A people forgiven, re-created and sent forth

Given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde on Divine Mercy Sunday, the Second Sunday of Easter, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.

Divine Mercy: Yes, it is the title given to this Second Sunday of Easter in the year 2000 by Saint John Paul II. Divine Mercy: Yes, it is the focus of the Extraordinary Holy Year, initially announced by Pope Francis on March 13th and officially convoked late yesterday afternoon by Our Holy Father in Saint Peter's Basilica.

But why this emphasis on Divine Mercy? Pope Francis provides us with the answer in his document of promulgation entitled "Misericordiae Vultus," which means "The Face of Mercy": "We need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy. It is a wellspring of joy, serenity and peace. Our salvation depends on it. Mercy: The word reveals the very mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. Mercy: the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us. Mercy: the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters on the path of life. Mercy: the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to a hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness" (No. 2).

Pope Francis has so frequently turned our attention to God's mercy from the very beginning of his ministry as the Universal Pastor of the Church. So he is now calling us to observe an Extraordinary Holy Year, a Jubilee of Mercy. As he stated yesterday: "At times we are called to gaze even more attentively on mercy so that we may become a more effective sign of the Father's action in our lives. For this reason I have proclaimed an Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy as a special time for the Church; a time when the witness of believers might grow stronger and more effective" (cf. Ibid., No. 3).

Divine Mercy is, therefore, much more than a title or a focus; it is a divine reality, God's Other Name, some affirm. And Pope Francis says: "Jesus Christ is the face of the Father's Mercy" (cf. Ibid. No. 1).

The Scripture readings, proclaimed in our hearing moments ago, together convey one word: mercy - God's mercy! By Divine Mercy we are forgiven. "His mercy endures forever," the Psalmist reminds us. And then in today's Gospel account, Jesus imparts to His Church the very basis for the Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation: "Receive the Holy Spirit," He tells the disciples. "Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained."

We hear what Jesus is saying, but let us ask ourselves: "Do we live each day as a people 'forgiven,' who have encountered this Divine Mercy? Do we allow God's Mercy to affect us and to change the way we live, or do we see it as just a warm fuzzy, a greeting-card sort of sentiment that we think about from time to time but never really internalize or share with others?"

If we are honest, we know that there are days when we would rather "retain" our sins, cling to them and even find some comfort in them. Maybe it is a grudge that we are so used to holding onto it is easier than letting go. Maybe it is a resentment we wear daily almost like a bullet-proof vest, providing us a seeming "protection" and safety. In fact, if we take a good look, we can find areas of our lives where we have allowed unforgiveness to build up. Over time, this absence of mercy in our lives begins to obscure the very light of Christ in us.

Today's celebration of Divine Mercy invites each one of us to live a new life as one truly forgiven. Each night, we open our hearts to the transforming power of Divine Mercy as we express our sincere contrition for any sin we may have committed that day. Regularly, we are embraced by Divine Mercy as we meet the Lord Jesus in the Sacrament of Penance. Thus, we live as a people forgiven!

By Divine Mercy, we are re-created. Forgiven and healed, we experience new life within us: the life flowing from the risen Lord Jesus, giving us new hope, new strength, new power. In today's first reading, we heard how "... with great power the apostles bore witness to the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus ..."

Among those apostles was the one so prominent in today's Gospel account: Thomas. He would not accept the testimony of the other apostles: "We have seen the Lord." So, in His great mercy, the Lord Jesus came to the apostles a week later and said to Thomas: "Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it in my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe." Thomas' response: "My Lord and my God" was not only a confession of faith but also an act of loving surrender. The mercy of Christ healed his unbelief and re-created him into a faithful apostle who ultimately gave his life in witness to the Risen Lord Jesus. Divine Mercy not only forgives but also re-creates. Thus we live as a people re-created!

By Divine Mercy, we are sent forth! None of us can hoard the Good News. None of us can bottle it up and put it on a shelf. Jesus instead tells us, "So I send you!" The very nature of the Church is to be sent: She exists to evangelize. As you are aware, the word "evangelize" comes from the Greek for "good news," so the Church exists to spread the Good News that Christ died and rose for us, and for the forgiveness of sins.

We are sent to the peripheries, to the poor, whether materially or spiritually, because those at the peripheries are often the most in need of the Good News, sorely lacking in mercy and forgiveness. Wouldn't it be striking if it could be said of every parish community, "There is no needy person among them," that we could share with others not just our material goods - which are very much needed - but more importantly, the higher good of mercy? What a gift to the world it would be if our homes and parishes could be beacons of the Good News of mercy! What a witness if every family or parish were animated with members who personally know mercy and share it freely with those most in need of it!

Pope Francis echoes the intensity of this mandate: that we are sent forth as the Church to proclaim God's Mercy: "Mercy is the very foundation of the Church's life. All of her pastoral activity should be caught up in the tenderness she makes present to believers; nothing in her preaching and in her witness to the world can be lacking in mercy. The Church's very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful and compassionate love. The Church 'has an endless desire to show mercy.' (Ibid. No. 10). ... Consequently, wherever the Church is present, the mercy of the Father must be evident. In our parishes, communities, associations and movements, in a word, wherever there are Christians, everyone should find an oasis of mercy" (Ibid., No. 12). Thus, we live as a people sent forth to proclaim Divine Mercy.

During the Jubilee Year of Mercy, we shall reflect more intently on our baptismal calling to be the Evangelizers of God's Mercy, Missionary Disciples whom the Lord Jesus will use to make His Mercy present, tangible and effective. From now until December 8th, when the Jubilee Year begins with the Opening of the Holy Door in Rome and soon thereafter in each diocese throughout the world, we should be preparing our minds and hearts to become willing recipients and clear channels of Divine Mercy. In a brief ceremony that now follows, I will bless and seal the designated Holy Door of this Basilica, that it may be opened during the Year of Jubilee. Thus, all who will pass through will be reminded to open their lives to the Divine Mercy of God.

Brothers and sisters all, we are a people forgiven, re-created and sent forth to proclaim daily God's Mercy. Here in Mary's House, we turn to her as Pope Francis did yesterday: "May the Mother of God open our eyes, so that we may comprehend the task to which we have been called; and may she obtain for us the grace to experience this Jubilee of Mercy as faithful and fruitful witnesses of Christ" (Homily, First Vespers of Divine Mercy Sunday, April 11, 2015, St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City).

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015