The great mystery of Easter — the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus from the dead — is celebrated for eight days continuously in the Church, including today, the Second Sunday of Easter. About 20 years ago, Pope St, John Paul II renamed this capstone of the Easter Octave “Divine Mercy Sunday.” He was heavily influenced by a contemporary, St. Faustina Kowalska, a contemplative nun who had mystical conversations with the Lord about the depth and riches of the mercy of God the Father and of His Son Jesus Christ. She recorded some of those conversations in her spiritual diary, which is still widely available today. Out of those conversations of prayer also came a vision of how this great mercy of God flows out onto the world. In it, the Lord shining with the light of His Resurrection is blessing the world with his uplifted right hand, while his left hands rests on the wounds of his pierced side and Sacred Heart, from which two brilliant rays of light shine forth, one white and one red, representing in a sense the power of the sacraments to be avenues of mercy: the saving waters of baptism and the Precious Blood of Christ.
We hear that term, mercy, a lot. But what does it mean? To get at the heart of it, we have to understand a little bit about sin and suffering. (See Marcellino D’Ambrosio’s 2013 article in Catholic Exchange and the short article on catholicity.com on sin and mercy, which gives a very concise summary of the Catechism [paragraphs 1846-53], for more detail on what follows).
Through the sin of Adam and Eve our first parents and the ongoing personal sin of us their descendants, as human beings we decided to renounce our relationship with God and the dignity of being His sons and daughters. This resulted in untold suffering and a slavery to this state of sin.
What is sin? It is disobedience and revolt, and even, as the great teacher St. Augustine puts it, “love of oneself even to the contempt of God.” Or to put it even more simply, it is loving our own will and pleasure more than God Himself, or exalting ourselves above God. Another way to define it is anything that we say, do, or actively desire, that is contrary to what is good for our eternal life, the fullness of living in God’s divine friendship. Sin is not reasonable because God reveals, and our reason knows, that sin brings us unhappiness in the long term — and sometimes even the short term as well. But still, for our immediate satisfaction, we sometimes choose it.
The ultimate effect of sin — without God’s intervention — is eternal unhappiness, self-absorption and separation from the love of God.
In simplest terms, then, mercy is God’s response to man’s suffering. In His profound love for us, God wants to save us from those terrible consequences. We could add it is the unmerited (undeserved) response of God Who is Love, since we choose — without God’s help — to bring this suffering upon ourselves. God created us in love without our cooperation. But because he made us with the dignity of sons and daughters, He does not save us from the effects of our sin and free us from the grip of sin unless we choose willingly to cooperate.
So the first and necessary step in receiving God’s mercy is to admit our sinfulness. Or, as the Catechism puts it: God’s grace is like a physician probing our wounds; sin must be uncovered before it is forgiven.
That uncovering and healing is done ordinarily in the sacrament of confession. I have written many times about how the Church as a whole and our parishes in particular can not be spiritually healthy or fruitful in her mission until the faithful return to this sacrament of reconciliation and mercy. That’s a topic for a whole other column, why people turned away from confession in the first place. Sadly, even many priests actively or passively discouraged it, either by reducing their availability for scheduled confession hours, failing to preach on sin, or minimizing it in other ways.
But St. John Paul did the opposite: he so encouraged people to encounter the mercy of Christ in the confessional that he attached what is called a plenary indulgence to those who make a good confession within a couple of weeks of Divine Mercy Sunday and follow the other necessary requirements. (That means that the effects of attachment to that sin are cleansed immediately in this life, rather than having to wait for purification after death).
I encourage people to come to confession soon to experience the wideness of God’s mercy. We have a special Divine Mercy penance and devotion service today at 1:30 at St. Mary but also have regular confession hours during the Monday holy hour at St. Peter and the Thursday holy hour at St. Mary (both 6:00 – 7:00 p.m.) as well as before Mass Saturdays on the days I am there for Mass.
As we continue to celebrate this Easter Octave and Easter Day, may the Lord reveal to you in the holy sacraments the depths of His mercy.