Divine Mercy Sunday
Fr. Joseph Levine; April 19, 2020
Readings: Acts 2:42-47; Ps 118:2-4,13-15,22-24; 1 Pe 1:3-9; Jn20:19-31
On Easter Sunday, I wrote about the need to live by a faith the elevates us above passion and emotion, so that we can offer to God the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth through, with, and in Jesus Christ, our Passover Lamb offered on the altar. (cf. 1 Cor 5:8)
Faith is not a feeling, but a movement of the mind and will towards the truth revealed by God.
In today’s 1st reading we learned how the very first Christians devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles. That is very significant. They did not devote themselves immediately to the word of God, but to the teaching of the Apostles. The teaching of the Apostles is the teaching of Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh, who said to them, As the Father sends me, so I send you. The teaching of Jesus Christ only comes to us through the Apostles. This is the teaching that is handed on in the sacred Tradition of the Church. The teaching of the Apostles gives to us the true meaning of the sacred Scripture of the Old Testament (cf. Lk 24:45); as for the sacred Scripture of the New Testament it is a record of the teaching of the Apostles, complete perhaps to the substance, but not to all the details. The teaching of the Apostles, handed on in the Church and confirmed by the authentic Magisterium of the Church, is the rule of truth to which our faith must conform. That means that we must believe everything that the Holy Roman Catholic Church proposes as revealed by God.
Last Sunday, I wrote that “we must offer to God the will, rightly ordered to the true good, which is grasped by the mind through faith and reason, to which the emotions and imagination must be subordinated. We must offer to God a life of true virtue, the fruit of grace.”
Nevertheless, while the “life of virtue subordinates the imagination and emotions to the truth of reality through the mind and the will … it does not suppress imagination and emotion, but harnesses their energy directing them to the true, the good, and the beautiful.”
Further, “Catholic devotional life, reflecting the reality of the Word made flesh, is a practical key to harness the imagination and emotions in the service of God.” In these days, in which access to the sacraments is limited, the devotional life has become most necessary for people to remain anchored in the faith and grow in the interior life of prayer, while maintaining the true Catholic spirit.
Last Sunday, I briefly touched on how devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus does this; this Sunday, Divine Mercy Sunday, we are presented with another devotional focus, the devotion to the Divine Mercy, represented in the well-known image.
Since I mentioned devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus last Sunday it will be good to note how the two devotions are intimately related. The Sacred Heart is hidden in the image of Jesus as the Divine Mercy because the image clearly shows us rays of red and white light coming from that hidden Heart.
The image of Divine Mercy was communicated by Jesus to St. Faustina Kowalska, in her life of prayer in the Holy Spirit. The image draws together, synthesizes, and presents to our faith many elements from the word of God.
In the first place, Jesus himself, risen from the dead, appears in priestly garb. While he wears only the plain alb, this is reminiscent of the ankle-length robe in which he appeared to St. John in the book of Revelation. (cf. Rev 1:13) So also, his right hand is raised in a gesture of blessing. He is the eternal high priest who is always able to save those who approach God through him, since he lives forever to make intercession for them. (He 7:25)
The red and white rays of light coming from Jesus’ side remind us of the scene, shortly after his death on the Cross, when the soldier pierced his side with a lance and immediately blood and water flowed out. (Jn 19:34)
St. John Chrysostom beautifully explains to us how the real, historical flow of blood and water from Jesus’ wounded side represent the two sacraments of baptism and the holy eucharist. He adds: “From these two sacraments the Church is born … since the symbols of baptism and the eucharist flowed from his side, it was from his side that Christ fashioned the Church, as he had fashioned Eve from the side of Adam. Moses gave a hint of this when he tells the story of the first man and makes him exclaim: Bone from my bone and flesh from my flesh! As God then took a rib from Adam’s side to fashion a woman, so Christ has given us blood and water from his side to fashion the Church. God took the rib when Adam was in a deep sleep, and in the same way Christ gave us the blood and water after his own death.” (Catecheses of St. John Chrysostom, Liturgy of the Hours, Vol. II, pp. 473-474)
The image of Divine Mercy, then, shows us Jesus as both High Priest and Bridegroom of the Church.
The wounded side of Jesus appears again in today’s Gospel. First on the very day of the Resurrection, Jesus showed his hands and his side to the Apostles, hidden in the upper room, and said to them, Peace be with you, forgiving their sins and cowardice, and giving them the power to forgive sins through the sacrament of penance, confession. Then, eight days later, appearing to them again in the upper room, he says to Thomas: Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe. Thomas then makes his profession of faith: My Lord and my God. The glorious wounds of Jesus, risen from the dead, heal the unbelief of the Apostle St. Thomas.
The image of the Divine Mercy represents those glorious wounds, or more particularly, the wound in the side, by means of the rays of light coming forth from Jesus’ side.
St. Thomas saw Jesus himself risen from the dead. Jesus said to him: Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed. Jesus speaks there to us, who have not seen, but believe.
That is why the evangelist, St. John wrote: These things are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.
The image of Divine Mercy, though, calls for more than just a simple declaration of faith, such as St. Thomas made. The words beneath the image take us one vital step further: “Jesus, I trust in you.” From faith we must go to surrender; we must place our life and our salvation in Jesus’ hands with absolute, unconditional, unwavering trust.
Trust in Jesus teaches us to look not to the sins of our past, to our wounds, to our weakness, to our standing in the eyes of men, or to our position or rank in human society, but to God’s mercy revealed to us in Jesus Christ.
Trust in Jesus teaches us to rely on the new birth that was given us in baptism, the birth to the life of grace, the birth to the life of the children of God.
Trust in Jesus teaches us that even if we have lost the life of grace through our own fault on account of mortal sins – few or many, comparatively small or great and monstrous indeed – that God’s mercy does not drive us to despair, but calls us to repentance and hope. No matter how great our sins, he is always ready to forgive us in Jesus Christ, so long as we truly repent of our sins and are ready to take up anew the life of the children of God.
Trust in Jesus teaches us to rely on the living hope that has been given us through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, the hope for an heavenly inheritance that is imperishable (unlike everything that belongs to this world laboring beneath the pandemic), undefiled (purified not only of every sin, but of every disorder that could lead to sin), and unfading (that means that unlike the flowers of this world, it will never lose its living freshness and unlike the pleasures of this world, it will never cause us weariness, boredom, or disgust).
Trust in Jesus gives us the strength to pass through the trials and sufferings of this world, even those of the pandemic, filled with joy, as our love for Jesus Christ grows daily ever more.
The practicality of the devotion to the Divine Mercy does not stop with contemplating the image, but it engages our memory, our lips, and our hands.
The devotion to the Divine Mercy asks us to remember the three o’clock hour, each day, the hour at which Christ died, as the ‘hour of mercy’. At that moment we can whisper the prayer: “Blood and water which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fountain of mercy for us, I trust in you.”
Then we are also given the chaplet of mercy, which can be prayed on ordinary rosary beads, only with different prayers.
After the introductory prayers, on each “Our Father” bead, we pray, “Eternal Father, I offer you the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of your dearly beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.” Through this prayer each one of the faithful is able to exercise the common priesthood that he received in his baptism, uniting himself to the sacrifice offered by Jesus Christ on the Cross and by his priestly minister upon the altar at Mass.
Next, on the “Hail Mary” beads, we pray, “For the sake of his sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.”
Finally, in the measure that we begin to recognize the mercy of God, receive it into our own lives, let ourselves be transformed by his mercy, we will rejoice also to practice mercy towards others, fulfilling Jesus’ commandment: As I have loved you, so must you love one another – with a merciful love. (Jn 13:34)