Msgr. Joseph G. Prior

Msgr. Joseph G. Prior

(See the readings for Divine Mercy Sunday, April 3)

“My Lord and my God,” Thomas says as the risen Jesus shows him his hands and side. Thomas had been absent when Jesus earlier appeared to the disciples. When the others told him that Jesus had risen from the dead and was alive, Thomas refused to believe, earning him the name “doubting Thomas.”

Yet it is this same Thomas, when he encounters the risen Lord, who makes the greatest acclamation of faith: “My Lord and my God.”

Thomas’ experience is not difficult to understand. Like all the disciples he was shaken by the experience of the Lord’s passion and death. Recall that the only apostle who stayed by Jesus all the way to the cross was John.

They were all filled with fear. The fear was then coupled with tremendous sorrow and regret. The fear begins to be transformed when they encounter the Lord. Oh what a wonder that encounter must have been.

Though Jesus had explicitly predicted his passion and death — three times in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) — they did not comprehend. With the resurrection comes the dawning of insight and understanding. Sorrow and grief are replaced by rejoicing and gladness. Fear is replaced with peace. Jesus offers that peace to Thomas as well.

“Peace be with you,” Jesus says three times in Sunday’s short Gospel passage. His words express the reality that has been established through his passion, death and resurrection. He breaks the power of sin and death — the source of fear. He establishes peace and offers that peace to the disciples in his greeting. In this moment Thomas can now recognize the risen Lord and the accomplishment of his mission. Mercy has triumphed, the fruit of which is peace.

Jesus’ victory over sin is recalled in the second reading for Sunday’s liturgy. The passage comes from the Book of Revelation. The author, John, is “caught up in the spirit on the Lord’s day.” He is told to write down what he sees in the vision.

The risen Lord appears to him as “one like a son of man, wearing an ankle-length robe, with a gold sash around his chest.” John falls down at his feet and hears the words Jesus used so often in the public ministry: “Do no be afraid.”

He continues: “I am the first and the last, the one who lives. Once I was dead, but now I am alive forever and ever. I hold the keys to death and the netherworld.” Jesus has been victorious. He lives. His victory is the victory of mercy.

This weekend we observe Divine Mercy Sunday. St. John Paul II established this celebration at the canonization of St. Faustina on April 30, 2000. The devotion promoted by St. Faustina stems from a vision and conversations with the Lord in the 1930s. The Lord asked Faustina to paint the vision of his merciful divinity being poured out from his heart. He also asked that the Sunday after Easter be celebrated as a feast of Divine Mercy so that mankind would take refuge in him.

Pope John Paul, one year after establishing the celebration, re-emphasized the devotion saying: “Jesus said to St. Faustina: ‘Humanity will never find peace until it turns with trust to Divine Mercy.’ Divine Mercy! This is the Easter gift that the Church receives from the risen Christ and offers to humanity.”

The celebration of the resurrection is a celebration of Divine Mercy. Jesus represents us before the Father. He “stands in for” broken humanity and is broken on the cross; yet through that perfect life of obedience to the Father he restores mankind and even elevates it to new life, a share in divine life. The experience of God’s mercy, poured out in Jesus Christ, propels the apostles to proclaim.

The first reading for Sunday’s liturgy, from the Acts of the Apostles, recalls one of many similar accounts where the growth of the church is identified. St. Luke, the author, writes: “Yet more than ever, believers in the Lord, great numbers of men and women, were added to them.” The sick and those disturbed by unclean spirits are brought forth to encounter Divine Mercy through the apostles.

Continuing our celebration of Easter we focus on the mercy that has been shared with us in Christ Jesus. Mercy brings life. It leads us forth from darkness into light, from sin to forgiveness, from death to life.

The invitation to experience this mercy comes to us through the apostles. They went forth from Jerusalem and proclaimed the resurrection to the world. Generation to generation the proclamation continues down to the present day. As recipients of Divine Mercy we too are called to be ministers of mercy in the way we interact with each other. The gift we have received is to be given as a gift.

Celebrating Divine Mercy Sunday affords us the opportunity to be renewed in this great gift of God’s mercy. Recognizing the power of mercy we humbly place ourselves before the Lord of Mercy asking for his assistance. Mercy heals the ruptures caused by sin, it breaks the bonds of grief and sorrow, it frees from fear, it instills humility, and brings peace to our souls. Our response is one of thanksgiving, as we say in the responsorial psalm: “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his love is everlasting.”