On this octave day of Easter, Holy Mother Church takes us back a week to the Cenacle. On the very day of His Resurrection from the dead, our Blessed Saviour appears to His apostles and confers upon them the power to forgive sins. At the Last Supper in the very same room, the Lord had pronounced the words of consecration of the chalice, adding that this blood would be poured out for the forgiveness of sins. And here just three days later, He gives to the apostles the power to forgive sins in His Name. The forgiveness of sins thus reveals itself to be the unique grace of the New Covenant, the direct result of the sacrificial death of Our Lord.
It is no doubt for this reason that when Our Lord wanted to institute a feast on which the faithful would venerate in a special way His merciful love, He chose the feast of Easter which reaches its climax in its octave day celebration, that is today. Whereas for other feasts, in particular Corpus Christi and the Sacred Heart, He inspired a holy nun to petition the Pope to institute an entirely new feast, this time He asked St Faustina, and through her, the entire Church, to venerate the Divine Mercy within the greatest feast of the liturgical year, seeking as it were to make it clear that the whole reason for the death and resurrection of the Lord is to open the flood gates of Divine Mercy upon the world. Such is the meaning of the rays, red and white, coming out from the picture of the Merciful Jesus as seen by St Faustina. The red signifying the blood of Jesus which is poured out for us, the white signifying the sacraments of Baptism and Penance by which the effects of His blood reach us to purify us of our sins.
Mercy is something we all need. If there were none, we would all be lost. That is precisely why the concept is at the very heart of the Gospel and is frequently referred to therein in many different ways. Let’s call to mind the parable of the Good Samaritan who is moved to pity at seeing the man who was left half dead by robbers. Let’s call to mind the Prodigal Son, whose father is moved by the plight of his son. Let us also remember the Lord’s dealings with the woman taken in adultery and with Mary Magdalene, His tender outreach to all those in need. Last Monday we heard St Peter tell the people that Jesus had gone about doing good and healing all the were oppressed by the devil (Acts 10).
Some may object that all the talk of mercy can compromise fidelity to the demands of justice. It is true that one can abuse of Divine Mercy as one can abuse of any good thing. In reality, however, it is not possible to speak of mercy without justice, for the very concept of mercy implies justice, justice that cannot be met from one’s own resources. What’s more, we must balance the assertion that mercy is infinite with the realisation that it has limits. What can be the limit of mercy that is infinite? Clearly there can be no limit on God’s side. It is significant that when the Lord gave the apostles the power to forgive sins, He places no restrictions whatsoever – whose sins you shall forgive, that is to say, all of them however many and however great they may be. The only limit to mercy comes from our side. We limit Divine Mercy by not opening ourselves to it without reserve. That is the reason for which there are so few great saints. It is not for lack of grace, but for lack of generosity on the part of souls.
In one of His communications to St Faustina, Our Lord tells her: “Tell sinners that no one shall escape My Hand; if they run away from My Merciful Heart, they will fall into My Just Hands. Tell sinners that I am always waiting for them, that I listen intently to the beating of their heart…. When will it beat for Me? Write, that I am speaking to them through their remorse of conscience, through their failures and sufferings, through thunderstorms, through the voice of the Church. And if they bring all My graces to naught, I begin to be angry with them, leaving them alone and giving them what they want” (Journal 1728). This is why the celebration of Divine Mercy, far from causing any kind of presumption, should on the contrary, incite us to greater trust in the grace of God and greater openness to it.
The choice of this Sunday to honour Divine Mercy is also made clear by the presence of the apostle St Thomas. This great apostle, who was the one who had encouraged the others to go up to Jerusalem and die with Jesus, had been devastated by the death of His Saviour. His broken heart closed itself off to grace. He then made the grave mistake of leaving the company of the other apostles, and so was not there when the Lord came – woe to the one who is alone, for there is no one to lift him up when he falls (Eccl 4:10). He made another grave mistake when he refused to believe the others when they told him that they had seen the Lord. Thomas was closing himself off to Divine Mercy and in the process he was limiting its power over him. Fortunately, something happened – some think it was the intervention of Our Lady – in that week after the Resurrection and he was now back with the others. He had ceased to be a schismatic and had recovered unity with Peter and the rest of the Church. That is the point behind the Lord’s coming for the second apparition, on this day. He visits the apostles gathered together as one, and if Thomas had not been there, he would have been lost, for there is no salvation outside of the communion of the Lord’s Church. Thomas allows himself to be drawn in, and he thus receives a superabundance of mercy that will make him the great apostle of India.
There is another aspect to this feast that we must not forget. It is this: In order to receive mercy in abundance, we must show it to others. If we want the Lord to console us, we must console others. If we want the Lord to forgive us, we must forgive others. If we want others to think well of us, we must think well of them. If we want to be treated leniently when we fall, so must we treat others. The measure you use for others, says Our Lord, will be used for you ( Mk 4:24). Whence the seven corporal works of mercy: Feed the hungry, Give drink to the thirsty, Clothe the naked, Shelter the homeless, Visit the sick, Visit the imprisoned, Bury the dead. And the seven spiritual works of mercy: Counsel the doubtful, Instruct the ignorant, Admonish sinners, Comfort the afflicted, Forgive offences, Bear wrongs patiently, Pray for the living and the dead.
So let us be mindful of mercy – recordatus misericordiae, as Our Lady sings in the Magnificat. The Lord forgets not to show mercy to us. Let us not forget to show it to others. Let us ask for the grace of those entrails of mercy – viscera misericordiae, of which Zachary chants in the Benedictus. The reference, as in so many other passages of the New Testament, refers to the maternal heart that cannot help itself when it sees a child in need. A mother does not hesitate; when her child is in grave danger, she does not think. She is there and she will give of herself to death if she must to save her child. Such is the attitude implied in the mercy that our God shows to us and that, through us, He wants to show to all of humanity. Let us open ourselves up to that grace and, in imitation of Mary Immaculate, the Mother of Mercy, allow grace to triumph in ourselves so that we may become vessels of mercy and not of condemnation.
Let’s conclude with these other inspiring words of Our Lord to St Faustina: “My daughter, know that My Heart is mercy itself. From this sea of mercy, graces flow out upon the whole world. No soul that has approached Me has ever gone away unconsoled. All misery gets buried in the depths of My mercy, and every saving and sanctifying grace flows from this fountain. My daughter, I desire that your heart be an abiding place of My mercy. I desire that this mercy flow out upon the whole world through your heart. Let no one who approaches you go away without that trust in My mercy which I so ardently desire for souls.” Amen.