Divine Mercy

This Sunday speaks to us of God's mercy. Reflection on God's mercy is as ancient as the Psalms, as old as St. John's account of blood and water flowing from Christ's side on the cross, as traditional as the First Friday Sacred Heart devotion and as contemporary as Divine Mercy Sunday in our parish churches.

The mercy of God needs great emphasis today. There is a story of a priest whose sermon was lengthy. After one parishioner remarked that his sermon reminded her of God's mercy, his pride was deflated when she added, "I thought it would last forever." Sermons come to an end; God's mercy does not.

St. John Paul II once cautioned that mercy is almost forgotten today. It has disappeared from our public discourse. In fact, today mercy is almost considered a dirty word, a sign of weakness rather than strength, a symptom of softness rather than hard justice, a dreamer's folly rather than a realist's response.

Yet, imagine a society or community without mercy. If strict justice guided all our reactions to others, the result would be a society that is cold, hard, mechanical and unforgiving. We need mercy. In fact, when you think about it, justice, to be justice, needs to be seasoned with mercy.

In today's Gospel reading, Jesus comes to the apostles on that first Easter Sunday night. They met Him in fear because they knew they had failed the Lord. Now, they expected judgment. Yet, Jesus' first words to them were, "Peace be with you." Then they realized in those words that He had forgiven them. The Lord then repeats, "Peace be with you." He then breathes on them and conveys to them the power to bring to others the very forgiveness they had received from Him.

That breath, the gift of the power to forgive, has traveled through the centuries as an essential part of the church's sacramental life, passing from the Upper Room in today's Gospel to every generation and to the ends of the earth and into every confessional.

Our world today needs mercy. Divisions within society can tear us apart. The absence of mercy can cause societies, families and friendships to be ruptured indefinitely.

It is not only society as a whole but we, as individuals, who need not only sacramental forgiveness but forgiveness in our daily life. Without forgiveness, without mercy, we carry around with us unnecessary burdens. Without mercy and forgiveness, we linger at the difficult intersections of our life long after others have moved on. Without forgiveness and mercy, we remain trapped by the past and are unable to move into a new future.

Mercy is more than forgiveness. It is also about compassion, helping others on the journey of life when they have made mistakes, when they have sinned, when they are damaged by others or burdened by disabilities. Mercy draws us out of our personal zone into the wider world of those around us in need of help.

Divine Mercy Sunday and the accompanying Divine Mercy devotion have two dimensions.

The first is to realize, appreciate and receive God's mercy. We know of judgment but need to be reminded of God's mercy that rehabilitates and sets us free. God's mercy is a mercy that heals as the apostles did in today's first reading.

The second dimension of the Divine Mercy devotion is to show mercy. Here, quite frankly, is where many people "get off the bus." As much as we want God's mercy, expect it and plan on it as we look for confession times in our parish bulletin, we often are unwilling to show mercy to others. That is the challenge of the Divine Mercy devotion to each of us. St. Augustine used to refer to the petition of the Lord's Prayer that asks God to forgive us as we forgive others as the "terrifying petition."

Divine Mercy Sunday and the Divine Mercy devotion call us to show to others the same mercy we seek from God. Mercy, both received and given, not only makes us Christian. It keeps us human.

Mercy is not a symbol of weakness, but a sign of strength.

Fr. Krempa is pastor of Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Winchester.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016