The image of the ‘Divine Mercy’ depicts two rays coming from Jesus’ chest: one pale ray and one red ray. But what does this mean? According to Maria Faustina (in her Diary, #299), Jesus explains that the two rays denote “Blood and Water.” The pale ray stands for the water that makes souls righteous, the red ray stands for the Blood, which is the life of souls. These two rays issued forth from the very depths of My tender mercy when my agonized Heart was opened by a lance on the Cross (cf. Jn. 19:34-35). These rays shield souls from the wrath of My Father. Happy is the one who will dwell in their shelter, for the just hand of God shall not lay hold of him. I desire the first Sunday after Easter be the Feast of Mercy.” Following this lead, we celebrate today (Second Sunday of Easter) the Feast of the Divine Mercy. Dear friends, Christ has risen from the dead, and thus, desires to give us “New Life” out of the abundance of his mercy, through the Holy Spirit. Known as “Divine Mercy Sunday”, today we are called to pause and reflect on the abundant mercy of God; a God ‘whose mercy endures forever’ (Ps. 118; also Ps. 136).
Mercy is not getting what we truly deserve; it is being in the wrong, yet not wanting the punishment you deserve. Mercy is when someone forgives you even though you had no claim on that person’s forgiveness. Mercy is something we all need from other people from time to time. Mercy is something we desperately need from God or we are utterly without hope. To understand this better, we employ the Pauline dynamic found Ephesians 2:1-10. It begins by outlining what is in the past: “You were dead in your transgressions and sins in which you once lived; disobedient; following the wishes of the flesh” (verses 1, 2, 3). It goes further to proclaim what God has done and will do, “brought us to life with Christ; to show the immeasurable riches of his grace” (verses 5, 7). In the middle of this section, verse 4, is the “hinge,” that piece that allows the past to be closed and the future to be opened. It is this succinct experience and description of divine intervention: “God, who is rich in mercy.” This God who is “rich in mercy” and because of “the great love he had for us” brought us to life. This life is described in verses 5 and 6: life with Christ, raised up with him, and seated with him in the heavens. Notice the repeated use of the word “with.” What God has done for Christ by raising him from the dead and seating him next to the Father, God is doing for us, even when it seems we may not deserve such lavish of mercy and love. We are experiencing these things with Christ, in the present and more fully in the future. Ephesians 2:8 sums it up beautifully: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God.” Mercy, grace, love — all of these are expressions of God’s nature. In spite of our sinfulness, salvation is freely given not because of what we have done or who we are, but because of who God is. This Pauline dynamic is analogous with the Petrine dynamic as seen in today’s Second Reading (cf. 1 Pet. 1:3-9). Here, Peter glorifies God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, “who in His great mercy has given us a new birth as his sons, by raising Jesus Christ from the dead, so that we have a sure hope and the promise of an inheritance that can never be spoilt or soiled and never fade away, because it is being kept for you in the heavens.” Understanding these Pauline and Petrine dynamics would help us comprehend why the Psalmist in today’s Psalm [Ps. 117(118):2-4,13-15,22-24] exclaimed: “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, for His mercy endures forever”; and three times, he repeats: “for his mercy endures forever.”
Dear friends in Christ, since his mercy endures forever, today we are gathered to appreciate this aspect of our God, which neither men nor the angels are capable of comprehending – a God whose name is mercy – a God who is “rich in mercy”. The word translated here as “rich” is used elsewhere in the New Testament in reference to those who were financially wealthy (for example, Mark 12:41). It is related to the Greek word for “much.” One who is rich has a whole lot of something. In God’s case, he has a whole lot of mercy. He is merciful, literally, “mercy-full.” It is as a result of his richness in mercy that he hasn’t condemned us to die; just as the Psalmist (in Ps. 130:3) exclaims: “If you, O Lord, should mark our guilt, who would survive, but with you is found forgiveness, for this we revere you.” And since forgiveness of sin is exclusively reserved for God, today in the Gospel (cf. John 20:19-31), we see this merciful Saviour mediating the power of forgiving sins to men. Put differently, in today’s Gospel, the resurrected Christ out of his great mercy granted the power of forgiveness of sins to his Apostles when he breathed upon them, saying: ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained.’ Here, we see that the Holy Spirit of God has a strong connection with the forgiveness of sins. The Holy Spirit who is the “Breath of life”. The gospel passage says: “He ‘breathed’ upon them”. This same breath is what we see in the book of Genesis 2:7; that is, after shaping man from the soil of the earth, Yahweh breathed into his nostrils, the breath of life (“ruah” in Hebrew), and man became a living being. This Breath of life is the Holy Spirit, the Lord the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. Notice that after “breathing upon them, Christ then gave them the power to forgive sins, saying: “whose sins you forgive are forgiven, and whose sins you retain, are retained. This indicates that the Holy Spirit, responsible for the forgiveness of sins, renews and recreates us, gives life to our dying souls corrupted by sin whenever we approach the Confessional – “the laundry of the Holy Spirit”; the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Does this remind us what happens to our souls when we pray the “Kyrie eleison” devotedly at Mass? We already understand that the “Kyrie eleison” (Lord have mercy) is invoked at Mass to ask for the Lord’s mercy and compassion. This Greek phrase (Kyrie eleison) has a deep and rich meaning that is why it was intentionally not translated into Latin. The Greek word “eleos”, translates itself as mercy in English. This word has the same ultimate root as the old Greek word for oil, or more precisely, olive oil; used extensively as a soothing agent for bruises and minor wounds. In those days, the oil was poured onto the wound and gently massaged in, thus soothing, comforting and making whole the injured part. ‘Eleos’ and ‘mercy’ is also translated in Hebrew to mean “hesed”, which could also denote “steadfast love”. Therefore, in chanting/saying the Greek words ‘Kyrie, eleison’ (Lord have mercy) at Mass, we tend to say, ‘Lord, soothe me, comfort me, heal me, take away my pain, show me your steadfast love.’ This portrays the beauty and depth of God’s mercy. It shows a loving God who wants to bind up our wounds like the divine Physician He is; the “Good Samaritan”. This is also what we experience at the confessional. The question remains, when last did you utilize this the wonderful Sacrament in receiving the Holy Spirit and having your soul cured of its wounds caused by your sins?
Receiving the Holy Spirit at the confessional and having our sins forgiven should enable us to live in peace and harmony and carry out “Works of Mercy” as seen in the lives of the early Christians in the first reading. The First Reading (cf. Acts 2:42-47) illustrates how they remained faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to the brotherhood, to the ‘breaking of Bread’ (Eucharist) and to the prayers. How they lived together and owned everything in common; they sold their goods and possessions and shared out the proceeds among themselves according to what each one needed. Following this lead, we should be able to act accordingly towards the needy especially in this period of the spread of COVID-19, where a lot of people have practically exhausted all they’ve got in the compulsory ‘stay-at-home’ (quarantine). Like the early Christians, we are called to share our resources with those who don’t have. We must not necessarily wait for the government or the Church to do this. Unfortunately, there are some families who have a lot in stock for themselves alone but refuse to take notice of their neighbour or people around them dying of hunger. This is definitely not an act of mercy. We appreciate those who are already engaged in this charitable/merciful act. May the joy of the Lord be your strength, and may you always receive mercy from the Lord.
Above all, the beauty of today’s celebration and the corresponding lesson is that God’s mercy is already available to us and it does not simply heal the past but invades our present circumstances so that we can look hopefully to the future. Therefore, let us make use of this opportunity and approach God more intimately and become beneficiaries of His mercy; to draw life from the Spirit of God and be made anew; to carry out the works of mercy, and be merciful ourselves (“blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy”- Mtt. 5:7).
© Fr. Chinaka Justin Mbaeri, OSJ
Paroquia Nossa Senhora de Fatima, Vila Sabrina, São Paulo, Brazil
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