Today is the feast of Divine Mercy, a new-ish feast in the Church. In some ways it might be thought of as an odd feast to have in our modern world, so many people don’t think they NEED mercy any more. Well, this is precisely WHY Church has instituted this feast. As Pope John Paul II said of the modern world, “They need mercy even though they often do not realise it” (Dives in misericordia, n.2).
And, of course, we need to remember that we ourselves are part of this modern phenomenon, we ourselves can so easily live and think as if we didn’t need mercy. There is a dilemma in the heart of modern man that is the same dilemma in each of us: we pretend to ourselves that we are alright alone, that we are strong, but in reality we are not.
And answer to the riddle of this dilemma lies in the relevance of mercy to the Resurrection, which is why the Church has this new feast in Eastertide: forgiveness is not just about the Cross, it lies in the Empty Tomb as well.
Today’s feast has its origin in a series of visions to a Polish nun in the World War Two era, and it was Pope John Paul II’s experiences during that era that produced his encyclical on mercy, Dives in misericordia [Rich in Mercy].
JPII noted that modern man of the Twentieth Century was both incredibly powerful and incredibly vulnerable. In industry, in technology, in war, he was MASTER of the world in a way he had never been before. But in destruction, evil, holocausts, and tyrannies, he was EVEN MORE of need of mercy than he ever was. The era when human rights were most spoken of (at the United Nations) was simultaneously the era when those rights were most oppressed.
And this mixture of power and weakness is still with us in the 21st Century. We have the internet and mobile phones, but we also fear climate change and bird flu.
And, closer to home still, I know that this mixture of power and weakness is in my own heart. I think I am strong, but time and again I find that I am weak.
Not all people accept that they are weak.
One of the most significant claims I hear from unbelievers who I stumble across as a priest is: ‘I don’t need God’, or, ‘I find the thought of an all-powerful God repulsive’.
But this is a hollow claim. As hollow and empty as man is vulnerable under his apparent power.
The emptiness that remedies the emptiness of this claim to self-sufficiency is the emptiness of the Tomb on Easter Sunday morning. That emptiness shows us what God is like, and he is revealed as a God of mercy.
Mercy is a particular gift to those who are in need. It was in the pages of the Old Testament, that God first revealed himself as a God of mercy –who in the Exodus, reached out and rescued his people out of the slavery of Egypt (n.4).
But it is in Christ himself, the very image of the Father, that God is shown as “Rich in mercy”(n.1). When Christ first declared himself to be the messiah, he did so by quoting Isaiah (Lk 4:18-19, n.3) saying that he had come to the poor, the deprived, the blind, the lame, the broken hearted, those suffering injustice, and finally sinners. He used this same way to identify himself as the messiah when John the Baptist (Lk 7:19) asked if he was the one. In his words and in his actions –his care for the sick, the unloved, those rejected - he revealed himself as mercy.
There two events above all else in which Jesus reveals God as mercy. On the Cross, the one who had gone about being merciful to others, allowed himself to be in need of mercy (n.7). By his union with our pain, Christ revealed the Father to be intimately linked with us. Further, On the Cross, his superabundant satisfaction of justice compensated for our sins, and opened up mercy to us.
But the final sign of Christ’s mission of mercy was only seen when he ROSE from the dead. In the Resurrection of the one who was weak and crucified, we see the ultimate proof of the Father’s mercy on a world that is subject to evil (n.8) –a love more powerful that death.
And so, the point is: Believing in the Resurrection is about believing in the victory of mercy (n.7). God is not just love: he is love-in-action, i.e. mercy.
In his vision to Sr. Faustina, Jesus called for this feast to be a sign of his mercy in an age that is forgetting its need of mercy. If we will turn to him to this day, this mercy is what the Risen Christ wishes to bestow on us.
Introduction to the Mass: Divine Mercy Sunday
Today, the Second Sunday of Easter, is "Divine Mercy Sunday". This new feast was promulgated by Pope John Paul II in the year 2000. Like many of the feast days of the Church it draws its inspiration from a visions given to a saint. The feast of the Sacred Heart and the feast of Corpus Christi were both based on apparations of their own era. Similarly, the feast of the Divine Mercy has its origin in a series of visions given by Our Lord to a saint in the 20th Century, a nun called St. Faustina, who had visions during the Second World War in Poland. The image of the Divine Mercy that we have in our church is a copy of the image that was given to Sr. Faustina as a way to make God’s mercy known to our generation, and it has particular relevance for our focus on the Easter mystery.
In a decree dated 23th May 2000, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Disciple of the Sacraments stated: “Throughout the world, the Second Sunday of Easter will receive the name Divine Mercy Sunday, a perennial invitation to the Christian world to face, with confidence in divine benevolence, the difficulties and trials that mankind will experience in the years to come,"
“Humanity will not find peace until it turns trustingly to divine mercy” Pope John Paul II, said quoting Jesus’s words to St. Faustina. “Above all, this consoling message is addressed to those who, afflicted by a particularly difficult trial or crushed by the weight of sins committed, have lost faith in life and are tempted to give in to despair… How many souls have been consoled by the invocation … “Jesus, I trust in You”
After Mass today leaflets of the Divine Mercy chaplet will be available: in addition to showing St. Faustina the image of Himself, He also gave her this prayer to encourage others to say in order to know His mercy.