As we celebrate the eighth and last continuous day of Easter today (the end of the “Octave”), we focus on the mercy of Christ. The Church has always been about the mercy of Christ of course – that’s central to our faith – but Pope St. John Paul II placed a special emphasis on its importance around the year 2000 when he connected it inseparably with Easter, by naming this day, the second Sunday of Easter, “Divine Mercy Sunday.”
He was strongly influenced by a Polish contemporary, St. Faustina Kowalsak, who had visions of the power of Christ’s mercy, flowing from His crucified wounds which were glorified in His rising from the dead. Those wounds would become the “portals” through which the power of the sacraments and Jesus’ divine forgiveness flowed out upon the world, especially through baptism and the holy Eucharist. Those two sacraments work together with the sacrament of reconciliation (confession) which is essential for our spiritual life when we turn away from God, sin, and become again in need of God’s mercy.
You can learn a lot more about this by checking out the website of a religious order of priests called the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, whose charism (central gift to the Church) is preaching and administering the mercy of Christ and spreading devotion to that Divine Mercy: Just visit thedivinemercy.org Here are some of the basics of Divine Mercy (the “ABCs”) from their website:
Ask for His Mercy. God wants us to approach Him in prayer constantly, repenting of our sins and asking Him to pour His mercy out upon us and upon the whole world.
Be merciful. God wants us to receive His mercy and let it flow through us to others. He wants us to extend love and forgiveness to others just as He does to us.
Completely trust in Jesus. God wants us to know that all the graces of His mercy can only be received by our trust. The more we open the door of our hearts and lives to Him with trust, the more we can receive. Many people recently have developed a devotion to the Divine Mercy of the Lord by reading and praying through the diary.
Sr. Faustina kept, inspired by the Holy Spirit to focus on the wideness of Jesus’ mercy. The Lord revealed to her beautiful visual images of what that mercy “looks like” – images so powerful they now adorn many churches around the world, including our two here in South Clermont, fittingly enough near the entrances to the confessionals.
But it is important to note that this is not merely a devotional practice. The need to turn to God’s mercy is at the very core of the original preaching of St. Peter and the Apostles on the Resurrection. We proclaim these scriptures during the daily Masses of the Easter Octave. St. Peter is obviously starting with the basics just months after the Lord rose from the dead when this was not yet known to the world. And we always do well to get back to the basics in our own spiritual lives to kick start our own eagerness to share the good news with friends, families, neighbors, and co-workers.
Here is one key excerpt from the Book of Acts, recounting just how St. Peter set the world on fire in that early preaching:
You who are children of Israel, hear these words.
Jesus the Nazorean was a man commended to you by God
with mighty deeds, wonders, and signs,
which God worked through him in your midst, as you yourselves know.
This man, delivered up by the set plan and foreknowledge of God,
you killed, using lawless men to crucify him.
But God raised him up, releasing him from the throes of death,
Let the whole house of Israel know for certain
that God has made him both Lord and Christ,
this Jesus whom you crucified.”
Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart,
and they asked Peter and the other Apostles,
“What are we to do, my brothers?”
Peter said to them,
“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of
Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins;
and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
We see in this preaching a distilled version of the whole Gospel proclaimed in every generation of the Church until Christ comes again: Jesus the Son of God loved us enough to die for our sins; but God raised Him up from the dead; in response to that great love, we need to repent (that is, turn away from whatever sin separates us from God and open ourselves up to receive His mercy. How do we do that? Primarily through the sacraments, beginning with baptism but continuing in receiving the Holy Spirit (in confirmation). That divine life is nourished by sharing in the sacrifice of Christ in the holy Mass and repaired and restored when we fail to remain united with the Lord by going to confession.
How did St. Peter begin to understand all this? From what happened in today’s Gospel (John 20). Our Lord’s first “order of business” when He rose from the dead was to return to the Apostles to breathe the peace of the Holy Spirit upon them, and empower them to forgive the sins of others, as he would do for priests ordained in every generation until the end of time.
May the Lord always keep our hearts grateful for His Divine Mercy.