“I was hard pressed and was falling, but the LORD helped me” (Ps 118:13). In these words from our responsorial, the psalmist expresses something that all Christians experience.
God comes to our aid again and again through His Son, Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is to meet us in our most acute need that the first gift given by the Lord to His Church after His resurrection was the Sacrament of Penance, as we see in our Gospel for this Second Sunday of Easter, which is also Divine Mercy Sunday:
“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained” (John 20:21b-23)On the Second Sunday of Easter of the Jubilee Year 2000, at the Mass for the Canonization of St. Faustina Kowalska, Pope St. John Paul II (Boy, it feels right saying that!) proclaimed to the world that “from now on throughout the Church” this Sunday will be called “Divine Mercy Sunday.”
St. Faustina, the apostle of Divine Mercy, was the humble Polish nun to whom our resurrected and living Lord entrusted His message of Divine Mercy. It was our Lord Himself who, through this humble servant, requested that the Second Sunday of Easter be observed throughout the universal Church as the Feast of Divine Mercy. St. Faustina, at the request of her confessor kept a diary of her experiences. This is what she recorded about today’s feast:
On that day all the divine floodgates through which graces flow are opened. Let no soul fear to draw near to Me, even though its sins be as scarlet… The Feast of Mercy emerged from My very depths of tenderness. It is My desire that it be solemnly celebrated on the first Sunday after Easter (Diary of St Faustina Kowlaska, #699)During an Apostolic Journey to his native Poland in 1997, while visiting St. Faustina’s tomb, John Paul II said, “I give thanks to divine Providence that I have been enabled to contribute personally to the fulfillment of Christ’s will, through the institution of the Feast of Divine Mercy.” At the airport in Warsaw, leaving his beloved homeland for the last time in August 2002, John Paul II said, “Apart from the mercy of God there is no other source of hope for mankind" As the great Polish poet Czeslaw Milos wrote, “We needed God loving us in our weakness and not in the glory of beatitude.”
Divine Mercy meets us again and again in our need. In this vein I am always reminded of St Mark’s telling the story of the paralytic man, who, rather than continuing to wait outside the house where Jesus was healing the sick and the lame, had his friends pull him up onto to the roof in order to lower him down right in front of the Lord. Jesus did not rebuke the man, or his friends, but looking upon him, no doubt, with great tenderness, Jesus said, “Child, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5). This man’s need for God’s mercy was greater by far than his need to walk.
In light of our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles many ask, “Why are there no signs and wonders today?” It is both a sign and a source of wonder every time a priest, pointing to “God, the Father of mercies,” who, “through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself,” through the ministry of the Church, grants a penitent sinner (i.e., someone who grasps her/his need for Divine Mercy) “pardon and peace” by absolving him of his sins. Each time we gather to celebrate the Eucharist we behold a sign and wonder. At the Paschal Vigil last week we beheld the Baptism and Confirmation of our neophytes. What else are you looking for? If you don’t see these things for what they are, what makes you think you’re ready to behold more?
These signs and wonders are precisely what our opening collect for this Mass draws our attention to: “increase, we pray, the grace you have bestowed, that all may grasp and rightly understand in what font they have been washed, by whose Spirit they have been reborn, by whose Blood they have been redeemed.” Perhaps, like Thomas, we find this news too good to be true.
When Pope John XXIII convened the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council he was clear that the Council’s purpose was not to issue canons, or dogmatic formulae, let alone to promulgate condemnations. Instead, the Council’s purpose was to present the perennial truth of the Gospel in a more effective way to a world that was turning away from Christ and His Church. Good Pope John, as we was popularly known, knew that an action of God was necessary for such a renewal and so he implored the whole Church to pray for a “new Pentecost.” So, as we celebrate Easter, which culminates with Pentecost, let’s keep praying, “O, come Holy Spirit and renew the face of the earth.”
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet 1:3). Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II, whose canonizations the Church celebrates today, along with St Faustina, and the entire communion of saints, are witnesses to this new birth and living hope that only Jesus Christ, who is Divine Mercy, can effect. My dear friends in Christ, we, too, are called to be witnesses. Emboldened then by these signs and wonders, let’s heed the words of Pope John Paul II, the pope who originally called for the New Evangelization: “Do not be afraid to go out on the streets and into public places like first apostles who preached Christ [who is] the good news of salvation… This is no time to be ashamed of the Gospel. It is time to preach it from the rooftops” (Homily, 15 August 1993, Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary).