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Divine Mercy Sunday

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GOSPEL COMMENTARY April 11, jn 20:19-31

Lent is a time to ponder deeply how far down Jesus stooped when he chose to dwell among us. Jesus lowered himself in the most surprising ways to demonstrate his love and to fulfill the Father’s plan of freeing us from sin. This stooping down, or self-emptying, marked the whole of his earthly journey but was particularly made manifest in his birth in a stable and baptism in the Jordan River. It comes to a spectacular crescendo, as we know, on the cross.

Easter, on the other hand, is a time to marvel at and enter into the victory of Christ. Jesus stooped down that he might raise us up to share in new and abundant life — life beyond our imagination — the very life of God.

This new life is made possible by the extraordinary gift of Divine Mercy. We see God’s mercy flowing on the first two Sundays of Easter. On Easter Sunday night, Jesus encounters the majority of the Apostles for the first time since Holy Thursday. His last encounter with them in the Garden of Gethsemane concluded with them abandoning our precious Lord at the arrival of the Temple guards. At Jesus’ darkest hour, the Apostles fled in fear, leaving him all alone.

On Easter Sunday night, our risen Lord, aware of their great sorrow, sets their weakness and sin aside as he reconnects with them in the Upper Room. Twice he offers his peace, the rich fruit of his forgiveness. A week later, the Good Shepherd goes in search of Thomas, who was absent on that first night, to bring him back into the fold. He does so by inviting Thomas to place his hand into the wounds in his side, a most profound symbol of Divine Mercy, from which flowed blood and water.

It is clear that the proclamation of Divine Mercy is equally critical to the Easter season as it is to the Lenten season. In fact, on the night of the resurrection, Jesus institutes the sacrament of penance and reconciliation: "Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained." The unique participation of the Apostles in the priestly mission of Christ includes the God-given ability to offer God’s forgiveness to individuals who approach the Lord with genuine sorrow and a measure of a desire to turn away from their sins.

From the first day of the resurrection, Jesus gives clear direction to the church. At the very heart of the church’s mission is the ministry of reconciliation. After extending his merciful peace to the Apostles, his first words are: "As the Father sent me, so I send you." Then, he breaths the Holy Spirit on them and grants this capacity to extend his forgiveness to the sorrowful. Mercy is God’s greatest gift; it opens the door to the fullness of life —union with God, healing, peace, joy and meaningful purpose.

Pope John Paul II went so far as to declare this Sunday "Divine Mercy Sunday." He was quite inspired by the holiness of St. Faustina Kowalska and the unique mission given to her by our Lord himself, who mystically appeared to this Sister of our Lady of Mercy in 14 revelations. Therein, he asked her to proclaim to all the world the beauty and depth of God’s mercy and spread devotion to a celebration of Divine Mercy.

The Diary of St. Faustina contains these beautiful revelations. They highlight, in wonderfully warm language, God’s burning desire to reconcile the whole world to him and to heal every human being from the wounds of sin. She reminds the world that God’s love is so much more powerful than the worst of our sins.

On one occasion, the Lord spoke these words to St. Faustina: "My daughter, tell the whole world about My inconceivable mercy. I desire the Feast of Mercy be a refuge and shelter for all souls, and especially for poor sinners. On that day the very depths of My tender mercy are open. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the Fount of My mercy… Let no soul fear to draw near to Me, even though its sin be as scarlet. My mercy is so great that no mind, be it of man or of angel, will be able to fathom it throughout all eternity." 

How can we not approach the heart of Jesus, font of Divine Mercy, with abundant confidence and invite others to do the same?

Fr. Peterson is director of mission and development for the Youth Apostles.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021