2nd Sunday of Easter – April 03, 2016 DIVINE MERCY SUNDAY
A TIME magazine issue in 1984 presented a startling cover. It pictured a prison cell where two men sat on metal folding chairs. The young man wore a black turtleneck sweater, blue jeans and white running shoes. The older man was dressed in a white robe and had a white skullcap on his head. They sat facing one another, up close and personal. They spoke quietly so as to keep others from hearing the conversation. The young man was Mehmet Ali Agca, the pope’s attempted assassin (who shot the pope on May 13t, 1981) ; the other man was Pope John Paul II, the intended victim. The pope held the hand that had held the gun whose bullet tore into the pope’s body. This was a living icon of mercy. John Paul’s forgiveness was deeply Christian. His deed with Ali Agca spoke a thousand words. He embraced his enemy and pardoned him. At the end of their 20-minute meeting, Ali Agca raised the pope’s hand to his forehead as a sign of respect. John Paul shook Ali Agca’s hand tenderly. When the pope left the cell he said, “What we talked about must remain a secret between us. I spoke to him as a brother whom I have pardoned and who has my complete trust.” This is an example of God’s divine mercy, the same divine mercy whose message St. Faustina witnessed.
Introduction: The readings for this Sunday are about mercy, trust and the forgiveness of sins. The opening prayer addresses the Father as "God of everlasting Mercy." In the Psalm, we repeat several times, "His mercy endures forever" (Ps 118). Besides mentioning the word, our readings illustrate mercy in action. How does God reveal His mercy? He does so, first and foremost, by sending His only-begotten Son to become our Savior and Lord by his suffering, death and resurrection. Divine mercy is given to us in the celebration of the sacraments. The first reading explains how the Risen Lord continued to show His Divine Mercy to the sick through the healing and preaching ministry of His Apostles in the early Church. The Apostles’ faith enabled them to minister to the people, giving them the Lord’s healing love through “signs and wonders.” The Book of Revelation was written to comfort and bolster the faith of the persecuted Christians by reassuring them of the presence of the merciful Lord in their lives. The second reading, taken from this book, encourages Christians to fight fear with faith, and trepidation about the future with trust and hope. In today’s gospel, as we recall Jesus’ appearance to the disciples on that first Easter evening, we are vividly reminded of the Sacrament of Reconciliation – the power to forgive sins which Our Lord gave to his apostles -- "Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained" (Jn 20-23). Today’s gospel also emphasizes the importance of faith in the all-pervading presence of the Risen Lord of Mercy. To believe without having seen is every later Christian’s experience. We are invited to receive liberation from doubts and hesitation by surrendering our lives to the risen Lord of mercy. Let us ask God our Father to open our hearts so that we may receive his Mercy in the form of His Holy Spirit.
The first reading (Acts 5:12-16): Luke, the author of Acts, describes the life-style and activities of our earliest ancestors in the Christian faith, holding up for us, as it were, a model of what the Church is called to become. The passage explains how the Risen Lord continued to show His divine Mercy to the sick through the healing and preaching ministry of His Apostles in the early Church. The Apostles’ faith enabled them to minister to the people, giving them the Lord’s healing love through the “signs and wonders” that Jesus had promised would accompany their work. Following the model of service set forth by Jesus, they healed the sick by wielding God’s power over disease and unclean spirits. "People even came crowding in from the towns round about Jerusalem, bringing with them their sick and those tormented by unclean spirits - and all of them were cured." These cures illustrate how the power of the Resurrection can work miracles, even through ordinary people. We know that this power of the Resurrection still operates today because we have seen how a friendly smile, a gentle touch or a willingness to forgive can heal a broken spirit, and how the challenging words of a parent, a teacher or a friend can quicken the mind and heart.
The second reading (Revelation 1:9-11, 12-13, 17-19) is taken from the Book of Revelation. In this book, John describes an extraordinary experience he had while living in banishment in the penal colony on the island of Patmos. He wrote this book to comfort and bolster the faith of the persecuted Christians by reassuring them of the presence of the merciful Lord in their lives. Here we read about the vision of the resurrected Christ in glory, revealing to John messages for the Christian communities. The usefulness of the Book of Revelation to us Christians is not so much in its symbolic language as in the comfort and strength we receive from solidarity with other Christians in distress. We, who are privileged to anticipate the victory of Christ through the sacraments and especially in the Eucharist, are also encouraged to fight fear with faith, and trepidation about the future with trust and hope. "He touched me with his right hand and said, 'Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last, the One Who lives. Once I was dead, but now I am alive forever and ever.'" The book coveys the message that we are called to live out in our lives in such a way that, through us, others may be able to exclaim, “We have seen the Lord!”
Exegesis: Today’s gospel: The first part of today’s gospel (verses 19-23), describes how Jesus entrusted to His Apostles His mission of preaching the “good news” of God’s love, mercy, forgiveness and salvation. This portion of the reading teaches us that Jesus uses the Church as the earthly means of continuing His mission. It also teaches us that the Church needs Jesus as its source of power and authority, and that it becomes Christ’s true messenger only when it perfectly loves and obeys Him. The risen Lord gives the Apostles the authority to remit sins in his name. He gives the Apostles the power of God’s mercy for the sinner, the gift of forgiving sins from God’s treasury of mercy. For centuries in the liturgy, the Church has proclaimed the mercy of God through the Word of God and the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ. The text also reminds us that the clearest way of expressing our belief in the presence of the risen Jesus among us is through our own forgiveness of others. We can’t form a lasting Christian community without such forgiveness. Unless we forgive others, our celebration of the Eucharist is just an exercise of liturgical rubrics.
The second part of the gospel (verses 24-29) presents the fearless apostle St. Thomas, in his uncompromising honesty, demanding a personal vision of, and physical contact with, the risen Jesus as a condition for his belief. Thomas had not been with the disciples when Jesus first appeared to them. As a result, he refused to believe. This should serve as a warning to us. It is difficult for us to believe when we do not strengthen ourselves with the fellowship of other believers. When the Lord appeared to Thomas later, He said: “Blessed are those who have not seen but have believed.” Thomas was able to overcome his doubts by seeing the risen Jesus. Modern Christians, who are no longer able to "see" Jesus with their eyes, must believe what they hear. That is why Paul reminds us that "faith comes from hearing" (Rom 10:17).
The unique profession of faith: Thomas, the “doubting Apostle” makes the great profession of faith, “My Lord and my God.” Here the most outrageous doubter of the resurrection of Jesus utters the greatest confession of belief in the Lord who rose from the dead. This declaration by the “doubting Apostle” in today’s gospel is very significant for two reasons. 1) It is the foundation of our Christian faith. Our faith is based on the divinity of Jesus as proved by His miracles, especially by the supreme miracle of His resurrection from the dead. Thomas’ profession of faith is the strongest evidence we have of the resurrection of Jesus. 2) Thomas’ faith culminated in his self-surrender to Jesus, his heroic missionary expedition to India in A.D. 52, his fearless preaching, and the powerful testimony given by his martyrdom in A.D. 72.
Life messages: 1) Let us accept God's invitation to celebrate and practice mercy: One way the Church celebrates God’s mercy throughout the year is through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Finding time for Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is another good way to receive Divine Mercy. The Gospel command, "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful," demands that we show mercy to our fellow human beings always and everywhere. We radiate God's mercy to others by our actions, our words, and our prayers. It is mainly through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy that we practice mercy in our daily lives and become eligible for God’s merciful judgment.
2) Let us ask God for the Faith that culminates in self-surrender to God and leads us to serve those we encounter with love. Living faith enables us to see the risen Lord in everyone and gives us the willingness to render to each one our loving service (“Faith without good works is dead” James 2:17). It was this faith in the Lord and obedience to His missionary command that prompted St. Thomas to travel to India to preach the gospel among the Hindus, establish seven Christian communities (known later as “St. Thomas Christians”), and eventually suffer martyrdom. The Fathers of the Church prescribe the following traditional means to grow in the living and dynamic faith of St. Thomas the Apostle. a) We must come to know Jesus personally and intimately by our daily and meditative reading of the Bible. b) We must strengthen our faith by the power of the Holy Spirit through our personal and community prayer. c) We must share in the divine life of Jesus by frequenting the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Holy Eucharist. Blessed Mother Teresa presents it this way: “If we pray, we will believe; if we believe, we will love; if we love, we will serve. Only then we put our love of God into action.”
3) We need to meet the challenge for a transparent Christian life -- "I will not believe unless I see." This "seeing" is what others demand of us. They ask that we reflect Jesus, the Risen Lord in our lives by our selfless love, unconditional forgiveness and humble service. The integrity of our lives bears a fundamental witness to others, who want to see the Risen Lord alive and active, working in our lives. Christ’s mercy shines forth from us whenever we reach out to the poor, the needy and the marginalized, as Blessed Mother Teresa did. His mercy shines forth as we remain open to those who struggle in faith, as did the Apostle Thomas in today’s Gospel. We should be able to appreciate the presence of Jesus, crucified and raised, in our own suffering and in our suffering brothers and sisters, thus recognizing the glorified wounds of the Risen Lord in the suffering of others.
4) Like St. Thomas, let us use our skepticism to help us grow in faith. It is our genuine doubts about the doctrines of our religion that encourage us to study these doctrines more closely and thus to grow in our faith. This will naturally lead us to a personal encounter with Jesus through our prayer, study of the Word of God, and frequenting of the sacraments. However, we must never forget the fact that our faith is not our own doing, but is a gift from God. Hence, we need to augment our faith every day by prayer so that we may join St. Thomas in his proclamation: “My Lord and my God."
5) Let us have the courage of our Christian convictions to share our faith as St. Thomas did. We are not to keep the gift of faith locked in our hearts, but to share it with our children, our families and our neighbors, always remembering the words of Pope John XXIII: “Every believer in this world must become a spark of Christ’s light.”
Emperor Napoleon was moved by a mother's plea for pardon for her soldier son. However, the emperor said that since it was the man’s second major offense, justice demanded death. "I do not ask for justice," implored the mother, "I plead for mercy." "But," said the emperor, "he does not deserve mercy." "Sir," cried the mother, "it would not be mercy if he deserved it, and mercy is all I ask for." The compassion and clarity of the mother's logic prompted Napoleon to respond, "Well, then, I will have mercy." The Second Sunday of the Easter season invites us to reflect on God’s infinite love and mercy for His people, as detailed in the Bible and as lived and taught by Jesus, and to practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
St. Faustina of Poland is the well known apostle of Divine Mercy. On the 30th of April, 2000, the Second Sunday of Easter, at 10:00 a.m., His Holiness Pope John Paul II celebrated the Eucharist in Saint Peter’s Square and proceeded to the canonization of Blessed Sister Faustina. The new Saint invites us by the witness of her life to keep our faith and hope fixed on God the Father, rich in mercy, who saved us by the precious Blood of His Son. During her short life, the Lord Jesus assigned to St. Faustina three basic tasks: 1. to pray for souls, entrusting them to God's incomprehensible Mercy; 2. to tell the world about God's Generous Mercy; 3. to start a new movement in the Church focusing on God's Mercy. At the canonization of St. Faustina, Pope John Paul II said: “The cross, even after the Resurrection of the Son of God, speaks, and never ceases to speak, of God the Father, Who is absolutely faithful to His eternal love for man. ... Believing in this love means believing in mercy." “The Lord of Divine Mercy,” a drawing of Jesus based on the vision given to St. Faustina, shows Jesus raising his right hand in a gesture of blessing, with his left hand on his heart from which gush forth two rays, one red and one white. The picture contains the message, "Jesus, I trust in You!" (Jezu ufam Tobie). The rays streaming out have symbolic meaning: red for the blood of Jesus, which is the life of souls and white for the Baptismal water which justifies souls. The whole image is symbolic of the mercy, forgiveness and love of God.
(Source: Homilies of Fr. Tony Kadavil)