son, who came to reveal that God is not only righteousness, but also and above all love (cf. 1 Jn 4:8). In every place, even and especially in those places where violence, hatred, injustice and persecution hold sway, Christians are called to give witness to this God who is love. In encouraging the priests, consecrated men and woman, and committed laity who, in this country live, at times heroically, the Christian virtues, I realize that the distance between this demanding ideal and our Christian witness is at times great. For this reason I echo the prayer of Saint Paul: “Brothers and sisters, may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all men and women” (1 Th 3:12). Thus what the pagans said of the early Christians will always remain before us like a beacon: “See how they love one another, how they truly love one another” (Tertullian, Apology, 39, 7).

Finally, the salvation proclaimed by God has an invincible power which will make it ultimately prevail. After announcing to his disciples the terrible signs that will precede his coming, Jesus concludes: “When these things begin to take place, look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Lk 21:28). If Saint Paul can speak of a love which “grows and overflows”, it is because Christian witness reflects that irresistible power spoken of in the Gospel. It is amid unprecedented devastation that Jesus wishes to show his great power, his incomparable glory (cf. Lk 21:27) and the power of that love which stops at nothing, even before the falling of the heavens, the conflagration of the world or the tumult of the seas. God is stronger than all else. This conviction gives to the believer serenity, courage and the strength to persevere in good amid the greatest hardships. Even when the powers of Hell are unleashed, Christians must rise to the summons, their heads held high, and be ready to brave blows in this battle over which God will have the last word. And that word will be love and peace!

To all those who make unjust use of the weapons of this world, I make this appeal: lay down these instruments of death! Arm yourselves instead with righteousness, with love and mercy, the authentic guarantors of peace. As followers of Christ, dear priests, religious and lay pastoral workers, here in this country, with its suggestive name, situated in the heart of Africa and called to discover the Lord as the true centre of all that is good, your vocation is to incarnate the very heart of God in the midst of your fellow citizens. May the Lord deign to “strengthen your hearts in holiness, that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints” (1 Th 3:13). Reconciliation. Forgiveness. Love. Peace. Amen.

H/T to Whispers.

Pope Francis: Fasting and Prayer for Peace in Syria on Saturday

On Sunday during his Angelus address, Pope Francis announced a day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria, to occur Saturday, September 7:

I appeal strongly for peace, an appeal which arises from the deep within me. How much suffering, how much devastation, how much pain has the use of arms carried in its wake in that martyred country, especially among civilians and the unarmed! I think of many children will not see the light of the future! With utmost firmness I condemn the use of chemical weapons: I tell you that those terrible images from recent days are burned into my mind and heart. There is a judgment of God and of history upon our actions which are inescapable! Never has the use of violence brought peace in its wake. War begets war, violence begets violence.

With all my strength, I ask each party in this conflict to listen to the voice of their own conscience, not to close themselves in solely on their own interests, but rather to look at each other as brothers and decisively and courageously to follow the path of encounter and negotiation, and so overcome blind conflict. With similar vigour I exhort the international community to make every effort to promote clear proposals for peace in that country without further delay, a peace based on dialogue and negotiation, for the good of the entire Syrian people.

Later on, he references Pacem in Terris, written by Pope John XIII:

What can we do to make peace in the world? As Pope John said, it pertains to each individual to establish new relationships in human society under the mastery and guidance of justice and love.

Finally, the details surrounding the day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria:

To this end, brothers and sisters, I have decided to proclaim for the whole Church on 7 September next, the vigil of the birth of Mary, Queen of Peace, a day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria, the Middle East, and throughout the world, and I also invite each person, including our fellow Christians, followers of other religions and all men of good will, to participate, in whatever way they can, in this initiative.

On 7 September, in Saint Peter’s Square, here, from 19:00 until 24:00 [1-6pm Eastern, 10am-1pm Pacific], we will gather in prayer and in a spirit of penance, invoking God’s great gift of peace upon the beloved nation of Syria and upon each situation of conflict and violence around the world. Humanity needs to see these gestures of peace and to hear words of hope and peace! I ask all the local churches, in addition to fasting, that they gather to pray for this intention.

My friends, there is no denying that the situation in Syria is grave. Action must be taken. But our action must be informed by the Gospel; we need to be instruments of justice and love. This Saturday, pray for peace in Syria, and let us always remember to pray for peace throughout the whole world.

Mary, Queen of Peace, pray for us.

Pax et bonum.

PS: H/t to to Rocco Palmo. For a full transcript of Pope Francis’ talk, as well as video of the address (you’ll need to brush up on your Italian), head on over to the original post.