The Second Sunday of Easter is observed throughout the Universal Church as Divine Mercy Sunday. In the Jubilee Year 2000, Pope John Paul II highlighted this feast at the canonization of St. Faustina Kowalska, the Polish nun to whom Jesus revealed the message of Divine Mercy in the early 20th century. It is indeed a message for our times as well.
Most of us are probably familiar with the beautiful image of Jesus, the Divine Mercy, in which we see the Lord clothed in a white garment, His right hand raised in blessing, and His left hand at His heart with two large rays, representing blood and water shining forth. Beneath the image is the inscription, “Jesus, I trust in You”. Jesus told Faustina, “By means of this image I shall grant many graces to souls.”
The celebration of the Feast of Mercy is of course intimately connected with the meaning of Easter. St. John Paul points out, “It is this Paschal mystery which bears within itself the most complete revelation of mercy, that is of that love which is more powerful than death, more powerful than sin and every evil, the love which lifts man up when he falls into the abyss and frees him from the greatest threats” (Dives in misericordia, n. 15).
In our world of so much suffering, we need to take this message deeply to heart. In one of his first encyclicals, Dives in Misericordia (Rich in Mercy), Saint John Paul II articulates why we so greatly need this mercy today:
“One cannot fail to be worried by the decline of many fundamental values, which constitute an unquestionable good not only for Christian morality but simply for human morality, for moral culture: these values include respect for human life from the moment of conception, respect for marriage in its indissoluble unity, and respect for the stability of the family. Moral permissiveness strikes especially at this most sensitive sphere of life and society. Hand in hand with this go the crisis of truth in human relationships, lack of responsibility for what one says, the purely utilitarian relationship between individual and individual, the loss of a sense of the authentic common good and the ease with which this good is alienated. Finally, there is the ‘desacralization’ that often turns into ‘dehumanization’: the individual and the society for whom nothing is ‘sacred’ suffer moral decay, in spite of appearances.” (DM, n. 12)
It is amazing to realize that these words were written in 1980. They could just as easily have been penned in 2017. This seems to heighten the necessity of taking the Divine Mercy message to heart today if we are going to help our world get back on track.
When we contemplate the misery of our fallen world, we cannot help but notice that we have lost a sense of sin. That would certainly explain much of the despondency around us. So what exactly is this sense of sin that we are collectively missing? The Catechism of the Catholic Church offers a very apt definition that is worth meditating upon: “Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as ‘an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law’.” (CCC, #1849) [emphasis added]
One would think this definition had been designed specifically for the modern world as we know it! First, sin is an offense against reason. God created man to be rational creatures. The fact that we have intellect and will differentiates us from the animals for example, who operate on instinct. When we don’t use these gifts of intellect and will rightly we can fall into sin. There is an increased climate of irrational thinking today. When we’ve lost the sense of being reasonable, then chaos and a lack of clear, logical thinking easily ensue.
Second, sin is an offense against truth. When we understand the Ten Commandments, or in some cultures, the “Golden Rule”, as life’s guideposts for truth, we share an understanding that how we live must work for the common good. Rules are not meant to stifle our freedom. They are meant to keep us safe, to keep order, to keep us on the right path. Objective moral truth is seriously obscured today. While it is quite clear that it is always wrong to take an innocent human life, there are those that vigorously deny this truth; abortion being a case in point.
Third, sin is an offense against right conscience. We do have a moral obligation to properly form our conscience. When conscience is reduced to “how I feel”, then anything goes and we find ourselves seriously off course.
So why does sin offend these three points of reference? We can return to the Catechism’s definition for the answer: sin wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. Through sin, we are deprived of grace and our very being created in the image of God is damaged. It also damages our relationships with others. Sin does not just harm me, it also has a ripple effect. All of this goes right to the heart of loving God and loving neighbor.
But is there a way out of this misery? Thankfully, we can answer a wholehearted Yes! The antidote to sin, the healing balm for our wounds, can be found in Jesus Christ, who is Himself the Divine Mercy. Though we are weak and miserable, the Lord always desires us to turn to Him. As Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen said, “As sin is an aversion to God, grace is the conversion to God.”
And the great spiritual master, St. Francis de Sales tells us that “Not only can the soul that knows its misery have great confidence in God, but that unless it has such knowledge, the soul cannot have true confidence in Him; for it is this true knowledge and confession of our misery that brings us to God.” As Jesus told St. Faustina, “I desire that the whole world know My infinite mercy. I desire to grant unimaginable graces to those souls who trust in My mercy.” (Diary 687)
In our broken world there are many wounds that need the healing touch of the Lord’s Divine Mercy. None of us is exempt from suffering, but when we unite our suffering to the cross of Christ, it becomes redemptive. As St. John Paul said, “The cross is like a touch of eternal love upon the most painful wounds of man’s earthly existence.” (DM, n. 8)
One of the most profound examples of the workings of Divine Mercy in a person’s life can be seen in the work of Project Rachel, the Catholic Church’s ministry of healing and reconciliation to those who have been wounded by abortion. It is an incredible thing to see the women and men who have the courage to bring their hurting and repentant hearts to the Lord through the Project Rachel ministry, walk the healing journey and receive the Lord’s forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Those who often express that they “feel like they’ve committed the unforgiveable sin” find that when they entrust their pain to the Lord, doubt and fear are transformed into trust and hope. This is truly Divine Mercy in action.
St. Faustina records these words Jesus spoke to her in paragraph 723 of her Diary: “The greater the sinner, the greater the right he has to My mercy.” At the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, these words of Jesus are inscribed on the very doors of the confessionals. The Lord is so good to give us this incredible consolation – it helps us realize that it is indeed possible to overcome our sins by trust in His mercy.
In a 1997 homily at the Shrine of Divine Mercy in Krakow, Poland, St. John Paul II said, “Those who sincerely say, ‘Jesus, I trust in You’ will find comfort in all their anxieties and fears…In this ‘dialogue of abandonment’, there is established between man and Christ a special bond that sets love free. And ‘there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear’[1 Jn. 4:18].”
On Divine Mercy Sunday, when we hear the Gospel reading that tells the story of the Apostle Thomas, we can take comfort in the power of the words, “Jesus, I trust in you.” In his encounter with the Risen Christ, Thomas offers a powerful confession of faith. When he sees Jesus and touches His wounds he proclaims, “My Lord, and My God!” We can only imagine the fear and confusion felt by the apostles who, though Jesus had told them He would rise from the dead, still found it so difficult to actually comprehend what that meant. But Jesus came to them in their weakness. In touching Jesus’ wounds, Thomas was healed. His fear and doubt vanished. As we look to Thomas’s transformation, may our fears also be vanquished and may we too, trust in the Mercy of God.