Divine Mercy Sunday

Scripture Readings: Acts 4:32-35; 1 Jn 5:1-6; Jn 20:19-31                  

One day Lucy saw Charlie Brown with his elbows resting on top of a stone wall, holding his head in his hands, looking off into the distance. She asks, “What are you thinking about, Charlie Brown?” He replies, “I want to see God.” Lucy passes by with a big grin on her face, laughing out loud and shouting, “Charlie Brown wants to see God!” Then she stops and suddenly becomes very serious. She reflects, “I want to see God, too!” In the last frame Lucy is next to Charlie Brown, with her elbows on top of the wall, staring off into the distance.

We are created to see God. Our complete happiness consists in seeing God. Here on earth we long for this vision of God. There are times when we stop and stare off into the distance, realizing that the deepest desire of our hearts is that we want to tear away the veil that is hiding us from the face of God. We spend many hours looking into the distance, longing to see God, inspiring others to pause for awhile, to become aware with love of God’s hidden presence.   Our faith is already the beginning of vision.

Thomas, the apostle without faith, laughed the others to scorn when they said, “We have seen the Lord.” He retorted, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finder in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”  

A week later Jesus came and stood among them. “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”   Thomas falling to his knees replied, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said, “Have you believed because you have seen me?   Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” Others profess that Jesus is the King of Israel, the Savior, the Holy One of God, the Lamb of God, the Anointed One. Only Thomas said, “My Lord and my God!”  

Thomas didn’t have to believe in the resurrection of Christ.   He saw the risen Jesus with his own eyes, and touched those sacred wounds that saved us. But he still did not and could not actually see the hidden divinity of Jesus. For that he needed faith. The other apostles only said, “We have seen the Lord.” But an astonished Thomas says, “My Lord and my God.” What was it that led him to the most profound expression of faith that is possible in this life, to belief that Jesus is God? It wasn’t those sacred wounds. They showed Thomas that Jesus is truly risen from the dead.   How did Thomas come to see that Jesus is God?

When Jesus said, “Put your finger here, reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe,” Jesus revealed to Thomas that he was a hidden presence the week before when the other apostles told Thomas they had seen the Lord. Jesus saw and heard the disbelieving response of Thomas while Thomas was unable to see and hear Jesus. It was this realization of the invisible presence of Jesus that lifted Thomas to the greatest act of faith. It was foreshadowed at the beginning of John’s gospel when Jesus said to Nathanael, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.” Nathanael realized that the hidden presence of Jesus revealed his divinity, and he replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God!” But that was a literary device, an inclusion or bookend, anticipating at the beginning what will only be realized at the ending. Now at the end of the Gospel, Thomas proclaims, “My Lord and my God!”  

Jesus wants to show us the Father. That is the meaning of this Divine Mercy Sunday. We believe Jesus is God, we want to see God.


Divine Mercy Sunday

[Scripture Readings: Acts 4:32-35; 1 Jn 5:1-6; Jn 20:19-31]

As we peacefully celebrate Eucharist this morning, the bishops of El Salvador are anguished by a decision they will need to make very soon: whether or not to enter into negotiations with representatives of two criminal gangs who are at war with each other in the cities of that country, and with such vehemence that in the month of March alone
481 people were murdered. That's an average of sixteen homicides every day. A growing number of El Salvadorians are saying the Catholic Church is the only institution in the country with the moral authority to effectively intervene and halt the carnage. Others are skeptical and say, working out a truce between the two rival gangs will simply free them up to return with renewed energy and man power to commit crimes against innocent citizens. A woman who operates a fruit stand told a reporter: “Let them kill each other and give the rest of us a break.” The situation is a stunning illustration of how hatred grows and bears bitter fruit in acts of violence which are seeds that sprout up into new and more harrowing acts of violence. What seems entirely shut out of this picture of escalating violence and proposed negotiations is any consideration of the possibility of mercy. It is understandable that, with 16 murders taking place each day, human hearts would be hardened against the possibility of showing mercy and forgiveness, but we need to pray.

On this Sunday called “Divine Mercy Sunday” we can all be grateful that the source of mercy is ultimately not our puny wooden human's heart, but the heart of Almighty God incarnate in the person of his Son Jesus Christ, whose word has power to allure and transform human hearts. The transformation of human hearts by God's merciful love is, in fact, what is narrated in today's Easter gospel. “Peace be with you!”, Jesus repeated greeting to the disciples, is an implicit absolution; an unhoped for and unconditional gift of divine mercy in response to the cowardice, rejection, and outright betrayal, the disciples manifested in the course of Jesus' final ordeal. Maybe you have to be a mystic to imagine the possibility of such mercy, but our faith challenges us to imagine just such a thing.

Mechtilde of Hackeborn, who died in the year of 1299 is one of those mystics who only monks have time and leisure to read, and I am grateful I found her. According to her personal diary the Lord Jesus confided to her certain deep secrets hidden in his heart concerning sinners and their hope of being shown mercy by God. What she heard is remarkable and really a glimpse of a new kind of existence made possible by evangelical hope; a kind of abandonment to hope which most of us need to hear a mystic describe to even imagine it. It seems Mechtilde heard Jesus say to her: “I tell you the truth, that I am very pleased when men trustingly expect great things from me. For everyone who believes that I will reward him after this life with more than he deserves, and who correspondingly gives praise and thanks to me in this life, will be so welcome to me that will reward him with far more than he could ever believe or boldly hope for, in fact, with endlessly more than he deserves. For it is impossible that someone should not attain what he has believe and hoped for.”

St. Therese of Lisieux read this text and never forgot it, and herself is supposed to have heard Jesus assure her: “Those who are entangled in great sin, I nevertheless constantly look upon in the love with which I have chosen them and in the clarity to which they will come.” She goes on to say, Jesus told her, regarding the kiss of Judas: “At this kiss, my heart felt such love through and through that, had he only repented, I would have won his soul as bride by virtue of that kiss.” Brothers and sisters, Jesus loves us, not according to how we view ourselves and our neighbor, but, as Therese says: in that love which he has chosen us and in the clarity of his vision in which we exist even if we don't see it. In our celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday, let us dare to hope that clarity is indeed coming to the hearts and minds of murderous gang members in El Salvador, to members of ISIS, to sex traffickers, to us, and to those brothers and sisters whom we live with every day and who we are called to forgive seven times seven times.